Keeping it real: why you cannot underestimate authenticity

27/09/2021 16:31:04
Cast your mind back to March 2020 and you might recall something of a flooded inbox. Thousands of companies, from supermarkets to fashion outlets, were reassuring their customers that they were “here for us” during this difficult time.

It’s hard to imagine Amazon founder Jeff Bezos thinking of everybody on furlough while he continued to profit. Though well-intentioned, these marketing messages left many customers wondering if these companies really care…and revising their email subscriptions. 

This is just one cautionary tale in the ever-changing marketing landscape throughout COVID-19. It calls into question the very definition of authenticity. How can we claim to be authentic if we do not practise what we preach?

When Nike just did it wrong

In May 2020, we saw a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, serving to highlight racial tensions throughout America and indeed, the world. Later, Nike shared a “Don’t Do It” campaign, asking us not to turn our backs on racism. 

Again, while well-intentioned, it was quickly criticised by marketing maven Mark Ritson. In a no-holds-barred essay on marketing and racial injustice, Ritson remarked:
“While it’s great that Nike wants to make a statement about racism and the lack of representation that African Americans face, it should also be apparent that Nike is not part of the change it seeks to promote. 

“With the exception of its social media campaign, it really isn’t doing much to confront this issue.”

He illustrated his point with an eye-opening image of Nike’s leadership team at the time – all of whom appeared to be white North Americans.

Holding brands accountable

Nike’s tunnel vision is a reminder that we should commit to the values we espouse. It doesn’t need a marketing guru to point out when a brand is ‘faking it’. It simply takes a customer to have a bad experience. Let’s look at two examples:

Good experience: Who Gives a Crap?

This cheeky toilet paper brand knows exactly what it is: a tool for bathroom hygiene. Founder Simon Griffiths proudly admits that it is never going to be a glamorous product, but the appeal lies in its values. For every roll sold, 50% of profits go towards building bathroom facilities in the developing world.

Who Gives a Crap uses an irreverent tone to poke fun at the product, but with a wholesome message. And how does this translate to the customer experience? “That means delivering to people’s houses, packaging the rolls differently to make them more fun and shareable, and putting copy on the product that you actually want to read,” says Griffiths.

The brand remains true to its values, from crowdfunding by sitting on a toilet seat for hours on end to sharing its corporate responsibility message.
Who gives a crap?

Bad experience: Amazon

This online retail behemoth prides itself on two things – its convenience and its personalisation. From related products to tailored emails and even a voice assistant, Amazon knows its customers. But this personal touch isn’t always what it seems – especially when it’s automated by robots.

In 2018, one disgruntled customer’s tweet went viral after Amazon’s AI customer service suffered a hilarious misfire. In keeping with the toilet theme, the brand continued to remarket toilet seats to a customer after she bought one. She replied with this plea:

“Dear Amazon, I bought a toilet seat because I needed one. Necessity, not desire. I do not collect them. I am not a toilet seat addict. No matter how temptingly you email me, I'm not going to think, oh go on then, just one more toilet seat, I'll treat myself.”

The lesson? If you’re going to preach values of convenience and personalisation, let humans intervene from time to time.

The law of attraction

These customer reactions show just how savvy the modern-day shopper is, so if you’re hanging your hat on great service, you need to deliver every time.

And this goes beyond the brand and customer relationship. Your values will be reflected in the company you keep – if you provide good service, you’ll attract good customers, staff and suppliers. Operate a cut-throat business and expect others to treat you accordingly.
The law of attraction

So, how can we put this into practice?

1.    Regularly review exactly what your values are. We all want to be friendly, cost-effective and convenient. But how do we stand out, and how has this changed? Your product or service may have evolved along the way. You may now have services that help new values to flourish, for example, a better distribution network = convenience and timesaving.

2.    Encourage your staff to live and breathe your values. If yours is a sustainable company, encourage the sales team to offer customers more environmentally friendly options. As ambassadors for the brand, they need to know what they’re selling – not just the product, but your values.

3.    Hold yourself accountable. Measure what you’re doing to adhere to your values, from customer engagement surveys to percentage of on-time deliveries, social media feedback and more.

And if in doubt…

Sometimes, businesses aren’t sure how best to tell their story, and that’s OK.

You may be in a crowded market or just starting out. Rather than paying lip service and saying what you think you should be saying, ask the experts.

Our team will help you to tell your story in ways that align with your brand values.

Get in touch today.

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