John Grant, author of "The New Marketing Manifesto,"
While authentic marketing starts from within, marketers are finding themselves stuck on how to deliver their company's core ideals -- from creating a consistent brand experience and message, to staying true to the organization's origins, to delivering on a brand or product promise. All are valid reasons, but perhaps there is another challenge at the core that goes unnoticed -- something that inhibits the organization's ability to be "real." It's a problem that seems simple in form, but is difficult to detect and correct.
Yes, it is the senior executives, marketers, sales folks and service people who are the challenge. The employees themselves who, as humans, are uniquely influenced by their own perceptions, biases and motivations that inhibit an organization's ability to be authentic. Here are a few examples:
1. Having biased views. Research has found that executives, for better or for worse, create "business personas" and view the world with that "business hat" on. In some ways, executives tend to play a role at work that fits a specific title, area of responsibility or how others view them that may not be realistic.
Are they being fake? Maybe, or maybe not. But if they say one thing, and believe something else that may be at odds with their "persona," they just might be. This specific phenomenon observed by researchers found that consumers' actions, for example, don't necessarily match their words. In the business world, we act in a similar manner and may not realize that we are not being completely honest with ourselves, or with our customers. Yet our customers quickly recognize when we are "faking" it.
2. Refusing to recognize or accept change. Customer preferences shift, markets fluctuate, competitors enter and exit, and companies evolve. One of the few certainties in business is that change is constant. The problem is that many organizations are slow to recognize and react to these changes. Even worse, they flat out ignore it. As a result, companies continue to live in the past, or recognize the need for change and try to shift overnight.
Authenticity involves an emotional connection with an audience, and that connection is forged over years through consistency. Consistency builds trust and integrity. Ignoring the reality of your audience's world, trying to be something you're not, or telling customers what you think they want to hear quickly deteriorates trust and erodes integrity. "Keeping it real" involves keeping your head out of the sand and on the lookout for change. It also involves accepting reality as it is, no matter how painful it may be.
3. Needing to control. Trust is a foundational element; when we feel that it is lacking, it sets off a basic human reaction to seek control over a situation. Inversely, when we trust, a simple handshake, for example, will often do. Look at the rise of shared-economy companies such as Uber and Airbnb. For established companies, take a look at the ever-expanding legal language in contracts and evaluate the impact it might be having on eroding trust with customers.
In the business marketing world, there are many situations where people have to trust each other in order to be successful and/or make progress. If we complicate matters, we invite doubt and skepticism into the conversation, making it difficult to create the foundation for a long-term relationship. Additionally, if we have an already established relationship with a customer, we need to be attentive to contracting, service agreements, product delivery language, etc.
Although these are only a few of the many "flaws" that challenge companies and marketers, many more exist. But multiply these by the number of humans (employees) at your company, as well as the number of channels an audience has to interact with your brand, and you begin to get a sense of the complexity of authentic business marketing.
How do successful companies do it? How do they create and maintain an authentic message, perception and brand, by building and preserving a strong corporate culture but allowing for flexibility? As Bill Breen writes, "To maintain its integrity, a brand must remain true to its values. And yet, to be relevant -- or cool -- a brand must be as dynamic as change itself." Or, as Shakespeare might say, "To thine own self be true."