The Quest for Authenticity in an Age of Distrust

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Michiko Morales

The world may seem like it’s in chaos – that’s because, well, it is.

Whether it’s social, economic or political, strife in nearly every aspect of life feels like it’s at a critical mass. Over just the past decade, we’ve gone through unprecedented turmoil that’s caused a seismic shift in our priorities in how we live, work and play. This chaos culminated in a pandemic that gave consumers the space to evaluate which brands they support.

 In decades past, humans used to look to leaders and government institutions, NGOs and the media for the truth. But today, most of us – no matter our political affiliation, nationality, ethnicity or class status – approach the truth conveyed by these institutions with a level of skepticism, if not a bit of outright mistrust. At least we all have that in common, right? 

Adding to the growing, widespread cynicism is that the more virtual our worlds become, the more we want something that is genuine. What people want today isn’t just a great service or product – they want honesty, transparency, engagement and authenticity. According to the  HawkPartners 2021 Brand Authenticity Index, 80% of consumers say it’s somewhat or very important that a brand is authentic. Having purpose drives that authenticity.

Authenticity Begins With Purpose

So what is purpose? Well, purpose is definitely not, “Hey, I make headbands, so I want to make the most beautiful headbands in the world.” You have to ask yourself about the headbands you’re making, or rather the software you’re making: “How does that actually propel humanity towards good?”

Once you define your purpose, make sure your purpose resonates with your buyer personas and that it resonates with your value structure and with your senior leadership. And, be sure that you can truly execute on it. People finding purpose through their mission statement will find purpose in their work, and in turn, in their purchases.

Being authentic means that you’re presenting yourself and your brand from a place of sincerity and genuineness. Here’s the rub: being authentic cannot be bought or won through marketing – it’s something that’s earned. 

Authenticity can’t just be championed from the marketing team. It must start from the top down. Clearly defined values allow your team to own and embody them. From there, you need to bring together the core stakeholders, your executive leadership and drive this from within in order to get everybody on board and define a true purpose.

Define your company values and incorporate them into everything you do as a company, from your staff reviews to your social media interactions. Why? Because authenticity works; 77% of consumers say they’re more likely to spend money on a brand they perceive as authentic over one they don’t.

Authenticity works because it:

  • Makes a business stand out from its competition
  • Gives substance and a higher purpose to a business than just “selling stuff”
  • Helps people relate to your business
  • Helps people understand what you offer benefits them
  • Tells people that what you are offering is high quality
  • Establishes you out as a reliable, trustworthy company
  • Turns audiences into vocal advocates

The Challenge

The key challenge to being authentic is that today’s consumers can spot inauthenticity from miles away. They prefer buying from brands that are “real” and honest about who they are. However, it’s not uncommon at all for businesses to unintentionally appear disingenuous in their marketing, especially if they’re just hopping on the latest trends in the hopes of going viral or getting likes on social media. This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that people have learned to tune out messages they can’t relate to. They are more discerning than ever and have less patience for anyone who is stretching the truth or trying to deceive them.

Nearly half of U.S. consumers who are disappointed by a brand’s words or actions on a social issue complain about it. Consumers in the U.S. are no longer making decisions based solely on product selection or price. They’re assessing what a brand says, what it does and what it stands for. They support companies whose brand purpose aligns with their beliefs, and they reject those that don’t. 

Brands are authentic if they are:

  • Explicitly moral
  • Brutally honest
  • Unapologetically transparent
  • Rooted in their values
  • Constantly consistent

 Things to Avoid:

  • Using platitudes and generic language
  • Inconsistency
  • Inserting your brand/product no matter how awkward
  • Jumping on the trend of the week
  • Being all things to all people
  • Always selling
  • Doing something because everyone else is
  • Using (paid) influencers

Identifying Authentic Items for Promotion

When you find a new Netflix series that you fall in love with, how do you tell your friends about it? Do you recite the entire script? Or, do you simply give them the best details and tell them something along the lines of, “You have got to check out this new show! It’s got your favorite actor. It’s hilarious, you’ll love it, trust me!” Think of your consumers in the same way, as a friend that you want to reveal this amazing new product to. Be real, honest and save the rest of the details for once you have them in the funnel.

Pinpoint what makes your product or service special. “What makes us great?” is a good place to start. Don’t confuse your consumer with too much information and bog them down with irrelevant data. Don’t overcomplicate it; think of how the end user’s life will be changed once they are using your product. Then, reverse engineer your pitch.

Set Yourself Apart in the Sales Process

By creating content that is helpful and educational, you’re helping your customers understand the “how” and the “why” with thought-provoking concepts in your content and digital ads. Allow them to trust you as a go-to source of trustworthy information.

If you’ve aligned your purpose in what you are creating, then it should be an unforced, natural rhythm. Why? Because you believe in what you are doing. Your sales will be better because you simply are being better. Believe in what you’ve set out to accomplish, and people will naturally respond to your brand’s authenticity. A company or brand that holds itself accountable communicates authentically, believes in consequences and lives its truth will engage all audiences and promote its mission to make a larger mark on our world. 

At GMG, we believe authenticity works — no gimmicks, just hard work, great products and informed strategies. Your organization has something great to share with the world, but maybe you need help cultivating an authentic message that reaches its intended audience. How can we help?

This blog post is based on the presentation, Telling Authentic Stories in an Age of Distrust, from Digital Summit Washington, D.C. 2021.

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Leah Nurik