Brand Authenticity: Connecting With Your Customers

By Jamie Davidson · February 21, 2019

Consumers Want More Brand Authenticity, Less Marketing

Facebook ads. Linkedin ads. Google Adwords. Content marketing. Email campaigns. Podcasts. PR. Lead magnets. Retargeting. Gamification. Forms. Chatbots. And oh so many more. As consumers and marketers, we are too familiar with the dearth of 21st-century marketing tactics used to promote billions of products. Subsequently, if trends progress as predicted, the use of promotional strategies and channels will continue to rise. Surveyed by Gartner, both CEOs and CMOs expect to increase their marketing budgets in 2019. So, if you have to play to win, how can you break through the promotional noise and make your company stand out among the competition? Unless your company has major brand recognition and a content production factory like Hubspot or Neil Patel your brand can get lost in the sea of marketing tactics. And hacks only work for well-established brands with broad awareness.

The good news for SMBs and start-ups with less brand awareness is that we project marketing in 2019 will increasingly be about the genuine connection between brands and people. Consumers are turning away from product-oriented messaging and increasingly engaging with brands that authentically share their core values.

Good Content Isn’t Good Enough Anymore

There is an exorbitant number of blog posts fighting for your two eyeballs every day. How many blogs did you ask? By the time I publish another amazing piece of content, I’ll be today’s 3,116,023rd post. Thanks, Worldometers!

Millions of blog posts mean increased competition on the same subjects and keywords. Even low traffic, long-tail keywords are dominated by big brands with large domain authorities who have been optimizing their SEO strategy for years. In short, companies like Moz, MailChimp, and Etsy have domain authorities over 90 and capture tons of search engine traffic. As a result, this monopolization puts competitive brands at a major disadvantage.

Even if you are able to produce content with enough SEO and links to rank at the top, you’re competing against familiar and trusted household names and won’t likely get the traffic you are expecting. Typical online marketing tactics are working mainly for big brands with an established market presence. But, there is a silver lining. Because consumers are faced with too much content and advertising, the way to break through is to connect and engage with your customer.

How to Walk the Brand Authenticity Walk

Consumers want authenticity more than ever before. For instance, they want to engage with employees and companies that are making a difference. Brands that uplift them as a person. Products that help them live a better experience. However, most marketing tactics don’t regard the needs and desires of their audience. Instead, they attempt to persuade or bias purchasing behavior or to wine and dine leads with lead magnets in exchange for personal data. Customers aren’t as naive and pliable as companies and advertisers once hoped. We aren’t in Mad Men territory anymore. Consumers seek an authentic brand that will positively impact their customer experience or help grow their own business.

What does brand authenticity look and feel like?

That is to say, what does authentic marketing do differently? It focuses on communicating core brand messaging, company values, transparency, and potential value to the customer. Buffer is a prime example of a company using authenticity to promote its brand.

By repurposing user-generated content, Buffer creates an entire community around their product without using direct selling. You can also do this. Take a look at your company mission statement and values and create content that is genuine and relatable to your customer base. In addition to product or company-related content, start engaging your social media followers to share their content using an original or branded hashtag for a chance to be featured on your company page. This will both inspire your community to engage with you and help build your brand and reach.

Let your consumer create your content

Connecting with your current or potential customers this way also allows you to tap into them for testimonials and reviews. Customer success stories highlighted on your blog, website, or a third-party site are more impressive to many of your potential customers who can’t relate to a business case study. This strategy works for Slack who inspires their current and future customer base with real-life scenarios and use cases.

Slack’s content focuses on how they make a difference in the business communication world. Rather than touting their own benefits, they craft a more authentic brand image by using testimonials from their satisfied customers. However, rather than using these stories as selling strategies, they use them as brand-building tools.

If you don’t currently have a library of testimonials, consider reaching out to current customers. Build stories around their journey and how your brand impacts their business. If you have built a solid relationship with your clients, they will be happy to share. Ask them for a blurb or a video clip about how your business impacts their daily life. Use these helpful ideas to source quality testimonial content from your customers.

Should your brand take a stand?

In 2019, people more than ever want brands to take a stand on social issues. And they are putting their money where their heart is. Consumers go so far as to insist that brands they engage with are more than just profit-driven. Granted, your business can’t survive without cash flow, but today profit cannot be at the expense of social responsibility. Nike put a stake in the ground with last year’s Colin Kaepernick commercial and left no room for questions about their POV on his right to take a knee and what it stands for.

Nike’s brand represents inclusivity, drive, passion, and chasing your dreams. They took a risk but remained true to their brand identity and it paid off. Customers overwhelmingly supported the public stance and Nike benefited with $43 million worth of free media exposure and a 14% increase in year over year online sales for the 2018 Labor Day Weekend. However, not all socially-motivated campaigns are effective. For example, this tact was poorly executed in the much-debated Gillette razor ad run on YouTube called “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be”. Gillette intended to inspire its customer base, however, the ad missed the mark and came off as accusatory in tone and disingenuous in its motives. “Purpose is something you believe, not something you make up one day as a marketing strategy”, notes Brian Miller of Paddle Consulting. Consumers smell a marketing ploy a mile away.

Taking an SMB-sized stand

If you don’t have an advertising budget to match Nike’s, you can still support causes in other ways. By volunteering, doing pro-bono work or making product and service donations. There’s nothing wrong with promoting your philanthropy. It spreads your brand values while increasing exposure and awareness of a worthwhile cause. One company gained fame for donating a goat to a third-world family every time a potential customer viewed their online demo! The lesson here – goats are great but don’t take your eye off day-to-day business operations.

Poll colleagues and employees to find out which philanthropies are near and dear to them. Don’t forget that company employees represent the values of the brand as well. Many employees want to be involved in charitable causes. Candidates look for employment with a company that welcomes active philanthropy. So don’t just rest on a seasonal holiday donation and think that will be appreciated by your customers. Instead, brainstorm cause marketing ideas that relate to your brand. For instance, your brand can support the health and wellness of community business employees by sponsoring a local 5K. With the activity, brand awareness and customers who will evangelize your company values, it’s a win-win for all.

Team members are your biggest brand ambassadors

Many companies miss taking advantage of a significant marketing opportunity that is sitting in the cubicle next to them. Employees are a direct representation of brand health and ethos. The more strongly your employees are connected to the fundamental missions of your brand, the more passionate and promotional they are. Focus on developing a brand mission. Then, showcase your employees as valued contributors to the team. A great way to do that is by developing a company culture video such as this example from BambooHR, the B2B hiring company.

I like these people. I’d give them my business. If your people aren’t in love with your brand and what you do, how can you convince a potential customer that they need your product or service? Focus on the development of your team members. It will translate into the development of your brand. To extrapolate your company culture consider doing internal interviews so employees can share their story, their goals for the future, and how they act on their passion within your company every day.

Let’s Get Authentically Engaged

Both traditional and digital marketing have long been about allocating significant budget in hopes of staying relevant and competitive in an overly crowded marketplace or promotional channel. This usually only proves effective for established brands that have thousands of visitors to their site daily, brands that have been ranking on search engines for years, and brands that have spent millions to build awareness. With the glut of advertising and promotional product messaging, consumers are pushing back. The data shows that people are tired of it. They want to connect to real brands, real people, and have real experiences.

Don’t abandon the marketing tactics that are working for you. But this year also show your customer who you really are! By espousing your values your consumers will reward you with sales. Marketing in 2019 is about sharing what your brand stands for, how you contribute to the world, and the people who drive your business to be authentic.


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