Today’s companies have a new challenge: authenticity. Customers, empowered by technology and social media, factor the trustworthiness and sincerity of a brand into every purchase decision. One recent survey by the Boston Consulting Group found that authenticity was a major driver of customer engagement for all demographics.
Major brands in any consumer segment are at a disadvantage. According to the research firm Mintel, half of Americans trust small firms to do the right thing but only 36 per cent trust large firms to do the same. Smaller companies, whether they’re selling organic foodstuffs or artisanal housewares, have an easier time winning the trust of customers because they’re able to convey a stronger sense of mission and purpose. They’re also buoyed by technology; tech firms such as Shopify can provide any retailer with access to consumers around the globe.
But the good news for enterprise companies is that they don’t need to shrink to be authentic. Instead, they simply need to forge meaningful and lasting emotional connections with their customers. Here are four arguments for embracing authenticity now.
Customers can easily spot a fake
Empowered customers recognize spun messaging, bad products or meaningless marketing campaigns. In short, they have no patience for fakery. To be authentic, companies need to recognize what they are, what they do best and what customers value most about them. Authentic companies are in touch with the emotional benefits that keep people loyal to their brand, whether it’s a sense of belonging, freedom, security, altruism, happiness or just plain fun.
The fast food restaurant chain Taco Bell proves that authentic marketing works. Aware that its core customer base of Millennials spends an inordinate amount of time on cellphones, the company set up a petition on change.org to lobby for the creation of a taco emoji. “Why do pizza and hamburger lovers get their own emoji but taco lovers don’t? THE TACO EMOJI NEEDS TO HAPPEN,” read the petition. The petition was a success, garnering nearly 33,000 signatures and loads of earned media. Taco emojis have been gracing teenagers’ text messages since the summer of 2015.
Customers appreciate openness
Customers react positively to companies that are open about what drives their business. They like companies that don’t hide their motivations, and are transparent about their business practices. Empowered customers prefer to judge for themselves whether the company is living up to the standards it sets for itself.
A case in point: authenticity-driven consumers are constantly on the lookout for “greenwashing”: firms, brands and products that claim to be more ecologically sensitive than they actually are. To counter this perception, the California-based outdoor gear and apparel maker Patagonia produced The Footprint Chronicles, a series of websites, videos and fact sheets that explain the steps in their supply chain and the environmental impact of each item in their catalogue. By detailing both the positive and negative impacts of its products, Patagonia emphasizes its transparency and simultaneously earns trust.
Customers want their concerns taken seriously
Today’s customers expect companies to listen to them, and take their concerns seriously. Authentic companies earn high trust capital because they respect their customers as people.
Consider, for instance, how McDonald’s reacted to customers’ many questions about the quality of the ingredients in its food products. In 2014, the company launched an online campaign designed to counter misinformation titled “Our food. Your questions.” The campaign gave McDonald’s customers the chance to ask any question they wanted. One video takes customers inside the Fresno-based Cargill processing plant where McDonald’s hamburger patties are made, and makes a point of demonstrating that there are no cow lips or sawdust in them.
The campaign was risky for McDonald’s, but it worked; the company embraced honesty. And when it comes to passing the authenticity test, telling the truth matters most.
Customers want to engage with companies
The biggest challenge for companies that want to embrace authenticity is that it’s not a one-time deal. Customers appreciate a single authentic marketing campaign or a display of openness, but they’ll quickly retract their approval if your company isn’t committed to authenticity for the long-term.
The solution is to engage in an ongoing, two-way dialogue with customers. Authentic companies listen to their customers and share back. They try to understand why people are loyal to their brand, and what drives customers’ bond with their products.
Online engagement communities are among the most effective tools for firms to delve into those issues. By engaging deeply with customers, companies can discover the emotional drivers that that matter most to success. The company gains the opportunity to see its mission and its principles through customers’ eyes. And it can learn how to turn satisfied customers into brand advocates.
Customers’ expectations of the companies they buy from have changed. They expect brands to be honest, open and transparent, and are quick to criticize companies that don’t make an effort to be so. By engaging with customers in two-way conversation, and acknowledging what customers want and expect, companies build trust and ensure their success in today’s authenticity-driven marketplace.
To learn more about the impact of the empowered customer on brands, and what you can do to ensure your company is ready for this challenge, read The Authenticity Handbook, the new ebook by Andrew Reid, founder and president of corporate innovation at Vision Critical.