How authentic does your business appear to others?
Does your website and marketing material tell the world that it is owned and run by genuine, passionate and inspired human beings? Or does it look more like a cut and paste version of every other business in your category – and one that could be run by automatons?
In the past, the purpose of marketing material was to make your business look as good as possible. It didn’t matter if you constructed a reality that didn’t reflect the true personality and style of your business. Shiny and superficial was the order of the day.
In the digital age, however, every customer is a highly specialised researcher with a nose for fakes and little tolerance for boredom. In the era of social media, companies that don’t show their humanity and communicate their genuine passion are branded boring. And if that’s your company, your customers will just go elsewhere.
Ironically, the rise of social media has encouraged a return to the old-fashioned customer service of the traditional ‘high street’. Once upon a time, people lived in small communities where they knew the local butcher, newsagent and green grocer. Customer service was everything and you chose where you shopped, not only because of the quality of the products sold, but also because you connected with the owners and developed a sense of loyalty towards them.
The authenticity test
So, how do you tell if your business appears to be authentic or unbelievable to prospective clients and customers?
Step 1: Visit your competitor’s websites and social media pages. How do they appear? What sort of language are they using? What sort of imagery do they use? Imagine you are a potential customer – what would you think about them? (It’s always so much easier to be a bit cynical about the competition!). Go on, let loose. Do they appear real and authentic? Would you trust them?
Step 2: (Warning – this is the hardest step in the process.) Now have a look at your own website and social media sites. Do you look any different to your competitors? (You need to be brutally honest with yourself here). Would you trust your business any more than your competitors? What sort of voice do you have?
Some clues that you might be faking it include:
- Your website uses phrases like “to lead the industry with a relentless pursuit of working smarter and doing better for human kind.” Really?
- Your branding is over-reliant on stock imagery showing shiny, happy, rather American-looking people wandering on a beach. This is particularly bad if your business has nothing to do with Americans or beaches.
- Your social media posts feature clip art and commentary about the football results – even though your business has nothing to do with sport.
Step 3: Get a few friends, family members or colleagues to undertake steps one and two, and then share their honest feedback. Tell them that you want them to be brutally honest. This is the ‘does my bum look big in this’ question – and this time to know the truth.
Applause for authenticity
Today, people are looking for two things: big brands at cheap prices, or small, handcrafted products and bespoke businesses with real stories, and real people.
This new ‘maker’ culture has emerged in recent years in reaction to the large faceless corporates. Consumers are passionate about knowing where their products come from, and this trend has been particularly driven by the food, fashion and lifestyle sectors. Think the handmade heaven of etsy or the ‘slow food’ movement in many cities. This culture has intersected with an idea known as ‘collaborative consumption’, in which consumers share access to products or services, rather than have individual ownership. Car sharing businesses are going gangbusters, while concepts such as AirBnB are enabling people to couch surf their way around the world. What these consumers crave is not things, but authentic experiences and a real sense of community. According to Mark Alston, the director of Bondi Harvest, a YouTube cooking show that is taking the internet by storm, “with TV you can fake anything but social media is a two-way conversation. You’re building community and authenticity really resonates.”
From one-person operations to large corporates, companies are scaling back their marketing-speak and reclaiming the real language of real people. Sydney restaurant Kitchen by Mike, for example, (explains “At Kitchen by Mike we’re aiming to strip down traditional restaurant dining to find something more honest.” Now that sounds like something written by a real person who believes in what he is doing. Online shoe and clothing store Zappos, which turns over nearly $1 billion a year in revenue, says on its website that “customer service isn’t just a department!”, stating that “we’ve been asked by a lot of people how we’ve grown so quickly, and the answer is actually really simple… We’ve aligned the entire organization around one mission: to provide the best customer service possible.” Again, this sounds like one real person having a conversation with another real person.
So, scrutinise your website and your brochureware. Is this doing your company justice? Do your customers get a sense of why your business is special and why people love to work with you? Remember, authenticity is the new black: it’s always in style, you can wear it anywhere and it goes with everything.
This article was first published in the Autumn Issue 2014 of New Wealth Creator magazine.