On the surface, the world of marketing is changing constantly. New social media platforms, Twitter protocols, and countless other rapidly emerging trends dominate office talk at agencies. Beneath the revolving door of opportunities however, a major shift has taken place, a shift that will not only fundamentally change every company’s approach to marketing their business, but will also affect how we as consumers share our own stories.
For a company’s message to cut through today’s media clutter and connect with us, the people they want buying their products, it Must. Be. Authentic. To haul out the old Merriam-Webster, authentic means real, genuine, not copied or fake. Authenticity in today’s marketing world refers not only to an overall brand image, but to every aspect of a business. Posers need not apply.
The shift towards authenticity applies to major companies and the way they are targeting customers today, but it also applies to small businesses. Why is your business relevant? It’s not enough any more to say, “We have the best hot pastrami this side of the Mississippi River!” It’s not enough either to say, “We’re the hottest new app.” The consumer is over it. And they don’t believe you. Do you make organic tomato sauce? Where do you harvest your tomatoes? Why do you love tomato sauce? Do you make sauce in a massive factory with other brands, or small batch in the kitchen of a house in Omaha you just renovated? Of course you’re selling delicious tomato sauce, but you’re also telling an authentic story.
If we as a population are getting better at sniffing out fakers when it comes to corporate advertising, it stands to reason that we’re getting better at sniffing out fake people too.
Let’s pull back even further. Say you don’t work in marketing, you don’t own a small business, you don’t see how this could apply to you. The thing is, the shift towards authenticity in marketing is a response towards changing consumer values. You are a consumer. So is everyone around you, and the vast majority of everyone around you has decided that authenticity is important. It’s important in what they look for in a brand, so it’s going to be important in what they look for in a person, in a teacher, in an employee, and in a friend. If brands have to be more authentic than ever in today’s market, so do you.
So the question is, are you comfortable being authentic? Is the real you something you actually want to share? If we as a population are getting better at sniffing out fakers when it comes to corporate advertising, it stands to reason that we’re getting better at sniffing out fake people too. The perfectly curated public presence, the one designed purposefully to project an image that is only a partial truth, isn’t going to work for much longer.
Perfect isn’t cool anymore. We can all see through it, and for some of us, that’s a pretty scary reality. Perfect was safe. When we could pretend to be perfect, no one would question us, no one would ask us the hard questions, our problems and insecurities were wrapped in an ugly little box in a corner somewhere, and we didn’t have to deal with them unless we really wanted to which, as far as we were concerned, would be never.
The perfectly curated public presence, the one designed purposefully to project an image that is only a partial truth, isn’t going to work for much longer.
Authenticity doesn’t mean airing out all your dirty laundry, but it does mean really and truly living in your own skin. Your skin has bruises. It has imperfections. There are parts of it that you probably don’t like and you might be worried that other people might not like them either. Authenticity isn’t perfect or safe, but it is REAL. There is intrinsic value in who you really are, not who you want to be, or wish you were, but who you really are and how you really feel. The real you is where passion happens. It’s where progress happens. It’s where compassion and truth and adventure happen. You cannot get to those places without being authentic, and thanks to what’s happening in marketing right now, hopefully the fakers won’t have much time left.
So those of you who don’t work in marketing, who don’t run small businesses or freelance, think about your personal authenticity. Take some time and try to answer the most important question you can ask yourself: Who Are You? Then decide to be that and only that. Live in your own skin, not anyone else’s. See where it takes you.
If you do work in marketing, you probably already know this. For you, the challenge is to not get cocky. The challenge is to dig deep back into the soul of your client, remember who they are, remember what they bring to their customer, and to extend that story in a way that is new and exciting. There are no short cuts. You are a no longer a manufacturer of consent. You are a cultivator of truth.
The real you is where passion happens. It’s where progress happens.
For the small business owners out there, even for the big business owners, you may be wondering if your story is important enough to cut through the clutter, if you even know where to start at all. Slow down. Copying someone else’s model won’t get you anywhere. Start at the beginning. What do you do? Why do you do it? That’s what everyone wants to know. Start there.
Our cultural re-focus on authenticity can be a good thing. So much beauty and power and truth can come from a world where both businesses and individuals are honest about who they are and why. It will only work though, if all of us are brave enough to be ourselves.