If Authenticity Is What Others Crave, Here Is What Really Matters.
When you come from a place of realness, not authenticity, you become believable.
Authenticity is seen by many businesses as the mantra to live by and the stake in the ground for others to see how they behave. In reality it comes across as a tailored begging bowl for acceptance.
Being authentic is defined as the ‘quality of being genuine’ (according to the dictionary).
Being authentic is not about telling how responsible you are on your ‘about us’ page and the latest blog post that tells everyone about winning a new client. Authenticity, whilst it becomes something that companies champion, it is becoming disingenuous mindset.
Authenticity has become a means to tell other people that you are something you are not. It is similar to someone buying a new wood burner for the lounge and it becomes a means to show how grounded they are when putting the wood you bought from Asda in a triangle shape.
With the channels available to portray a message, this is now becoming a marketing directive and not an ingrained business approach. Many businesses look to authenticity as the answer to build connection. Those who are real are the ones that will reap the rewards.
We Don’t All Want To Be Authentic
If everyone else wants to be regarded as authentic, why should you?
Authenticity has now become part of a tick box, where a company is looking to have some form of wider meaning, but all it is a marketing approach to sell more product.
It was plentiful in 2017 where authenticity and wider social connection had no deeper meaning or cause that carried through to early 2018. It was just manufactured responsibility.
Heineken did this during 2017 with their Worlds Apart message (above) to highlight the things that bind us, not divide us. Heineken took a stance to become a brand that shared common ground over polar viewpoints.
Worlds Apart explored finding the similarity between people who are divided by beliefs from sexism to climate change. This was part of Heineken’s ‘Open Your World’ campaign, intended to search and discover the things that unite, rather than divide us. Nearly a year on, all this was a campaign to sell more beer.
Being authentic is to be sincere. It isn’t an excuse to advertise. McDonald’s pulled an advert in May 2017 that looked at death and trivialised grief (above). The advert focused on a boy and his mother talking about his dead father.
If McDonalds had made a longer-term commitment into 2018 to address a painful social issue and working with groups and networks with a role for responsibility then we start to look at the message differently. The response from McDonalds was, “We wanted to highlight the role McDonalds has played in our customer’s everyday lives – both in good and difficult times.” A pretty empty piece of PR spin.
To stand any chance of someone buying into you, there has to be a connection to the very heart of what you believe in. Pepsi delved into the authentic angle last April when it comes to social unrest (above), with an advert full of the beautiful people within a city in turmoil finding peace over a can of drink.
Nearly a year later, there is still nothing from Pepsi about standing tall and documenting social unrest and putting the spotlight on movements and protests that made societal change. Would we all have looked at their advert differently if they made a long term stand?
What these three examples highlight are companies pretending to be something they are not.
Authenticity to many companies has become nothing more than a marketing tactic.
A Message Beyond A Marketing Move
We can’t live in a world where a meaning becomes blurred with just a marketing message. For instance, has mental health become something seen by companies as something that they truly believe or to some businesses it becomes a self serving badge?
I spoke to Dan Willis from Why Digital who is spearheading awareness for mental health within Dorset and beyond. He is bringing a sensitive subject to the fore, for people to be open and honest about. Dan is someone who demonstrates his core values and does it with integrity.
I asked Dan this question, ‘whilst there should be an open discussion on mental health, do companies use it as more of a campaign than something embedded in what a company champions?’
Dan responded, “Within mental health, personally I have seen that some brands have only engaged once there is a certain level of press or wider social coverage.”
“These brands are often perceived as very ethical and culture focused; but when faced with the reality of a member of staff with mental health, their actions historically have not always been aligned with the cause.”
“With that in mind, a decision has to be made on the impact their involvement can make to a campaign, whilst ensuring the integrity of our message is kept in tact.”
Lets Back Up What We Do & What We Believe
It is ok to make money, that is what we are here to do with our businesses, but at least lets be real about the impact that we look to have within the communities that we are part of.
Last week, Unilever made a stand with the intention to stop publishing on Facebook and Google if they fail to tackle abusive and misinformed content. It represents action superseding authenticity hyperbole. It highlights a brand looking to have a meaningful impact on what they believe in. As an aside this is not a cost cutting exercise from one of the world’s biggest advertisers. During February, Unilever revealed they had increased brand and marketing investment with a £221m boost to media spend.
What this represents is a company that that is looking to be consistent with an approach, not just content creation and finding spaces to promote.
What Unilever are saying is, “We are looking to be responsible, what about you?” At a similar point last year brands such as Pepsi, The British Government and Johnson & Johnson pulled out of advertising on YouTube. This is because banners appeared over videos posted by extremist groups.
Companies today have a transparency problem. Plus with the unease and fuelling of the fake news fire, we all participate in a misinformed world. It also further highlights the lack of trust between consumers and business as highlighted by the recent Edelman Trust Barometer.
What Unilever are doing is looking to make their own stand, this is a noble move to make. It shows a level of honesty, that a company is teetering on the brink.
Being real, acting with honesty and seeing things through, outweigh the chase to be authentic.
When it comes to the business you stand by, to be trusted, aligning your commercial needs with an understanding of the outside world, helps people to understand you a bit better. When you approach with a sense of realness and not portray a fabricated reality, people will want to start to hang around with you a bit more.
What About You?
It is the actions that define you, not a wish to be seen as genuine.
If you are looking to be more real, where people can connect with your values and not just part of a short lived campaign, here are some ways to lead and for people to want to stay with you, not get bored when you started to drift to something new you wanted to stand up for.
The Journey Together – When you start to talk at your audience where you know best, you start to lose them. People connect more when they can see the real you. This makes it easier for others to get to know you, warm to you and trust you.
Accept You Don’t Always Have The Answers – You shouldn’t be looking to contribute to the glut of expertise out there (listen to this episode of the You Are The Media podcast with Jay Acunzo), but to trust your own intuition so that other people to stand alongside you. It is not about putting across your own agenda, but how you see the world and create a solution for what other people can take on board.
You Understand The Obstacles Others Face – This is when you can look someone else in the eye and both get it. By creating something offline (in my case it is the You Are The Media Lunch Club), this provided me with a far better opportunity to understand the issues that we all face, rather than just being another marketer who presumes they know what others are struggling with. It is about understanding how an issue or situation genuinely affects someone else.
Responsibility Becomes Joint – It feels better when everyone takes on a role for something to be a success. It feels even better when an initiative becomes a movement, that everyone can grab hold of. Have a read of what people think about being part of the You Are The Media community and what it means to them. To me this is the reason I do this side project for people to take value and become the value to one another.
Everything here comes from a place of honesty and building an audience around what you believe in that can create alliances, ties, connections and contracts. It is not about wanting to be seen as genuine, but being present, having something that you truly believe in and then taking the lead within a space that isn’t saturated.
Lets Round Up
People such as Dan (Willis), represent people who are real and in it for the long-term. The causes that people such as Dan stand by are what has meaning to them and not a cue to wax lyrically on LinkedIn for the next two months.
Over time, this becomes something that resonates with others. Being real creates clarity, so once someone is in, they’re in, it’s not part of some contrived marketing campaign. This is in a totally different space from short term authenticity, where the aim is reach, notoriety and acceptance.
The loyal audience you build is centred from the role that your business plays and the responsibility that it has with the wider world. If you can do this in a real way where people trust you, the idea and messages you distribute supports the genuine connections you can make. In turn, the products and services you represent provide true value.