The United States has a trust problem. While connectedness continues to grow — through social media and the internet of things — we, as consumers, are increasingly dubious of opinions and stories we see in the media and, especially, in advertising. In fact, according to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, over the past year, consumers’ trust in U.S. institutions has dropped to its lowest level on record.
What does this mean for brands trying to make genuine connections with consumers? In short, people have less tolerance for inconsistent views, throwaway comments and flashy campaigns. Clearly, there is a need for communication that honestly speaks to buyers.
Think, for instance, about the last five purchases you made that cost $100 or more. How many were truly good investments? And how many just left you with a vague sense of regret, as if you had been sold a bag of rocks?
This is a common feeling for consumers. As the dollar amount of purchases goes up, so does the risk of disappointment. The products that make people feel good, even months after a purchase, aren’t the ones with HD screens or cute characters in their ads. They’re the ones with authentic brands attached — brands that function like great friends who are always there. Consumers feel better using these products because of one simple yet hard-to-achieve element: authenticity.
If less well-known brands want to secure themselves a place in customers’ hearts and homes, they must practice authenticity. Otherwise, consumers will swiftly categorize them as looking to just profit from them as customers rather than relate to them as people.
Want to drive your own brand’s longevity through development authenticity? Here are three ways to find out what “authenticity” means for your brand and how you can start practicing it in every touchpoint customers share with you:
1. Keep your eyes on your own customers.
Remember back in grade school when your teacher told you to keep your eyes on your own work? There was a reason for that lecture. For one thing, it was to stop you from cheating, but it also helped you develop your own ideas and identity.
The way many brands become inauthentic is when they try to stay “on trend” by mimicking competitors’ tactics. Remember that your core customers discovered you for a reason: They related to your story. Don’t dilute or change that story to suit shifting fashions. Authentic brands are the ones that stick fast with an unwavering devotion to their identity.
I admire brands that show a commitment to themselves and their core customers, such as clothing brand BornxRaised. The company was launched by two California natives who couldn’t stand watching their hometown of Venice lose its charm and culture as it became more and more gentrified. This is a common feeling for many people who live in towns across the United States. To counteract this cycle, BornxRaised caters to its audience and stays true to its narrative. In doing so, the brand has formed strong, loyal bonds with its customers.
2. Harness the power of the 2 “P’s.”
Entrepreneurs ask me all the time: “How do we market to people who have never used our product and don’t know who we are?” The answer is twofold: peers and personalization, or the 2 P’s.
Peers are the friends and contemporaries of your as-yet-unknown customer. They are trusted, respected entities, and through them, you can be, too. So encourage your existing customers to tell their friends about your brand. Incentivize and reward them for sharing their referrals of your products, and provide them with ways to share every time they interact with your brand.
Personalization is a fast track to trust because it assures consumers that you know and care about them. That’s why highly personalized service — from handwritten notes to tailored email content — tends to correlate with impulse buys. Plus, according to Segment’s The 2017 State of Personalization report, an impressive 44 percent of shoppers in one survey said they would respond to personalized experiences with increased brand loyalty.
3. Take off that mask.
How can you expect consumers to trust the authenticity of your brand if you’re always pretending to be polished and professional? Most of what makes your brand special goes on behind the scenes. It’s communicated by the the way Carla brings bagels to the office every Wednesday; it’s Gavin’s crazy socks.
The only way to truly show consumers your authentic self is to expose behind-the-scenes content. Tell your brand story, not through rehearsed pitches and smooth taglines but by filming your next office party or interviewing the faces behind the brand.
In addition, publish articles and blog posts that spotlight people’s stories; even consider writing a book.
I recently read A Second Chance by Catherine Hoke, and was in tears during the entire read due to Hoke’s honesty and willingness to share her truth. I also felt deeply connected to Defy Ventures — her nonprofit — as a result.
Most importantly, show some vulnerability. I recently met a very successful executive who told me a story about a time when he risked his own life for his brand. Yet none of his customers had any idea how much he cares. So share stories like that one. Let customers know the amount of energy and love you put into your product, and they will be more likely to root for you.
In short, authenticity drives positive feelings — not the kind that fade once the customer leaves the store but the kind that stick around for a long time. In this era of “fake news,” show customers who you really are by staying true to yourself, getting personal and exposing your vulnerability.