Authenticity in marketing is nothing new. But in our post-COVID-19 reality, we’re seeing the power of authenticity like never before.
The collective pandemic experience has revealed that faking it isn’t an option anymore. Under pressure, people (and brands) show their true colors — for better or worse. The brands that are willing to step up and embrace their human side will come out of this crisis even stronger. There’s a great opportunity for brands to truly put people ahead of profit and lead with empathy, honesty, and transparency.
Even before the pandemic, there was a push for brands to be more human. Millennials and Gen Z, in particular, highly value authentic marketing. These generations don’t necessarily want brands to be polished and perfect. They want to see themselves reflected in a brand — their joys and their struggles.
It’s about to get really…real. Welcome to the Age of Authenticity. Here’s what you need to know:
To thine own brand be true
If you want people to connect with your brand, you have to know what your brand stands for. Great marketing happens when brands have clearly defined core values and align their messaging with those beliefs.
Take Dove, for example. Since launching its “Real Beauty” campaign in 2004, the brand is now well-known for using real women — not airbrushed models — in its ads. In light of COVID-19, Dove doubled down on its commitment to showcasing real women in its new “Courage is Beautiful” campaign.
The campaign features photos of actual healthcare workers with their faces marked, sometimes bruised, by the protective gear they’d been wearing for hours while on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis. Dove also donated money and products to hospitals and healthcare workers. The campaign was well-received on social media, not only because it tugged at the audience’s heartstrings but because it was raw, imperfect, and still true to the Dove brand.
What does your brand stand for? How can you tie those beliefs into your messaging? If you haven’t done a brand identity exploration before, it’s well worth it to uncover insights about your company’s story, values, and vision for the future. (We’re happy to help!)
Show, don’t just tell
You can’t just claim your brand is authentic; you have to live it. Savvy consumers will notice the divergence between what a brand says it does and what a brand actually does.
Here’s where transparency comes in.
Transparency is an ongoing process. It’s a commitment to being open and honest with your customers. Most importantly, transparency means acknowledging when you get it wrong. One study found that 89% of people say a business can regain their trust if it admits to a mistake and is transparent about the steps it will take to resolve the issue. 56% said they want brands to be more transparent on social media over traditional marketing channels like print ads, email, or direct mail.
Transparency isn’t just about crisis communication, either. Be proactive about communicating with transparency by showing the behind-the-scenes of your brand. How can you be more upfront about your culture, product changes, or other business decisions? Building trust through transparency will give your business a better chance of winning back customers after a misstep.
Get representation right
Authentic brands communicate to their customers that they see them, hear them, and understand them. When people see themselves represented in your marketing, they feel accepted, and they’re more likely to resonate with your brand. But it goes further — thanks to the internet, today’s consumers are keenly aware of the diverse world outside their front doors. Younger digital natives celebrate individuality and uniqueness, and they’re more willing to support brands that champion those values, too.
Aerie, Fenty Beauty, and Target are some of the brands getting inclusive marketing right. These brands are leading the way when it comes to authentically representing differences in terms of age, race, ethnicity, body type, gender expression, abilities, and religious beliefs.
Take a hard look at how your brand is currently reflecting your target audience. If you’re not already, how can you start showing actual customers in real-life situations? Have a curious mind when depicting customers in your messaging, imagery, social media content, and website design.
More soul, less sell
If anything, the pandemic has accelerated the need for brands to demonstrate they genuinely care about their customers, not just the bottom line. Embrace authenticity, and don’t be afraid to leave perfection at the door.
Be real. Be human. After all, in the face of a crisis, human connection is more important than ever.