By Sharon A.M. MacLean
We hear the phrase “authentic behaviour” repeated everywhere today. It’s a contemporary expression heard in the media…at the office…and, this week, in a branding meeting for a university. Yet, I’m wondering who understands what being “authentic” really means.
Mature business people grew up knowing that advertising, promotions and public relations were not always authentic. Business leaders spent their entire lives positioning their company in the best possible light by omitting details that could harm a carefully constructed image. To move these agendas along, an entire generation of public relations people took on the–often unfair—handle of “spin doctor.” My own early career started here, as well.
Thankfully, change is afoot which Digiday regularly flags as a shift in attitude. It’s been serious enough for the Pulitzer-winning Guardian newspaper to run a headline that said, “The fastest way to kill your brand: inauthenticity.”
Hype vs help
It’s a challenging hurdle for those who live on hype, over promise and under deliver, or hide behind walls of privacy.
I remember dealing with a very secretive tycoon at my business magazine a few years ago. Our columnist attended a heavily promoted opening-day reception where the writer asked the mogul a few pertinent questions about financing. The tycoon instructed the writer (read course language here) to back off and his PR gal later demanded to know how the reporter had the nerve to ask such a delicate question.
We’re clearly in an age of unprecedented consumer empowerment, where the reality of products and services is just a Google search and tweet away. That’s led to an influx of citizenry demanding business leaders to be “authentic.” Here’s how 3 executives define authentic.
Kyle Sherwin, vp of media, Sony Music: “The original “idea” of authenticity was essentially a way for corporations to attempt to not sound corporate in their marketing efforts — or at the very least to stay true to their essence.”
Rick Maynard, senior manager of public relations, KFC: “To us, being real means being honest, inclusive, boldly unapologetic, refreshingly to the point, insightful and occasionally, a little edgy. We steer clear of being artificial, judgmental, insecure, full of hot air, timid or gimmicky.”
Joe Barbagallo, social media manager, Volvo Cars US: “Authentic means being transparent. We know our audience knows us well, and so we have to be honest. You’ve got to be forthright, especially if consumers are asking you a question.”
The best insights I’ve come across on the topic of authenticity are from Kim Garst http://kimgarst.com/beyoubook. Her most recent title explains the movement: Will the Real You Please Stand Up, Be Authentic and Prosper in Social Media. Kim currently is ranked by Forbes as the #8 female social media power influencer in the world.
There is nothing disingenuous about Kim. What you see is what you get. Here’s how she defines business embedded in passion: “It’s not rooted in selfish gains or desires, but instead constantly looks for ways to make life easier for others. Unlike hype, it cannot be hyped.”
She adds: “CEOs and marketers who believe they are in control of the message of a brand in today’s social world will kill the authenticity of that brand…Today, consumers own the message. What they say about a brand carries more weight than what the brand says about itself.”
People today want to know what drives your passion. Because if you can drill down to the very essence of why you deliver your products and services, that clarity makes us care, too. It’s captivating—and makes us want to follow your parade.
Those who can’t express their vision in a short elevator pitch—the time it takes to go from one floor to the next—will have difficulty leading their sales teams and explaining what they can do for their customers.
Terry O’Reilly, http://www.cbc.ca/radio/undertheinfluence in his popular radio program, Under the Influence, says, “A clear and compelling elevator pitch says so much about the founder of the company…or the director of marketing and her campaign or the salesman and his product line or the politician and his vision.”
By the way, brand is more than a listing of your product features. The miscue happens when business leaders haven’t nailed their core values and vision for the company that attracts the emotions of customers. The snowball effect is that all marketing materials miss the boat, too.
Back to Kim Garst. These are my favourite 7 ways that she recommends to be authentic in this digital age.
- Choose sincerity over overblown hype. This ranges from product design to the follow-up customer experience.
- Recognize and respect your heritage. History is not to be ignored because of new CEOs who hope to make their mark or new competitors entering the market, or customers drifting away to new offerings. A solid foundation exists for good reason.
- Become useful to your customer. Can your customers live without you? Think about adding value and expert advice—and don’t be afraid of giving away too much information.
- Understand what your customers value. Those values will be all over the map but you will spot a trend to focus on.
- Express your passion. People can detect a fake most times. A dearth of passion leads to lack of aim, dull messages, and mistakes in direction.
- Hype leads to professional burnout. The lines between professional and personal life are blurred today. Can you show interest in what gets your customers excited outside the office, as well? Otherwise, you risk burnout.
- Connect with a community. By providing consumers with the ability to interact with one another in addition to the company, businesses can build new and deeper relationships with customers.
There’s much more delivered inside 170 pages of Will the Real You Please Stand Up, Be Authentic and Prosper in Social Media.
It’s worth your time.
Need help with modern marketing? Contact me through LinkedIn or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Life-long communications strategist Sharon MacLean owned and published a traditional print magazine over 21 years for business people. She now applies her enhanced knowledge in digital marketing to the needs of her clients and believes in the value of combining the best of both worlds.