“Everything and nothing has changed”, says Sue Unerman, Chief Transformation Officer at MediaCom UK.
“That’s the interesting thing for media agencies today. We still do exactly the same job, but the way in which we do it has changed dramatically.”
Despite the many challenges facing today’s marketing professionals, for the author of The Glass Wall and Campaign magazine’s “Media Strategist of the Year”, this is the most exciting time to work in the digital marketing industry.
Pointing out the myriad of content, techniques and detailed data or information now at our disposal to raise the bar and drive marketing efforts that works, Sue says it’s to the rise of consumer power that brands must turn their attention as marketers are urged to place more emphasis on authenticity.
Effective content creation is no longer about quantity, but instead building personal interactions with users, authenticating the experience for the consumer.
But what does ‘authentic marketing’ really mean for a brand’s content marketing strategy?
What is Authentic Marketing?
“The balance of power has shifted”, as outlined in her first book Tell the Truth: Honesty is Your Most Powerful Marketing Tool, where various case studies and marketing efforts were discussed.
“The reason authenticity is so important today is because people will simply no longer buy from inauthentic brands. The art of spin is becoming more and more redundant.”
This idea of authentic marketing is nothing new. R
ooted in the simple idea that ‘truth sells’, it has become one of the most powerful marketing tools of today in response to this shift in consumer power.
Whether B2B or B2C, authentic brands, in their simplest form, are those that lead with truth and transparency, removing the ‘brand’ element that sets them apart from the consumer, and replacing it with the ‘human’ element that drives connections.
“Half a century ago, advertising pioneer David Ogilvy said: ‘The consumer is not a moron, she’s your wife.’ Now, the consumer is an expert with a Smartphone who knows everything about your brand”, she says.
Most marketers are now seeking new ways to ‘rebrand’ themselves in this way, veering away from traditional push tactics that consumers will no longer stand for.
And with over 35% of internet users now blocking ads on their desktops, authenticity has become one of the only ways to appeal to today’s consumers, regardless of demographic.
“Any good brand now is going to need to be a leader in authenticity; you have to follow through, ‘walk the walk’ and ‘talk the talk’…
The digital promise of real fulfillment of immediate expectation; that now has to be converted into brand behavior.”
Putting Brand Truth into Practice
“Truth in branding, like truth in life, is about authenticity, fair dealing, and simple straight talk”, she says.
Leading brands and agencies are putting this into practice through a content strategy that features meaningful storytelling and high quality content, portraying a “genuine empathetic understanding of the consumer.” Not only does this place more emphasis on the need to be real, but equally, on the need for proof.
Effective marketing highlights a brand’s USPs in a way that can be backed up, portraying a deep understanding of your audience and what they need, along with a relentless commitment to fulfilling that need.
Taking the example of the latest This Girl Can campaign for Sport England, launched in February 2017, Sue explains the central role that consumer understanding played in its triumph.
Following the tremendous success of the first campaign which hinged on the powerful insight that the fear of judgement by others is one of the barriers holding women back from participating in sport, its successor took it one step further.
Driving this authentic marketing approach, the new campaign once again encouraged an open, honest and collective conversation, as Sport England urged its followers to join the effort and fight for change.
“The media strategy for the current campaign I feel actually helped the campaign’s inclusiveness and perhaps made it even more relatable”, she says. “There was a big digital billboard campaign that included images that people made themselves, there were Snapchat filters whereby, if you were 18 or over, you could actually put yourself in the ad, and a lot of paid social media was put behind it to make sure it felt like a collective conversation rather than just us showing them – I think this is great best practice.”
Why Authenticity Matters
Putting this brand truth into practice has always been important, but today, it’s taking on a whole new role. It’s now easier than ever to harm a brand’s reputation by failing to make authenticity a priority, or by simply doing it wrong.
We know this because trust and transparency are steadily gaining more importance for consumers, and as Paul Greenberg puts it:
“If a customer likes you and continues to like you, they will do business with you. If they don’t, they won’t.”
But the best way to get a customer to like you is by first getting to know them – which is where many brands falter. Several leading brands have fallen victim to the many pitfalls of inauthentic marketing, most of whom lack the insight needed to make their efforts count.
Spreading a message that’s not rooted in consumer insights can harm brand trust as it lacks the empathy needed to resonate.
The important lesson for marketers here is that putting brand truth into practice starts with understanding perceptions. Using in-depth research and insights to quantify perceptions and behaviors, you will know exactly what drives your audience and their interactions with your brand, vastly improving your chances of appealing to the new consumer – who expects nothing less.
Understanding the New Consumer
The good news is that authentic marketing is now more achievable than ever, using complex data to maintain an audience-centric approach and reach consumers through good content and targeted messaging.
Rather than relying on assumption and a vague understanding of your target audience, the data in existence today is transforming what’s possible by pointing us in what we know to be the right direction. “That ability to know where you’re going is transformative”, says Sue.
“It’s like we were using ancient maps almost, and now we’ve got GPS.”
But from Google Analytics and Omniture to various ad platforms, despite the wealth of data and resources at our disposal today – helping us to reach our audiences in a more targeted way, unveiling the key to a marketing strategy that works brings us back to basics. “Success lies is in understanding deep down what motivates the consumer and what levers to press”, she says. “And we have way more of those levers at our command now than ever before.”
The only effective way to shift consumer perceptions, she says, is to first understand theirs…
“Take account of your consumers’ understanding of reality before you try to change it.”