Today is the day when Authentic Marketing is making the leap from being this thing I KEEP TELLING PEOPLE ABOUT over margaritas, or on the train, or on the street, or at the post office (yes, I accost perfect strangers with my strange evangelicalism), to something EVERYONE is talking about. I’ve known for a while that I was on the crest of a wave. The wave has landed.
Today, Ash Ambirge at The Middle Finger Project, sent a missive to my inbox that began with this:
I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, as one does on a Thursday night when they’ve just made themselves a pot of coffee in a feeble attempt to NOT keep the sleep schedule of an eighty year old choir member, and there it was, all over the place:
The sense that everybody is entirely bullshitting you.
And, you know, I’m not entirely sure who I’d like to blame for this, particularly because we old ladies who remember how platforms like Twitter were back in the golden years of 2008-2009, when there were these things called humans who were publishing ideas, instead of generic nothingness.
Today it feels different. Plastic. Contrived. Everybody’s selling something for a quick buck, and everyone’s doing it in the same way: Robotically, with zero originality and even less conviction.
I love the way she puts things; Ash doesn’t hold back.
How can you then market and sell effectively without resorting to hype?
The answer is to be helpful and authentic.
“Authenticity becomes a much more desirable property than exaggeration,” this Harvard Business School article says.
Being helpful is the core of effective content marketing:
“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” – Content Marketing Institute
Being authentic and helpful also makes your statements more believable. Customers feel you’re thinking about their best interests.
This also sets your business up for sucess in the long term. That’s because you’re building trust among your customers.
However, while Joshua cites a lot of great statistics and interesting studies (and the article is well-worth reading), it also rang a few of my internal alarm bells, particularly with this point:
Authenticity can also help you stand out, because being authentic is not common. Many businesses feel the pressure to make the same promises and use hype. Authenticity brings a breath of fresh air to audiences.
Authenticity can help you stand out. In fact, I would argue that it’s the only thing that can. But not because it’s uncommon.
We are standing at the precipice of a shift in marketing that will cause a tidal wave of copycats. Because Ash and Josh are right – authenticity does cut through the noise. And, in this interwebby world of past deeds existing forever online, it’s the only marketing that is guaranteed to work long-term (and not bite you in the butt later.)
This means that the marketers are coming. Some of them are already here. Many of them will talk about “authentic marketing,” without really understanding what it means, and they will twist it to be more like what they’ve always done. Kinda like what I’ve seen happen with “inbound marketing.” I remember when Inbound was more altruistic (“let’s teach the people! give away our most valuable information!”), rather than (“and then let’s gate that information so we can put those emails into sales funnels and have our salespeople follow up with hard-sells!”). Yeah, that happened.
And it will happen with “authentic marketing” too, transforming it from a revolution into a buzzword.
Authentic marketing is going to be as common as dirt – and fast.
People will buy it, at first, because “authentic” sounds nice.
But people are smart! And they are savvy, and they will catch on to marketing that only pays lip service to truth.
Which is why when I read “because being authentic is not common,” that little alarm bell rang in my ears, because it will be common. All too common. And soon.
But more than that, marketing authentically isn’t something you should do primarily because it drives conversions, or because it cuts through the noise (not by being louder but by being relevant and honest and human). The “why” behind authentic marketing is just as important as the what. And the “why” behind marketing authentically should be: Because this is who you are.
Now, I know #ideali$m needs one foot set firmly in pragmatism to work. So let me tell you why genuine, authentic marketing is so effective, and still feels good, even when the rest of the world makes it into a buzzword.
My definition of authentic marketing:
Authentic marketing is marketing that is true to the company or entrepreneur, reflects its/his/her values, and bases decisions on the best interests of the customers. Authentic marketing delivers real value, every time, because behind each communication is the genuine desire to help people (and not always by selling them something).
It means giving away the good stuff, not as a Cialdini-approved tactic, but as real generosity.
What do you get in return?
Ah, this is where the magic happens.
You don’t just get customers, you get people who love you. They are so relieved to find their values reflected in your business that they will sing your praises and practically do your marketing for you. The buzzword for this is “brand advocate,” but I like the term “finding your tribe” – even though frankly, it’s kinda buzzy too.
Your business grows because you are putting good into the world. It’s karma delivered in dollars and cents.
You can charge higher rates, because the quality of your product or service, and the essential you that you bring to it, make what you do unlike anything else.
Authenticity is a natural differentiator that no one else can duplicate. It’s the “only you” hook that marketers and value proposition writers dream of.
I’m not talking out of my authentic a$$. Read about companies like Patagonia and Southwest – huge corporations that are nailing authentic marketing and putting their competition to shame, and they’re not the only ones. Theo Chocolate in Seattle has raised the ‘bar’ (pun intended) for sustainably sourcing cocoa and ensuring that the farmers are fairly treated and paid. And, each and every one of my clients is committed to authentic marketing (or they wouldn’t have hired me!), and their businesses range from Bay Area software-as-a-service growth-hacking startups to spiritual coaches and authors interviewed by Oprah.
And they are such good people. I love them – I really do. I sing their praises to everyone I know and am one of their biggest fans, because their ‘authenticity’ works on me too.