Whether you’re asking someone to buy a product, use your service, make a donation or vote for your candidate, the fact is that most consumers don’t like being marketed to. For most brands, what consumers really want — even if they may not realize it — is a relationship. If a consumer is going through the effort to expend their financial, physical (time) or emotional resources for a product or cause, they want more than a transaction. They want an experience that adds something to the plus column of their hectic lives.
Put another way: They don’t want to just be friends. They want to be enthusiastic fans of brands within specific categories that define their lives — whether it’s toilet paper, a fishing boat or a charitable cause they believe in.
That’s because when they find a brand they can trust, it makes their lives so much easier and more enjoyable — from dramatically reducing the time it takes to research and select a product or service (such as a restaurant or a golf ball) to being able to proudly share their experiences with friends and family members.
You know a brand has succeeded in achieving this when a co-worker, friend or family member incorporates a brand into their personal identity with statements such as:
“I’m a Ford guy.”
“Coke, not Pepsi.”
The question for marketers is: How can you accelerate this process? How can you engage customers at a deeper level where they proudly shout your brand’s name from the rooftops?
The answer lies in authenticity.
Authenticity is the secret sauce that separates the transactional experience — money in exchange for a product or service with no emotional connections — from the relationship experience. It’s what turns buyers into brand disciples.
Based on my experience, here are seven tips on how you can inject more authenticity into your brand’s marketing efforts and accelerate the process of building stronger relationships with customers:
1. Define authenticity for your brand.
On the surface, we know the word authenticity connotes honesty, truthfulness and transparency. But what does this actually mean for your brand? Here’s a suggestion: Bring together groups of stakeholders and ask them to visualize what your brand looks and feels like, as well as what it isn’t.Ask questions like: How does our brand act? What words would we want and not want to be used by customers to describe our brand? How far does our brand go in solving customer problems? When our brand fails to live up to its promise, how can we make good on that promise with a customer? Based on this exercise, draft guidelines that will define what an authentic experience will be for your brand and its customers. Refer to this often.
2. Share stories.
Before your company invests millions into that next brand campaign, do this: Reach out to your customers and listen to their stories. That’s right, pick up a phone and actually talk to them. Or better yet, meet with them face to face, providing them with a forum, refreshments and other amenities to show that you value their feedback. You will hear stories that even the brightest CMOs in the world could not make up. More importantly, the stories will be real. When you hear yourself saying, “Man, we couldn’t make this up!” then you know you’re onto something big. These are the stories you must share to fuel the flames of enthusiasm for your brand.
3. Seek conversations.
Strong relationships are built on strong, two-way conversations. You know this — it’s the core to successful marriages, life-long friendships and healthy parent-child relationships. Unfortunately, many brands (including business and political leaders) abhor the idea of actually having balanced conversations with customers, instead opting for a blitz of one-way communications. Consider forming advisory panels to build a platform for open conversations between the people in your organization and your stakeholders.
4. Show respect.
One of the coolest marketing efforts I’ve ever seen was initiated by one of my clients, who developed software for research librarians. Once a year, the client invited a couple dozen librarians to its corporate headquarters (paying all of their travel expenses) to learn from them and ask what they needed to make their lives better. What struck me was this organization’s deep respect for these people and their desire to look beyond the C-suite to those who actually use their products.
5. Educate customers.
It’s hard to resist just going ahead and trying to make the sale. But your brand will be better served over the long run if you take the initiative to educate the customer about how to make the best decision. By taking the high road and using a long-term, soft-sell approach, you will build a reputation for trust that will have consumers begging to become your customers.
6. Speak with emotion.
Avoid the marketing and engineering jargon. Kill the acronyms. And most of all, don’t mumble. Be clear, speak with confidence and channel your customers’ emotions and passions.
7. Stand up for what you believe in; stand up for what’s right.
Every brand has its day. It’s that moment when something happens and everyone watches to see what your brand does next. Authenticity is built on credibility. If you don’t know how your brand stands on certain issues or cultural events or movements, figure it out now and be prepared to stand up for what you believe.
Sense a pattern in these suggestions? In today’s digitally driven, big data world, it’s easy to gather data to inform your marketing efforts. What’s hard is asking (for insight, for help, for input) and making the commitment to building human relationships. But it’s in interacting with actual people that we find the authenticity we need to fuel our brands and attract the kind of customers we desire.