On building an authentic brand

Digital Strategist
Valtech France

March 11, 2016

What do we expect from brands? If digital has taught us anything, it is that what we want most – what we crave for – is to be inspired. Inspiration is the elusive finality of many complex variables, from product to service throughout all the spheres of marketing. Social media has been playing a defining role in that mix, amplifying emotions, making and breaking brands in the blink of a 3-second Snap(chat). So how do you standout in this inspirational craze? Can you be strong enough to survive a massive, instantaneous, Volkswagen-diesel hit? Building a consistent, innovative and creative approach to Authenticity is a step that brands can no longer afford to ignore.

A universal quest

Digital authenticity is a tricky thing. Just about anyone with a social network account – even Linkedin! – has been trying to get it right. As Instagram grew into the 400-million users giant that it is, we saw new standards appear, with a common aim: perfection. Filters and apps have blurred the frontier between amateur and professional content, to the point where users are going back to something more spontaneous and raw.

This discrepancy between what social media fosters – entertainment, inspiration – and what people want, which is authenticity, is reason enough for brands to rethink their marketing strategy at its very core.

The quest for rawness and authenticity is not a peaceful one

If this is not your first time around this blog, you already know that today’s consumers are marketing-savvy and pretty much self-branding experts. Younger generations are able to sniff out fake and are getting tired of unilateral flawless advertisements.

Take a look at apps like Tinder, where a trend saw users get rid of perfectly timed profile photos for pictures of themselves using the app. Now you could say this is some meta-trend or hipster self-mockery, but this shows a will among youngsters to appear with more genuineness and truth to themselves and to others. Look up hashtags such as #keepitreal for further evidence. If you’re feeling extra wild, browse #foodbaby.

While Tinder was turning into Inception, social media star and whistleblower Essena O’neil unveiled the inauthenticity of so-called amateur shots and the unhealthy desire to seek for online validation. She was then accused of being fake and of doing this to get more coverage for the launch of her new anti-social-media website.

A sense of altruism – making it your story

“Authenticity is becoming the new consumer sensibility, the buying criteria by which consumers are choosing who they are going to buy from, and what they are going to buy,” said Joseph Pine, writer and veteran consultant to entrepreneurs and executives alike. He was already preaching the importance for businesses to be real. Brands need to prove that they don’t exist for the sole purpose of making a profit, and must anchor their existence in a consistent story, a token of their authenticity. A brand like TOMS Shoes uses its story as the bedrock for its existence (when a consumer buys a pair of shoes, the brand gives one to a person in need) and this has become their identity, their signature.

Making it your media outline

For other companies, being authentic means publishing raw, almost unedited content (at least seemingly). Burberry, one of the most innovative brands in the digital field, has been making noise on Snapchat by filming runways backstage. Gareth Ward, their director of photography, emphasizes the importance of creating this kind of raw content: “some people will try and go too slick, make it look too polished. This is about being quick and easy. It’s lo-fi and it’s meant to be poor quality; otherwise people wouldn’t buy into it”. Uncooked, unprocessed content is today’s way to respond to consumers’ impatient needs for raw foodism.

How do you even cook authenticity?

Is Apple an authentic brand? While some people would take offense – “of course no!” – others would argue the brand has consistently kept its original sleek minimalist design and interfaces since its creation. But if we know one thing about Steve Job’s work, it is that advocating raw and unedited would get you slapped in the face with a carrot. At the end of the day, authenticity is a subjective concept and what Apple might have been most successful at is remaining authentic to the eyes of its target market, through consistency and character.

There are a few tricks to bypass dealing with authenticity, like humor and derision. But there is no skipping it forever. When it comes to building solid engagement, you will have to address these issues. Here are a couple of rules – learned from experience – to help you do so:

  • Be honest and humble: The first rule of authenticity is you don’t talk about authenticity. Selflessness is the wisest move; don’t forget that brands orbit around consumers and not the other way around.
  • Be self-aware and generous: Find what’s unique about your company’s history and values, extract that special DNA, set it on fire and fan its flames. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “be yourself; everyone else is taken.” Let out content that matches your identity and inspires your key audience.
  • Be consistent and rigorous: Be consistent in quality, in time, in details. Put authenticity at the heart of your customer experience and challenge every service process. In digital, consistency means ease and seamlessness. No matter how inspirational you manage to be, an uneven transition can wreck the whole experience.