Truth Will Out – Why Authenticity is the Key to Growing Your Business
By James T Noble
Authentic businesses inspire and prosper. A bold statement – but one that is very hard to argue with.
You might think that by its very nature marketing isn’t authentic, but in the digital age where people are increasingly savvy that preconception is being forced to change.
Indicators are everywhere – for example the 2012 Goodpurpose study demonstrated that where quality and price were equal the leading purchase driver for 53 percent of consumers was ‘social purpose’. If you consider Facebook’s upcoming changes to news feed which reflect the trend toward content that shows more heart and encourages the forging of deeper connections, giving users the ability to focus only on image based posts or tune out brand updates completely. In fact in many cases the only way businesses are going to get their news seen is if friends share it, and to achieve that they’re going to have to be convincingly honest and authentic.
The more virtual our lives get, the more we hunger after something genuine. What people really want now is not just a product or a service, it’s an experience. An experience that is more honest and transparent …more authentic – and businesses are going to have to keep up with growing consumer authority and give people what they want if they want to survive.
Don’t make the mistake of giving your audience less credit than they deserve. They are far more informed, aware, socially connected – and empowered – crowd than ever before with high standards… and boy do they have attitude. This is THEIR area too, and they can sniff out a scam at 10 paces. They aren’t afraid to air some dirty laundry either and anything you put out there will be scrutinized. If it doesn’t measure up to ‘genuine’ it WILL get called out. More and more, making a wrong move in marketing can be catastrophic for your company kudos – with some seriously negative knock-on effects for your business.
But don’t think for one moment it’s us versus them – that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact being authentic is hugely beneficial to businesses as well as those they serve.
So what is authenticity?
Simply put, being authentic means staying true to who you are, what you do and who you serve. In an environment in which more human elements matter it creates value and benefits for your followers as well as improving your business.
Authenticity works because…
- It elevates your business above the competition
- It builds your identity and image into something influential
- It gives substance to your business, services and products
- It enables people to relate to your business
- It helps people understand how what you offer is of benefit to them
- It tells people that what you offer is of high quality
- It marks you out as a reliable, trustworthy company
- It encourages engagement and can turn audiences into advocates
How to do it
So with the benefits (and the necessity) of authenticity in mind – how can you demonstrate it convincingly in order to grow your business? Thankfully there are multitudes of practical ways you can develop your authenticity simply and effectively.
Sounds simple right? Yet it’s amazing how many businesses get this wrong. Share your passions and your mission and get back to basics. Who are you? What drives you? The best way to be perceived as authentic is to BE authentic, so build a purpose for your business beyond making a buck. Get back to grass roots and apply your core values, goals and beliefs as the heart of how you approach every aspect of your business.
Be warned – being real comes with the caveat that you must exhibit empathy and intuition in order to make this work. Idiots, bigots and those lacking social graces need not apply.
…And that means remaining true to yourself and your business, sharing your passions and your mission, but ALSO taking time to listen and understand those involved with your business, from your clients through to employees, peers and suppliers. Don’t over self-promote or force things on others, it will only have a detrimental effect.
In a bid to convince consumers businesses are having to become more like people, and genuinely charitable souls work hard for their causes and gain a lot of respect as a result. Affiliating your company with a charity and building campaigns around it goes a long way to winning people over with your altruistic nature – but you have to go the whole way to be convincing, which mean not just making a donation once or twice a year – for real impact make yourself the true champion of a cause instead.
EXAMPLE: Johnson & Johnson have earned their reputation through global and community improvement projects with an emphasis on sustainability for a healthy global future.
Inconsistency is confusing to consumers and smacks of massive contradiction. Giving mixed messages easily leads to suspicion and mistrust. This is a surprisingly commonly made mistake, with the offending enterprises acting and operating in a completely different way offline to online, or across different online platforms – presenting a damaging schizophrenic image. Whilst it is important to tailor your approach to a specific platform, your fundamental message, style and identity should remain the same throughout to ensure you convey your business as strong, self-assured and trustworthy.
Example: with their strong mission statement, cool branding, elegant, reliable products, and reputation for quality, innovation and pushing boundaries – Apple have built up and reinforced their brand consistency over time.
Back Up What You Say
‘All mouth and no trousers’ is a quaint English expression that basically refers to someone who can talk a good game but cannot back themselves up or effectively deliver on their promises. They get a reputation, and people learn not to listen to them or pay them any attention.
Unfortunately for those businesses that fall into the ‘all mouth and no trousers category’ (of which there are many) today’s savvy consumer is much more likely to see straight through the banter to the lack of substance underneath. Authenticity goes hand in hand with being transparent, so avoid any embarrassment by never making claims you can’t prove, giving evidence wherever you can, staying true to your core mission and values, and making sure you never post misleading information about your business.
EXAMPLE: Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos has lived up to the company’s aspirations and put the customer first by repeatedly sacrificed short-term profits, reducing prices and discouraging them from buying certain less-beneficial products.
Give people as many ways as possible they can easily contact you, and make SURE someone (and by ‘someone’ I mean a REAL person, not a machine or an autoresponder) is going to be there to respond promptly, politely and effectively.
Doing so adds a personal element to your customer service and shows you follow through on your promises – it goes a long way to building a solid and authentic reputation. This goes for any time you interact with your customers and clients via whatever medium – let your sincerity shine through with your authentic and helpful manner. And always answer questions honestly – even if it means giving an answer that is less positive.
EXAMPLE: Hilton Hotels combine technology with a very personal twist through their dedicated Twitter watch enabling them to respond to customers’ direct tweets and proactively search for any indirect complaints which can then be dealt with – now that’s powerful.
If you make a mistake, be professional enough to admit it – and be humble. Own up and apologize before anyone else has the chance to publicly make a harsh judgment that could damage your reputation further. Everyone has flaws – it’s what makes us human. Handled correctly, being honest about and accountable for your mistakes could turn a ‘situation’ into an advantageous state of affairs.
EXAMPLE: A while back Dominos pizza CEO Patrick Doyle acknowledged that consumer reviews that their product was far from perfect were spot on. Doyle turned this around by using it as inspiration for redesigning the pizzas from scratch. This was all cleverly documented in a series of ads and videos and invited people to try the new pizzas. Sales rose dramatically as a result and profits doubled.
Highlight Your Reputation
It is widely known how much sway reviews have over potential clients and customers, so make a show of them on your website and through social media. But be warned – NEVER manipulate your reviews.
There is such a thing as ‘too good to be true’, and if you have a flawless set of client reviews you will strike an instant blow of disbelief (and by proxy mistrust) into the hearts of your intended. Testimonials from real people (with real names and genuine photographs) are also powerful aides to authenticity, so display them pointedly and with pride. Make people aware of any industry awards you have won and any respected groups and associations of which you are a member – it will all help to round out the impression of a bona fide, reliable business.
Nurture Your Following
Give and you shall receive. Actively nurture dialogue with your followers so to keep them enthusiastic and engaged. Get to know your audience intimately and let them get to know you too through personal interaction, bios, videos, blogs, behind the scenes coverage and glimpses into the personal lives of company members. Talk to them. Give them the benefit of your expertise and experience – for free. Position yourself (subtly) as an authority in your industry and your authenticity will shine through.
EXAMPLE: The Skittles brand is great at utilizing social media. The Skittles Facebook page is constantly packed with new and fun ways for fans to interact, like videos, competitions, games and apps. There is a strong emphasis on the consumer and dialogue is actively encouraged.
Don’t Share Everything With Everyone
While it’s great to share some secrets and involve people in some behind the scenes insights, authenticity does not require the same level of transparency with every relationship. Just like in real life where we play different roles in different contexts every day, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and you should have different relationships with different people.
A business can have many different facets as long as they are untied underneath the umbrella of your core identity. How your audience will react to what you share will vary depending on who they are, what their needs and desires are, where they come from and how you are reaching them – so show a little savoir-faire by being sensitive to each audience and each situation, and catering your content accordingly.
Example: Fashion brand ASOS use Facebook primarily for product promotion, whereas their Twitter account focuses heavily on customer interaction, responding to hundreds of mentions a day. ASOS’ Google+ account features a couple of updates each day featuring unique, non-overly promotional content.
Know Your Limits
Just like each and every one of your clients you and your business are unique, and you will have your own thresholds regarding what and how much you are willing to share in order to build your authenticity. This knowledge also helps you be selective about your marketing. Poorly considered content, or content with little value (like sharing what you had for breakfast) will do little for building your reputation, and may in fact have a negative effect. Equally don’t feel obliged to share more than you are comfortable with – there’s no need to give away the secret ingredients to mama’s special sauce…
Be patient. You can’t create authenticity overnight, but put in the work and it will pay huge dividends in the long run. Focus on the following key approaches which can be easily implemented into any business to get you focused and give you a head start.
- Define your goals and your mission
- Develop a purpose behind what you do other than making money
- Share your mission and your passions with enthusiasm
- Maintain your core identity at all times
- Always be consistent and avoid giving mixed messages
- Champion a cause to show your charitable nature
- Get to know your audience and their desires and needs
- Actively engage with your audience through social media
- Show personality through content like blogs/video/updates/bios etc.
- Share secrets, advice and inside information where appropriate
- Only share things of worth – it’s better not to share at all than to share something nobody cares about
- Tailor your content to suit different audiences across multiple platforms
- Position yourself as an authority through audience interaction and offering the benefits of your expertise and experience
- Highlight your achievements and experience on websites and across social media
- Only make promises you are sure you can keep
- Always be on hand (or ensure someone else is) to offer assistance
…And there’s an added bonus to all this too that hardly anyone is aware of. With true authenticity comes a sense of liberation and freedom. Being true to yourself and your business and honest with your clients and customers relieves anxiety many of us don’t realize we hold onto. It frees up energy that would normally be consumed by maintaining a facade. That energy boost, stress relief and liberation can have a huge impact on a business as a whole and make it a real power to be reckoned with.
This is a trend which is not going away. An open and trustworthy business is a popular business, whereas charlatan companies will ultimately fail regardless of whatever efforts are made to promote them and however much money is invested in them.
Make the change NOW and implement as many of these measures as you can to build your authenticity, rise above the competition and take your business to new heights.
About James T Noble: James makes small businesses bigger. He’s worked with some of the world’s largest brands and companies to market their products and services online – including Disney, Microsoft, 20th Century Fox, Virgin, Coca Cola, MTV and many others. Find out more and read business growth tips at http://www.JamesTNoble.com