On my sales calls lately, I've been asking people to tally each time I use a buzzword. At the end of the call, I ask for a report, and for every buzzword I said, that's one less peanut M&M I allow myself to eat.
I started doing this because I was genuinely fed up with all the words and phrases we use every day that make us sound more like robots than actual humans. At some point, it became commonplace to suppress our humanity at work. And when we can break through that (one tallied-and-replaced buzzword at a time), we can restore some of the personality that makes our interactions more authentic.
In a world that asks us to be so many different things, finding someone who has a clear idea of who she is and what she stands for is wonderful and refreshing — and the same is true for brands.
Unfortunately for brands, it takes more than tallying buzzwords and eating fewer pieces of candy to convey authenticity. It takes a lot of work and the understanding that authenticity isn't synonymous with likability. The two are related, but if you're going to be completely genuine and not always subject to popular opinion, you're not going to please everyone — which can feel counterintuitive to a brand that wants to be everything to everybody.
Authenticity is a rare and valuable concept that can help you connect with your audience on a much deeper level, but it's not all sunshine and roses. Marketing authentically presents a few major challenges, and brands have to be prepared to answer questions like:
The problem with tailoring your brand's message for your core audience comes when you don't want to target so much that you risk ostracizing other potential audiences. But without committing and tailoring your message, you're left with one that only half-resonates with your intended audience but keeps the door open for others in a way that leaves both feeling like your brand doesn't know really know either of them.
It can be challenging for companies in legacy industries to approach authentic marketing because there are limitations and certain expectations around what messaging should look like. If there's no precedent for how "real" you can be, it can be hard to gauge your efforts or create a benchmark.
On one hand, no matter how authentic your marketing is, you won't be doing it for long if you can't prove that it's meeting your goals. On the other, audiences can sense b.s. pretty easily. Your job then becomes balancing authenticity with results for your team so that even though your audience might know a piece of content was created with a goal in mind (lead gen, lead gen, lead gen), they still think, "I know you've got a business to run — and I like the way you're doing it."
At its core, authenticity doesn't try to be something it's not. In fact, it needs to be stripped down to essentials, which removes the need for new and now and better and more, and just be. You don't have to completely overhaul your company to figure out how to be genuine; you need to remove all of the excess. That's where authentic messaging gets its start — not by inventing a new concept, but by revisiting an existing one.
Now, you might be thinking, "Wow, I had no idea that just being authentic and genuine would take so much preparation and strategy?!" (The irony is not lost on me.) But for how challenging authentic marketing can be, there are a few brands doing it well.
OK, so maybe I'm a little biased because our team uses Slack (I am literally posting an embarrassing Myspace photo of a co-worker to our #single-people thread right now ...), but there's a good reason for it — and it's not just because it's super helpful. Slack's branding is incredibly authentic. Sure, it's technology, but it's tech that brings people together, and Slack capitalized on that human element.
From its funny and conversational Twitter feed to its blog with content around empathy and helpful tech support and podcasts about the caffeine and productivity benefits of coffee versus tea, Slack is powered by actual humans to serve other actual humans. Even its advertising videos don't come off as gimmicky. Slack is committed to transparency and humanity, and all of its messaging reinforces that.
I know you may be tempted to breeze past this example because the term "health insurance" is kind of a boring one (and simultaneously very overwhelming), but hear me out. Oscar knows that we all feel that way about health insurance, and that's why it's worked so hard to build (and communicate) a better approach to figuring it all out.
Oscar isn't offering the most groundbreaking plans and benefits ever; what's groundbreaking about its approach to its platform and marketing is how clean, intuitive, and easy-to-use it all is. Take a look at its website, video advertisements, and Instagram (that's right, it's on Insta), and tell me Oscar hasn't done an amazing job at setting itself and its brand apart in an industry that's notoriously cluttered and complex, as well as appealing directly to its audience.
Virgin isn’t a regular airline. It’s a cool airline, and not only because its biggest brand ambassador and founder is Cool Guy Richard Branson (considered "the closest thing to a real-life 'Most Interesting Man in the World' today").
Virgin is cool because it plays by the airline industry’s rules, but it does so on its own terms: experimenting with new marketing channels, turning its tagline “Fly in the Face of Ordinary” into a hashtag and bringing it to life, walking the line between “professional corporate website” and “engaging travel blog,” and partnering with Warner Brothers to market “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them." For an airline, this kind of marketing actually does fly in the face of ordinary. Virgin lives its mission, and that's about as authentic as it gets.
Most of the brands we're loyal to aren't drastically different from every other brand in the world; not every product or service or industry has to have an amazing differentiator. A brand just has to earn its audience's trust, and that's a whole lot easier to do when a brand is true to itself.
I like my coffee black, my whiskey straight, and travel when I can afford it. I think most people just want to feel heard, and I’m happy to comply. I've also taken a sworn oath to never eat sushi.