Authenticity in marketing and its core importance to effective communication
The fake world of authenticity
The term ‘authentic’ is a term that is bandied about in marketing all the time, particularly in B2C markets, though increasingly in B2B markets too. We talk about an ‘authentic’ travel experience, or ‘authentic’ food. In psychology and self-help too, we’re also often encouraged to be our ‘authentic self’. The idea latches on to an innate belief that there is more value in experiencing something ‘in its true form’, rather than in a way that has been tailored for our experience, or impacted by extraneous concerns of logistics or economics. In terms of being an ‘authentic self’, the idea is to live according to your own set of internal beliefs and values, rather than catering to the whims and perceptions of a wider society.
But what really is ‘authenticity’, and does it really carry this intrinsic value that so many seem to hold in such high esteem? If you love both Mexican food and sushi and think it would be fun to create yourself a fajita-flavoured sushi roll, is that lovingly prepared, home-cooked meal any less valuable because it didn’t slavishly adhere to some centuries old recipe? On holiday, is being lost in a bog, soaked to the bone, plagued with mosquitos and miserable beyond belief better for the soul then taking in the sweeping vista of a mountain from a location that yes, does have a car park and a café attached?
Certainly, there is value in that which challenges your comfort zones, but relentlessly pursuing something to the expense of all else under the pursuit of an ‘authentic’ experience – and somehow believing the comparative value of such an experience is always necessarily much greater – may be a little misguided.
Authenticity is not a fixed construct
And then of course, we come on to the idea of our ‘authentic’ self, which is perhaps the most troubling notion of all. It is arguably a naïve notion indeed to believe that we exist as a singular entity, formed in isolation of our environment, with a fixed set of values that are immutable and unchangeable. The reality is that the self is a dynamic product of the internal and external, reactive and shaped by the forces around it. Do you speak with your Grandma in a different way to your friends down the pub? Does the fact that you don’t wear a suit on the weekends make your ‘professional’ self any less a part of your whole? Is either one of those a less ‘authentic’ self?
So, does this mean we should throw ‘authenticity’ out of the window?
Not at all! Indeed, this very post is about the concept of authenticity in marketing, and its core importance to effective communication. It’s just important to start with a somewhat critical investigation of the term, in order to be sure that the approach taken is considered, rather than just an exercise in band-wagon jumping. Because if it’s complex understanding what authenticity means as an individual, it’s even more complex understanding what it means as a business entity – and there’s a real risk that in the pursuit of authenticity, you can actually come across as looking incredibly contrived and fake. Ironic, right?
To be authentic is to be… human
It’s really that simple. Authenticity is nothing more than to be human – to react, to adapt and to feel the world around you. It is this concept of authenticity that is valuable – it is this that people react positively to, because they relate to it rather than are suspicious of it. If someone’s authentic self seems to constitute a life of consuming holistic yoga tea and speaking in constant spiritual metaphors – people are suspicious. However, if someone’s authentic self seems to involve getting sweaty running for the bus, wearing odd socks and indulging in far too much cake, we feel a real truth to that, because let’s face it – most of us can identify. It’s the relatability that gives authenticity the power to connect.
So for businesses to be authentic, they need to remember the human dimension that underpins them. Like we said above, there are different faces for different situations, and a veneer of professionality is important – we’re not saying your business should present as an odd-socked, chocolate smeared, always-running-late mess. But at its core, your business is a group of people – with their own identities and quirks – working together towards a single vision. What they bring individually is as important as what you present collectively, and that can be leveraged to create trust, relatability and lasting connection.
Proof in difficult times
If any evidence were needed for the importance of ‘humanity’ in your business – both in terms of its actual nature and its presentation – then the last two years must surely offer it. How different has the world felt without the small moments of connection that give nuance and context and relatability to the ‘functional’ business interactions of the day? How lost do you feel without the visual cues of face-to-face meetings? With our world reduced to the bare bones of interaction, the ability for authentic humanity to seep into our business interactions and give them colour and depth has been significantly diminished.
Taking lessons forward with us
Even as we (hopefully) come to the tail end of this incredible pandemic disruption, this experience has shown us how it’s more important than ever to find ways to bring our humanity – our ‘authenticity’ – to our online and virtual communications, so that they can bolster and support our feeling of real connection. Finding a way to capture the nuances of your business and its members – a ‘voice’ that truly represents you rather than a facsimile of what people expect – can be a tough undertaking. But it’s something that we at Xpresso specialize in.
This means building a relationship, first and foremost; understanding our clients and picking out the differences and unique elements that set them apart. We’re not talking about their differences as technological leaders, the small bits of code and engineering that constitute their product’s USP (though undoubtedly, we communicate this too). Instead, we aim to communicate what it means to work with them as people.
This means developing content that expresses humour, vulnerability, openness, transparency, insight and thoughtfulness. And it means using our extensive reach to publish that content in places where people engage as people, not as business automatons. Where decisions are impacted as much by heart, head and instinct as by number crunching.
Being open, being human, being ‘authentic’ – can be scary at the best of times. It’s easier to hide behind a mask than be truly real. It’s even more of a leap in the business world, where many years of conditioning have instilled attitudes that go precisely against this mantra. But increasingly, the world is changing, and attitudes within it. If you need help in finding a way to express the core of your business – and the people within your business – more effectively, then we here at Xpresso are eager to get to know you better.