Why authenticity is the key to customer engagement
Put simply, authentic digital marketing is just about being honest, but as our operations director Georgie Armour explains if it were that easy everyone would get it right. Read on for her guide to the dos and don’ts of authentic marketing.
Back in 2018 research by PR firm Edelman revealed 64% of consumers globally are belief-driven buyers, those that choose or avoid brands based on their social and environmental stance, and the trend has only accelerated since then. This rise in consumer activism means boycotts are common and brands being ridiculed on social media even more so. You might think it’s just millennials and Gen Z with strong convictions but belief-driven buyers were in the majority in every market surveyed, across all age groups and all income levels.
While marketers might have very little direct sway over their organisation’s corporate social responsibility (CSR), this shift towards conscious consumerism presents very real risks and challenges for brand messaging. So we need to ensure our digital marketing passes the authenticity test.
What is authentic digital marketing?
Authentic digital marketing, or authentic marketing, means ensuring that your marketing is grounded in, and backed up by, your business or brand’s stated purpose, ideas and/or values. That your messaging is consistent with your brand story and across channels and platforms. Sounds easy, but if it was, so many organisations wouldn’t be getting it wrong. Fortunately, while it’s anything but easy to get it spot on, getting the basics right is surprisingly simple.
Why does authenticity in marketing matter?
In this age of authenticity, consumers can easily spot, and call out, inauthenticity when it comes to a gap between what a brand says and does. Reputation matters. Some brands do and will get away with it (for a while), but the direction of travel is clear so it’s not a sustainable approach.
We all know brand affinity and loyalty has to be earned, and today’s consumers are looking for transparency, honesty and sincerity. They are increasingly informed and ready to spot #fakenews. It’s never been easier to dig out the truth and legitimacy of a claim so sticking to the truth (and not embellishing it) is essential if brands want to earn and retain consumers’ trust.
And it’s not just sales affected when marketing and advertising efforts go wrong. Ronaldo’s snub of Coca Cola when he told viewers water was better than cola at a Euro 2020 press conference reportedly wiped $4 billion off the behemoth’s market value.
An alignment with and support for a cause related to your mission shows that your brand is serious about its purpose and not only out to make money whatever the cost, but aligning with an unrelated cause or donating a stingy proportion of profits might have consumers wondering that you are cynically profiting more from the association than the charity in question.
And we’ve all cringed at the train wrecks on social media when brands get it oh so wrong. Like oil giant Shell’s climate poll on Twitter that backfired spectacularly when in a textbook example of greenwashing they asked members of the public what they would do to reduce carbon emissions.
So who is getting it right?
While Marks & Spencer still has a long way to go to be considered a truly ethical success story, its approach to marketing its ethical ambitions is grounded in authenticity. When Marks & Spencer launched Plan A – a series of ecological and ethical commitments – 14 years ago, the retailer made a deliberate choice not to overly publicise it. Not wanting to be accused of greenwashing, Marks & Spencer chose to first make progress on its ambitions, embed new ways of working into the fabric of the company, then communicate them. The result is, now the retailer is surfacing campaigns bringing to life the action it is taking to make its business operations more sustainable, its claims are grounded in more than a decade’s work and well scoped pledges.
For further inspiration check out the long list of B Corps, many of whom boast a beautiful, and authentic, online presence. But before you do that, you need to turn inward and consider your brand. Here’s a simple guide to the dos and don’ts of authentic marketing to get you started.
Dos and don’ts of authentic marketing
- Be clear on your brand’s purpose and values and ensure your corporate social responsibility is baked into your brand story. Why does your business do what it does? Ensure your marketing aligns with it. Don’t pursue trends that can’t be traced back to a deeper brand truth.
- Create a content strategy to ensure consistent communications across all platforms, with content pillars to help guide what you should and shouldn’t be saying. This will help you evaluate whether topical/political issues are ones your brand has any authority to weigh in on. Don’t jump on the latest trend just to have something to say about it, unless it aligns with your brand story.
- Develop an authentic voice – what does your brand have the authority to talk about? Don’t start conversations you don’t have proof points to back up.
- Know your audience and respect them as people first, customers second. Don’t reward the time they afford you with vague or insincere content.
- Do ensure those posting on social media on the brand’s behalf are well informed and briefed. Give them clearly defined business goals as well as communications goals that the digital marketing activity is to be measured and optimised against. This clarity means avoiding mistakes and the ability to respond quickly and effectively if you find yourself at the centre of a firestorm. Don’t let your social media messaging stray away from truths grounded in your brand story.
- Avoid the temptation to turn the absolute least you can be doing into marketing messages that suggest you’re up there with Greta Thunberg in terms of your environmental efforts. Boasting about a portion of a product’s packaging being recycled will be seen as insincere if that portion turns out on inspection to be 5%. In other words, don’t greenwash. Consumers will see straight through it.
- Do give people a behind-the-scenes look at your business – transparency gives consumers confidence your brand is walking the talk. Don’t embellish the truth.
- Be genuine – even if your brand isn’t as far down the CSR path as you’d like, honesty about where you’re at and where you’d like to be should stand you in better stead. Don’t fake it. You’ll struggle to live up to it, opening yourself up to criticism and it becoming a meaningless and transparent initiative.
And lastly, don’t stick your head in the sand and hope this trend blows over. It won’t. There is no silver bullet to getting it right, but there is one wrong answer and that’s doing nothing. This is the new reality and marketers need to find their authentic place in it.
If you’d like any help ensuring your digital marketing is authentic and aligned with your brand, our expert team will be happy to help. Whether it’s a brand refresh or help on social media we’ll put together a package to suit your needs. Call us for a free consultation.