Perhaps more than ever, consumers are skeptical about the motives behind brands. Between the data breaches, hollow social justice messages, emissions scandals, Twitter shade, and use of personal information, it’s no surprise the relationship between consumers and brands is souring — and fast.
In a 2017 study, 90% of millennials said brand authenticity is important. Ignoring this preference and demonstrating inauthenticity, particularly if millennials make up a good portion of your target audience, means not caring about what your customers care about.
So given the inherent friction between consumers and brands, how can brands attract and retain customers? For consumers, it all begins with trust. And as in any relationship, that trust is built on authenticity.
Content development is a primary avenue for brands to communicate their goals, methods, and overall mission and personality through digital marketing. If you're honest and down-to-Earth in your content, the authenticity will shine through.
Here are the key ways you can become an authentic brand and gain consumer trust.
Authenticity in Messaging
For a consumer to really know a brand, they need to be able to point to what they say and see if their actions reflect their principles. After all, nobody likes a hypocrite.
So how can brands reveal a side of themselves that will endear them to consumers?
Refining Your Brand Messaging
Building brand authenticity starts by explaining the following:
- What it is the brand is doing
- What problem the brand is trying to solve
- Who the brand is trying to help
A brand messaging framework is a great way to establish a strong foundation at achieving this. (Here is a great example of a B2B brand messaging framework you can use.)
Additionally, for some brands, this can include a mission statement or brand identity; sometimes it's called a brand promise.
Let's look at Chobani, for example:
Their brand mission extends from making great yogurt; they've established how they're maintaining their ethical values and explain exactly how they're doing that.
Not only do they outline all of their values and goals, but they also provide a downloadable PDF for anyone who wants to dig into the details, meaning Chobani isn't afraid to reveal the thought process of leadership and what they've done so far to achieve their objectives.
When a brand story clearly includes its mission and other values, consumers understand that a brand genuinely cares about making good on their promises. And that honesty is what opens up the foundation for a consumer/brand relationship.
The Human Side of Brand Messaging
Behind every brand, there are people — the more a brand can show that, the more consumers will relate.
By making personal connections, brands can build trust with consumers — as long as they stick to it. The fact is, in any competitive landscape, one inconsistent move and that trust can vanish.
Back to our Chobani example, I love this video they shared on Facebook. By having this message communicated by someone who is passionate about it and personally involved, it feels so much more real.
Again, consumers are people, and people really do not like being duped, so brands need to be careful to not change their thoughts, tones, and messaging in a way that would make them seem inauthentic.
Of course, change can happen, but it has to come with a clear explanation to get customers on-board and excited about the transition. If any fear or concern lingers, you may be jeopardizing all of the trust you built.
Authenticity in Content Execution
Here’s what brands can do to create more authentic content:
- Be accurate with what they’re presenting
- Use evidence to back up what they say
- Be upfront and transparent with how they came to what they’re presenting, including any limitations it may have
For many brands competing in fields with a lot of noisy, junk content, being authentic in these ways will help elevate content and allow them to become authorities in their own spaces.
Using Evidence in Content
It should go without saying, but whenever you use facts to back up your claims, people will trust you more. When brands (or even people you know) spout off about something they don’t know what they’re talking about, or are clearly making something up, it immediately makes them seem untrustworthy and inauthentic.
By using real data behind what you’re saying, it removes a brand’s own bias from the conversation and confirms that something or someone else is validating what you’re saying.
For content, this can be things like industry research, surveys you run, internal data, or anything that gives some evidence to what you’re trying to say.
For example, in this project on social media etiquette we created for Influence.co, we didn't just come up with a list of etiquette rules; we surveyed 1,000 people asking what they thought was appropriate to get a better sense of what behavior was accepted and not accepted by the public.
Remember, though, that people have to be able to also trust the evidence you provide, which leads us to our next rule.
Reporting Data Accurately and Honestly
Good data is only as good as the way it’s interpreted, and as anyone who’s seen a “Top X in each state!” piece of content recently can tell you, it’s easy to use numbers to twist the truth. (I even wrote a piece about how people use Google Trends data inaccurately.)
Brands have a responsibility to back up what they say, and consumers have zero tolerance for being mislead. That said, often times brands don’t even realize they’re doing it. And worse, consumers sometimes don’t realize they’re being misled.
By thinking very critically of your data and sourcing, you make yourself think about all the possible outcomes, and often, that care and thought will come through in your execution.
So how do you know if your data is being reported accurately and honestly? One exercise is to ask yourself, if I was someone trying to tear this piece of content apart on Twitter, what would I say? Thinking about your content this way allows you to see any potential flaws and address them before publishing.
With any piece of content you create, there will be limitations. From margins of error in surveys to incomplete datasets, there are always caveats to your data. One way to get ahead of this is by being transparent about any flaws in your data; we do this by adding methodologies and limitation sections to all of our studies. This is what we added to the Influence.co project:
The benefits of these are twofold: First, you get ahead of any potential issues that others might call out, and get first shot at explaining and controlling the narrative around them, and second, consumers appreciate the honesty. After all, brands are not completely faceless — there are people behind them, and consumers will understand the fallibility.
Authenticity matters, and it comes from being who you say you are. By establishing a clear brand purpose, articulating your core values, and carrying out those core values in a transparent and honest way, you're well on your way in achieving brand authenticity, ultimately consumer/client trust, and if you're lucky, even brand loyalty.