/ By Guy Parker

Authenticity Sells Better Than Dishonesty

As Creatives, it’s Our Responsibility to Uncover the Truth

Honesty in branding, advertising, messaging and communication is more important today than ever before. With the advent of technology and the proliferation of new social platforms with fluid interactivity, consumers are demanding more transparency from advertisers and brands. Armed with newfound tools and freedoms, consumers are embracing their ability to freely share their brand experiences with an exploding network of friends, strangers and like-minded people.

The emergence of today’s dynamic new media environment has changed the rules and the landscape of brand communications. The new communication model is a two-way street, giving consumers the means to provide instant feedback. Consumers share their experiences and opinions quickly with anyone who is following their activity. This adds a dramatic new dimension to the term “truth in advertising.” The importance of truthful discovery is amplified and so is honest message development on the part of those building the brand. It becomes our responsibility (strategists, designers, writers, producers, creatives) to uncover these truths and create sincere communications that are relevant to the brand’s audience in order to generate true consumer advocacy.

Advertising: Will You Sell at Any Cost?

Let’s face it: advertisers (companies, manufacturers, producers, distributors, retailers) are in business to generate revenue by selling goods and services. At times the mad rush to increase sales and please the board or stockholders comes at a steep price. For some, the price to boost sales becomes the primary focus and comes at the cost of the brand’s honesty and integrity. As Brent Pulford proclaims in his blog post, “Ads today are often side shows meant to distract from reality rather than enlighten and inform.”

Advertisers take it upon themselves to tell the customer what they think the customer wants to hear, ignoring reality. At that point, the messaging has lost its authenticity. But, with shrinking budgets, nervous stakeholders to pacify and increased pressure in the marketplace, advertisers opt to replace long-term stability with short-term gains. They lose the golden opportunity to convert consumers into brand advocates by pushing a product the individual doesn’t really need or ultimately want.

Transparency: New Media and Emerging Technologies

The evolution of technology and the continual introduction of new devices and platforms have changed the way advertisers connect with consumers. These new media channels enable faster customer adoption and greater brand advocacy potential. However, this presents a new set of risks and challenges as well. The brand strategy and associated messaging is developed at a much faster rate and faces much higher exposure. The increased turnaround time and volume of communications makes it easier to abandon brand voice, publish incorrect information or miss the target audience mark altogether. Determining the correlation between a product’s beneficial value and the customer’s expectations is essential if you want to create meaningful communications to targeted groups.

In today’s modern media society, the media consumer has now become the media producer. Because of this, consumers are demanding greater control over these channels. Conversations, relationships and experiences are being shared across multiple channels at accelerated rates with no regard for geographic boundaries and spreading with viral intensity. Consumers are exploiting these new social channels and participating at higher levels, impacting cultural interactions and brand perceptions as never before seen in human history (Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture). They now have the means by which to have their voices heard with little or no restraint, and they are sharing their opinions about brands and their products or services with multiple communities. Lest we forget, “A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company. It’s not what you say it is. It’s what THEY say it is.” (Marty Neumeier, The Brand Gap).

Authenticity: Brand Responsibility and Trust Building

Given the incredible open media channel access that consumers now have to share information, it becomes imperative that a company’s branding, advertising and messaging are authentic and closely aligned with their mission, vision and values. In today’s transparent world one false statement or promise by an advertiser can spark a worldwide viral conversation that is negative for the brand. We can only be reminded of this by the recent United Airlines incident when they forcefully removed a paying customer from a flight to accommodate flight crew. On the other hand, this free media access can expedite consumer adoption as well. If the customer’s experience with the product or service substantially exceeds the brand promise as expressed in its communications, then the publicity of modern media results in positive attention for the brand.

Ravi Sawhney suggests in his blog, “To reach the adoption and advocacy threshold, a product or experience must surpass expectations, which happen to be growing more sophisticated and demanding over time — on a monthly basis in some industries. Expectations are a tricky thing and can only be truly understood after first identifying the needs and aspirations of the target audience.”

It becomes incumbent for us as communicators to discover the legitimate identity and true essence of the brand and identify its relevance with targeted consumer groups. The responsibility lies with us to pose the strategic questions that offer the insight required to develop honest communications. We must uncover the advertising and messaging that causes the intended audience to engage and connect on an emotional and visceral level. The ability to raise the serious questions is critical to building the kind of real brand relationships with customers that leads to brand advocacy. Once an advocate, these brand evangelists will freely share their affection and defend the brands that have proven they will deliver while staying true to their core values.

The Burden of Honest Communication Lies with the Creative Marketers

The burden lies with communicators during brand assessment and development to uncover the truths of the products or services offered by a brand. They must create honest communications that are pertinent, speaking directly to the needs, wants and desires of the appropriate consumer group. Today’s dynamic new media environment enables consumers to participate in new intelligence communities and share opinions and experiences at rapidly increasing speeds. A misstep by a brand and their inability to live up to a single customer’s expectations can be instantly broadcast to millions of like-minded consumers who are likely to write them off with the negative review of a trusted friend or acquaintance. Identifying the brand’s beneficial values and properly communicating that to a select group is crucial to building advocacy and long-term success for the brand.

Put a process in place to uncover these truths about your brand, it’s perception by customers and your perceived strengths and weaknesses. Use them to implement actionable items to improve the interactions you have with customers and hold employees accountable for delivering what you promise. If you stick with it you’re on your way to building long term sustainable relations grounded in authenticity.

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