You hear people talking a lot about authenticity these days. It strikes me as a little odd because suddenly it’s the in thing to be authentic, as if not being authentic was once acceptable. But you know what, that’s actually true. I refer back to our friends at Mad Men (and apologies for using them again but they are such a great example of the olden days of marketing and advertising) who used any message to sell a product, and it didn’t matter if that message was true or a pack of utter codswallop, just so long as their clients made sales.
To me, authenticity is being genuine and honest. I wouldn’t do business with a company that I felt was neither of these things and I’m sure you wouldn’t either. I think the reason why authenticity has become such a thing in brand and marketing is because consumer expectations have changed. The age of technology has altered the way we make buying decisions; when you look at millennials and their shopping behaviour you’ll notice that they don’t typically respond to push-style messaging. They are looking for brands that communicate with and engage them on a personal level, that meet their needs and demonstrate values that mirror their own. So it makes sense then that being authentic is intrinsically linked to a company’s internal values and brand promises.
Girl you know it’s true … (er, not true)
I’m showing my age here, but Milli Vanilli is an interesting case study. Back in the late 80’s, Milli Vanilli was a German R&B duo who shot to fame selling millions of albums (and yes, I owned a Milli Vanilli tape). Little did we know that the two front men, Fab and Rob were nothing more than a couple of good looking guys lip lynching their way to fame and fortune. The real voices behind Milli Vanilli were kept very much underground. When you’re spinning a lie that big it’s pretty hard to keep it under wraps, and inevitably the world found out. Fab and Rob were stripped of their Grammys, multiple law suits were filed under consumer fraud protection laws and something like 10 million purchasers of Milli Vanilli albums were entitled to a full refund. Expensive stuff, and it went down as one of the largest scandals in entertainment history.
Be what you are, not what you’re not
The lesson learned from Milli Vanilli is that it’s very hard to maintain appearances when you’re not being authentic. If you’re a muesli bar manufacturer and your brand is positioned as being healthy and low in sugar and full of good things, if you put in a bunch of nasty additives to make your muesli bars taste good because you’ve removed all the ingredients that gives your product flavour, then you’re not being authentic (don’t get me started on this particular market sector).
The world is constructed of total diversity. There are people out there who like full fat, full sugar, full taste. So, if that’s what you’re pedalling, then own it. You’re so much better off being true to your 'why' and being honest about what you are than to try and be something you’re not. Identify your audience, articulate your proposition to them in a manner that resonates, through the channels they are best reached, and own your space in the market. Being authentic should not be something you struggle with. If it is, then you probably need to go back to the basics and work through your values, brand promises, proposition and audience.
It’s a work in progress
No brand is perfect. Authenticity isn’t about having all the answers, it’s about being realistic, open and honest. Audiences actually engage more when there is acknowledgement of flaws because it’s a demonstration of transparency. So, long as you continue to evolve, make change when necessary and continue to be who you are, you’re a long way down the path of being an authentic brand.