Be authentic. If a stranger made this demand of you as you sat across from each other in a coffee shop, I bet the next thing out of your mouth would be anything but authentic. It puts you in a weird headspace, ramps up your self-consciousness and forces you to be overly analytical about what you say next.
And yet, this is the situation we face every day as content marketers. For years, the rallying cry has been for marketing authenticity. Baby Boomers made it to Facebook so you need to speak to them on their terms. Millennials have a ton of buying power, so your marketing message and voice have to resonate with them. Gen Z loves influencers because they keep it real, so you better get your product in their hands if you want a better bottom line.
All probably true in some form, but focusing exclusively on accommodating these external forces and trends is not the path to authenticity. You must first turn inward to uncover what you stand for, which is a critical step to making better decisions and finetuning your brand story and strategy. With these in place, marketing authenticity becomes second nature.
At Scribewise, we’re lucky to work with a lot of smart clients. If you’re working with an agency, creating great B2B content has to be a two-way street. We often learn as much from our clients as they learn from us. (By the way, if you’re working with an “expert” who’s not willing to learn as much as they teach, you know where to find us).
The following lessons about marketing authenticity bubbled up this year; they may help you reframe some of the challenges you’re feeling about your own marketing authenticity.
Data Fuels the “Detect to Correct” Cycle
Good content marketing and data are forever entwined, but sometimes we lose sight of why we’re really measuring our efforts. We all have goals and KPIs and people above us who want to know about ROI. Important, yes. But focusing exclusively on the numbers for their own sake leads down a path to vanity metrics that don’t really tell the full story. And it certainly doesn’t make your customers happier or improve your authenticity.
One of our clients works in an industry where the “detect to correct” cycle is essential to their success. The faster they can learn what goes wrong with a product or where customers want improvement, the more likely they are to keep those customers coming back for more. We should be thinking about our data in the same way. Authenticity here is about walking the walk when we say customers come first; if that’s true, your data should inform how you hone your message so it’s true to your story while meeting customer demands.
“Can” and “Should” Are Very Different Things
Platforms and tools available to marketers change all the time. What was once 140 characters is now 280 … and did you see that cool new ad format that [insert your favorite platform] just rolled out? Rinse and repeat ad nauseam. There will always be a shiny new marketing opportunity to grab.
A marketer we work with, who is a Very Big Deal in the B2B social media space, said something recently that crystalized the risk of chasing those new tools. Just because one can, does not mean one should. Truer words were never spoken.
It’s tempting to buy into the latest marketing opportunity. Yes, it’s important to explore them. But if, for example, you’re known for tight, succinct copy that gets your point across with no frills, changing your approach just because the tool changes is inauthentic. Always go back to your story first, which should inform your strategy, before you decide to change a tactic.
When Others Zig, Sometimes You Must Crank Up the Whimsy
We delivered a website mockup to a client recently. They liked it, but the crux of their feedback was “More whimsy, please!” Whimsy, really?! They operate in an industry that, to put it kindly, can skew a little stuffy and where everyone competes to be the smartest person in the room … decidedly un-whimsical.
Once we dove into that comment a little deeper to suss out what it meant, it made a lot of sense. We’ve met their entire team in person. They are not like their industry counterparts. The whimsy they were looking for captured their accessibility, likeability and willingness to get in the trenches and work the problem with everyone else.
It’s authentic to them and authentic to their brand. It only makes sense that the same feeling should make its way into their marketing.
Snazzy Marketing Is Not Your Brand
It’s easy to confuse your brand with your marketing. However, your brand is not a logo, not your color palette, and not the last thing you posted on Facebook. These things all represent it, but at its core, your brand is your story.
We delivered a marketing piece to a client recently that was good; maybe a little too good. By no means were they looking for mediocrity, but the marketing content just felt a little too slick to them. Their audience appreciates a plain-spoken approach, not a Madison-Avenue masterpiece.
Your brand and your marketing should work hand-in-hand, but this is not a chicken-and-egg scenario. To be authentic, your brand has to be figured out first; you can’t build it through your marketing execution.
Reframe Authenticity as Altruism
We worked with an executive recently on a personal branding project. She said her raison d’etre maps closely with her passion for volunteering with the Salvation Army, whose tagline is “to do the most good.” She said she adopted this for herself and thinks about how she can do the most good for her clients and in her personal life.
If you reframe your pursuit of marketing authenticity as altruism for your customers, everything else falls into place. Your marketing can’t help but be authentic, because you’re thinking of your customer first. The other things that matter—like engagement, market share and ROI—naturally spring from your altruism.
So the next time you feel the challenge to be authentic, take a step back and think about what that really means. It’s not about mirroring your audience’s voice and preferences, but about being true to your brand and its mission of serving your customers better.