Dmitrii Kustov is the Internet Marketing Director and Founder of Regex SEO located in Houston.
As a marketing expert, one question seems to pop up again and again: “How can we be authentic?”
Businesses across the spectrum, big and small, seem to have caught on to the consumer interest in an authentic, believable and sometimes relatable company image. People love the idea of buying their eggs from a farmer who loves the chickens and all that.
Unfortunately, I have to spoil everyone’s fun and admit that the real answer is: You can’t.
Authenticity is, even in the best of marketing campaigns, often fabricated. We make up stories that might rely on genuine facts about the business and the people running it, but at the end of the day, we’re still trying to sell something, and people know that.
So, how did it get like this, and what do we do about it?
Marketing and Consumer Trust: A Complicated Relationship
Before we can figure out how to respond to the demand for authenticity, let’s have a quick recap of how we got here.
It would take a full-length review of sociological and technological developments to explain exactly how consumer tastes have evolved over the last 30 years, so I’ll summarize it like this:
Between the early ’90s and 2004, the internet was kind of bad. After 2004, with more widespread adoption of broadband, the internet sucked a little less. Between 2004 and the early 2010s, the internet basically started growing into the version we know today.
That means millions of people across the world could now talk to each other, and they had access to way more information. Companies all over the world realized this too, and saw a great opportunity to sell more things to more people.
The Cultural Shift
Along with more information came more scrutiny. While post-2004 internet saw a huge boom, it didn’t take long for the “brand new” sheen to wear off. Research suggests that in the years leading up to 2010 and beyond, there was also a big boom in skepticism.
Misinformation, conflicting information, a constant barrage of newly developed (and often awkward) sales techniques — it didn’t take long for people to become disillusioned.
For most consumers, the disparity between a company’s image and a company’s actual actions was significantly more visible now. That didn’t sit well, and consumers started demanding more transparency, more honesty — more authenticity.
Why are companies obsessed with an authentic image?
If it wasn’t obvious from the cultural shift, businesses started to look at authenticity like a social currency that could be exchanged for more business.
As the demand for transparent companies increased, marketing teams started to capitalize on the idea of an “authentic company.” If a company could bottle an authentic look and feel, they could get more people through the door and move more products.
Did it work?
Yes and no. Anti-corporate language is still popular, and it’s not unusual to see things marketed as “original” or “(insert your buzzword of choice)-free.” For some companies, that worked and the language stuck.
Some companies even develop and use slogans that suggest a more intimate and real relationship with customers, hinging ad campaigns on the idea that your representative is a real person, is always there and is some other promise of closeness.
Unfortunately, none of the factors that feed into people’s skepticism about the corporate image have gone away. If anything, the internet in 2021 is more omnipresent and revealing.
So, should you bother with authenticity?
My gut reaction is no.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t be transparent and direct about your value, but I am suggesting that spending time and money trying to craft a truly authentic veneer is oxymoronic.
After all, places like Apple and Walmart are poster children for millennial ire centered around corporate culture. They also still make billions each year.
Authenticity is not a golden ticket.
What should we do instead?
When clients and others ask about authenticity, my go-to response is that we should build a campaign out of measurable data instead.
Marketing is about half-feeling, half-figures.
Authenticity speaks to a consumer’s feelings, but without evidence to support those feelings, your marketing is too easy to pick apart. You can broadcast “Cheapest computer parts!” all day, but if your target market can just open another website and see that it’s not true, it’s a waste of words and a waste of time for consumers.
I know when I find obviously untrue statements crafted purely for the sake of “good marketing language,” it turns me off from the products. Why do I want to buy something from someone who can’t even convey the real value of their product?
How to Use Data for Better Marketing
Like I said, use data instead.
Are your computer parts the cheapest? Do you ship faster than anyone else? What hard, measurable facts can you attribute to your product?
Once you have those, craft a campaign that targets people’s needs or wants based on market research. Evaluate your target audience, and instead of trying to appeal to a fabricated sense of genuine care or transparency, just sell them what they need to solve their problem.
Looking at Apple again, they market products around the luxury of their technology, because they know it’s usually way more expensive than competitors’. They can sell $1,000 phones every other year because they know people want the “shiny new thing” to show off. It’s far more simple and a lot more honest.
In fact, propping up your marketing on the simple basis of “we know you need or want this factor, so here’s a product that fits that need or want” is way closer to real authenticity.
Marketing sometimes feels like it’s for other marketers. It feels competitive. Don’t fall into that trap. Remember that clients want a product or service, and more than anything, marketing is about clearly communicating that your product or service is the best choice, full stop.