November 5th, 2014
By James T Noble
The more virtual our lives get, the more we hunger after something genuine. Customers today demand more than just a product or a service. They want an experience – one that is honest and transparent, one that is authentic.
Authenticity isn’t something that can be faked. That’s why authentic businesses inspire and prosper. But it’s a thin line to tread. Your customers today are far more informed, aware, socially connected and empowered than ever before. They have high standards and they can sniff out a scam at 10 paces. Anything you put out there will be scrutinized. If it doesn’t measure up to ‘genuine’ it WILL get called out. More and more, making a wrong move in marketing can be catastrophic for your company kudos – with some seriously negative knock-on effects for your business.
So what is authenticity? And how does it impact your brand, your marketing and your messages?
Simply put, being authentic means staying true to who you are, what you do and who you serve. In an environment in which more human elements matter, the value of authenticity is incalculable.
- It elevates your business above the competition
- It builds your identity and image into something influential
- It gives substance to your business, services and products
- It enables people to relate to your business
- It helps people understand how what you offer is of benefit to them
- It tells people that what you offer is of high quality
- It marks you out as a reliable and trustworthy
- It encourages engagement and can turn audiences into advocates
With that in mind, here are some practical ways a brand or business can demonstrate authenticity.
1. Be Real
It’s amazing how many businesses get this wrong. Share your passions and your mission and get back to basics. Who are you? What drives you? The best way to be perceived as authentic is to BE authentic, so build a purpose for your business beyond making a buck. Get back to grass roots and apply your core values, goals and beliefs as the heart of how you approach every aspect of your business.
Be warned – being real comes with the caveat that you must exhibit empathy and intuition in order to make this work. Idiots, bigots and those lacking social graces need not apply. It also means taking time to listen and understand all those involved with your business. That means clients, employees, peers and suppliers. Don’t over self-promote or force things on others, it will only have a detrimental effect.
2. Be Charitable
In a bid to convince consumers, businesses are having to become more like people. Genuinely charitable souls work hard for their causes and gain a lot of respect as a result. Affiliating your company with a charity and building campaigns around it goes a long way to winning people over with your altruistic nature – but you have to go the whole way to be convincing, which mean not just making a donation once or twice a year – for real impact make yourself the true champion of a cause instead.
3. Be Consistent
Mixed messages lead to suspicion and mistrust. But a surprising number of organisations operate in a completely different way offline and online and present a damagingly schizophrenic image.
Whilst it is important to tailor your approach to specific channels, your fundamental message, style and identity should remain the same throughout to ensure you convey your business as strong, self-assured and trustworthy.
4. Back Up What You Say
Don’t get a reputation of being ‘all mouth and no trousers’. Today’s savvy consumer is much more likely to see straight through the banter to the lack of substance underneath. Authenticity goes hand in hand with being transparent, so avoid any embarrassment by never making claims you can’t prove, giving evidence wherever you can, staying true to your core mission and values, and making sure you never post misleading information about your business.
5. Be Responsive
Give people as many ways as possible they can easily contact you, and make SURE someone (and by ‘someone’ I mean a REAL person, not a machine or an autoresponder) is going to be there to respond promptly, politely and effectively.
Doing so adds a personal element to your customer service and shows you follow through on your promises. That goes a long way towards building a solid and authentic reputation. Let your sincerity shine through – always answer questions honestly, even if it means giving an answer that is less positive.
6. Respect People’s Privacy
7. Be Accountable
If you make a mistake, be professional enough to admit it. Own up and apologize before anyone else has the chance to publicly make a harsh judgment that could damage your reputation further. Everyone has flaws – it’s what makes us human. Handled correctly, being honest about and accountable for your mistakes could turn a ‘situation’ into an advantage.
8. Highlight Your Reputation
It is widely-known how much sway online reviews have over potential customers, so make a show of them on your website and through social media. But be warned – NEVER manipulate your reviews.
But there is such a thing as ‘too good to be true’. So a flawless, sanitised set of client reviews will only raise alarm bells. Testimonials from real people are also powerful aides to authenticity, ditto any industry awards you have won or any respected groups and associations of which you are a member.
9. Nurture Your Following
Give and you shall receive. Actively nurture dialogue with your followers so to keep them enthusiastic and engaged. Get to know your audience intimately and let them get to know you too through personal interaction, bios, videos, blogs, behind the scenes coverage and glimpses into the personal lives of company members. Talk to them. Give them the benefit of your expertise and experience – for free. Position yourself (subtly) as an authority in your industry and your authenticity will shine through.
10. Don’t Share Everything with Everyone
While it’s great to share some secrets and involve people in some behind the scenes insights, authenticity does not require the same level of transparency with every relationship. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, and a business can have many different facets as long as they are untied underneath the umbrella of your core identity. Be sensitive to every audience and every situation, and catering your content accordingly.
11. Know Your Limits
Know your thresholds regarding what and how much you are willing to share in order to build your authenticity. This knowledge also helps you be selective about your marketing. Poorly-considered content, or content with little value (like sharing what you had for breakfast) will do little for building your reputation. And be patient. You can’t create authenticity overnight, but put in the work and it will pay huge dividends in the long run.
- Define your goals and your mission
- Develop a purpose behind what you do other than making money
- Share your mission and your passions with enthusiasm
- Maintain your core identity at all times
- Always be consistent and avoid giving mixed messages
- Champion a cause to show your charitable nature
- Get to know your audience and their desires and needs
- Actively engage with your audience through social media
- Show personality through content like blogs/video/updates/bios etc.
- Share secrets, advice and inside information where appropriate
- Only share things of worth – it’s better not to share at all than to share something nobody cares about
- Tailor your content to suit different audiences across multiple platforms
- Position yourself as an authority through audience interaction and offering the benefits of your expertise and experience
- Highlight your achievements and experience on websites and across social media
- Only make promises you are sure you can keep
- Always be on hand (or ensure someone else is) to offer assistance
Finally, you may well discover that with true authenticity comes a sense of liberation and freedom. Being true to yourself and your business and honest with your clients and customers relieves an anxiety many of us don’t realize we hold onto. It frees up energy that would normally be consumed by maintaining a facade. That energy boost, stress relief and liberation can make a business a real power to be reckoned with.
Remember, an open and trustworthy business is a popular business, whereas charlatans will ultimately fail regardless of the efforts are made to promote them.
James T Noble makes businesses bigger. He’s personally worked with companies big and small. Many you’d recognise (Walt Disney, Microsoft, Coca Cola, MTV and more) and many you wouldn’t (marketing agencies, consultants, publishers and others). Find out more and read business growth tips at www.JamesTNoble.com