Brand Authenticity: Is It for Real?

Three Tips for Marketers to Reach Millennials by Being Truly Authentic

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In the never-ending quest for marketers to connect with millennials, authenticity continues its reign as the marketing "it" word of the decade. A Google search on "authentic marketing" surprisingly yields over 17 million articles, containing thoughtful headlines like:

"What is Authenticity in Marketing?" or "Unlocking the Power of Authenticity with Millennial Consumers," and oddly enough, "Millennials' Plea to Brands: Authenticity, not Advertising."
(Odd because we know millennials are not lining up to tell us how to sell them more stuff.)

The 75 million U.S. millennials do not like being advertised to. Gone are the days of big, successful push-marketing efforts. Today's marketers need to stop selling and start engaging on customers' terms to drive pull-marketing efforts at scale. Hence, the marketers' drive to authenticity -- meaning real, genuine, of verifiable origin. Traits that are simply at odds with the perception of the role of marketing.

Can brands make an authentic consumer connection? Yes. Are marketers doing what it takes to achieve it? No, not with consistency.

So it's time for an industry-wide paradoxical intervention -- how do we appeal to millennials in a way that feels natural, without disingenuously and overtly claiming to be authentic? The data is there. When it's done well, it works really well.

Here are three tips to get started:

1. Ditch authenticity as a brand attribute. Don't say you are authentic -- be authentic. "Straight-talking" and "plugged-in" are both better word choices to personify your brand. Attributes should be sufficiently nuanced to drive differentiation through creative expression in a way that will foster a real audience connection. Skittles is one of my favorite examples. Brand attributes for the company's "Taste the Rainbow" campaign were unpredictable and irreverent. They provided a clear and genuine brand POV that resulted in fun and crazy -- not annoying -- creative that engaged its audience while driving brand lift and sales.

2. Embrace content marketing as a core communications strategy. The value in having real people advocate for brands by inspiring, informing and entertaining audiences across social, content and video is real. Serving up the content your audience wants on their terms and in their language from people they trust works well.

The key to authenticity with paid creators it to find the ones whose mission is truly objective. Your brand must truly reflect the feeling and beliefs of the curator or creator. You want people who would not produce content for your brand if they did not believe in it, regardless of the paycheck. If you don't have this, find someone else.

Recently, Olay, Capitol Records and Mode partnered on several behind-the-scenes videos featuring Capitol Records COO Michelle Jubelirer, a powerful women executive in the music industry. A role model for young women and mothers alike, Michelle balances looking great, feeling great, working great and parenting great. The video series, which featured Olay products, yielded 10 million video views in two weeks. This demonstrates the real power of giving consumers content they love from people they trust.

3. Expand your brand's comfort zone. The colloquial expression "It takes a village" doesn't just apply to raising children anymore. Encourage, don't dictate, social conversations and personal stories and videos. Don't sell your product -- stand it up and let it run. Let everyday people, professional creators and experts communicate their love or need for your brand in their words and style. Be willing to be criticized or attacked. There's real value in finding out things you may or may not want to hear.

As marketers embark on future product launches, understanding emerging consumer dynamics and just getting through each week, we should create programs and processes that help fulfill the dreams and desires of our audiences in ways that are natural and organic to them. This is the root of brand authenticity. Let's stop saying we're authentic, let's just be authentic and keep it real -- and those evasive millennials will be more open when your brand comes knocking on the door.

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