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All About Authenticity

In our previous blog, we discussed the importance of emotional engagement. Emotional engagement with your brand can increase the attention your brand receives, improve memorability, and cause higher purchase intention, making it a powerful tool in your marketing arsenal. However, there is a potential pitfall to be aware of when trying to court emotional engagement from your customers. With consumers having access to more information about brands and more review power than ever before, authenticity is a crucial factor to consider.

Why Authenticity?

Authenticity is defined as the quality of being genuine or real. This can at times feel at odds with marketing which, by its very nature, is a highly persuasive form of communication with influence as its primary objective. In many instances brands are sending a curated message out to consumers in the hopes that they will see value in their products and/or services and pay for them – either with their wallets of their attentional resources.

So, is it worthwhile to focus on authenticity in your marketing? Can you spark emotional engagement without it? The answer is yes and yes, but with the latter it might not be the engagement you want.

When it comes to long-term emotional connection with a human or a brand, we want a foundation of mutual respect, honesty, and trust. If a brand is perceived as being dishonest or as having a lack of respect for their customer base, consumers simply won’t want to deal with them, particularly if there are adequate competitors that appear more trustworthy.

A 2018 study found that brands which focus on marketing themselves as family firms or family-run benefit from higher brand trust and stronger purchase intentions from customers encountering the brand compared to similar companies that made no mention of family in their marketing. This is a powerful example of how perceived authenticity can drive sales, even though it’s something as simple as implying a family is running the company.

For an example of an attempt at authenticity gone wrong, look no further than Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad. On the surface, it’s easy to see what Pepsi was thinking when they made the ad. They most likely had good data showing that today’s youth are very concerned about civil action and social issues. They wanted to show their support for this strong, fighting spirit they saw in the youth and who better to use than Kendall Jenner of Kardashian fame? The problem was they didn’t address any of the real pain points of their audience. The signs in the ad asked only for “revolution” and “peace” without taking a real stand on any of the issues their audience cares deeply about. To then make the face of this piece that of someone who is famously privileged, wealthy and apolitical was insult to injury. This failed attempt at authenticity ended up being a disaster and PR nightmare, likely much worse than if they had simply not tried to be authentic at all.

Making Your Brand Authentic

Again, emotional connection is built on a foundation of mutual respect and honesty. Your customers need to feel like you aren’t talking down to them or deceiving them in some way. If you receive feedback on social media or in reviews, you should respond accordingly. Your customers are communicating to you what they want and it’s costing you nothing – the least you can do is listen.

Part of this authentic communication can also be levelling with your customers. Explain why a certain product or feature is taking a while to get to market, or why some of their feedback is hard to act on. If people feel like they are part of the process of growth and improvement in the company, they’re more likely to be more forgiving in the long run. In a fun bit of disaster management, Crock-Pot capitalized in their product’s less than flattering portrayal in the TV series 'This is Us' by creating a Twitter account @CrockPotCares and commiserating with fans of the show. They used this almost unfortunate opportunity to emphasize the safety of their products and built up a more engaged following in the process.

In a bid to include customers in their brand better, Frito-Lay ran an annual “Do Us a Flavor” contest, where customers were encouraged to submit ideas for chip flavors, then vote on which idea they enjoyed the most. The winner would receive a cash prize and the winning idea would be made into a real, buyable chip flavor. This gave customers a sense of ownership or influence over the brand while offering Frito-Lay valuable insights into what their community wanted.

Is Personalization the Right Call?

Personalization can feel like the way to go with engaging customers. After all, the more you know about their needs the better, right? Use this with caution. It’s tempting to use the wealth of data at your fingertips to cater to the exact needs of your clients but being too specific and personal can come off as invasive rather than authentic, particularly if the information you’re using hasn’t been expressly given to you by the customer or your brand seems to know too much.

Perhaps the most famous example of this is Target using an algorithm to know when its customers are pregnant based off their buying habits, then marketing more baby-focused products at them. Customers did not offer this information freely and felt violated by having maternity products marketed to them without them asking or updating their information. Brand trust diminished significantly, which was the opposite of their goal.

Measuring Authenticity?

Authenticity is highly subjective, making it tricky to measure. However, it is possible to tell whether your attempts at authenticity are getting the positive emotional engagement that you want.

Neuromarketing uses neuroscientific techniques to understand the emotional experience a customer has as they interact with different brand touchpoints. Unlike traditional marketing, it doesn’t rely on self-reported data from customers, who sometimes miss or forget elements that made them feel negatively. When you’re looking at something as nebulous as authenticity, every little moment counts to build up a positive impression of your brand. Neuromarketing can help you break down your customers’ experience step by step. Find out how here.


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