What is ‘Authenticity’ in Marketing?

Marketing by nature isn’t authentic, at least by the dictionary definition. Brands try to position themselves in the best light, omitting any details that may be bad for their image and do everything they can to woo consumers.

And yet there’s change afoot. We’re clearly in an age of unprecedented consumer empowerment, where the reality of products and services is just a Google search and tweet away. That’s led to an influx of marketers harping on the need to be “authentic.” What’s often left unsaid is what exactly being authentic means within the context of marketing.

Digiday spoke to several brand executives who gave definitions of what it means to be authentic in today’s marketing landscape.

Kyle Sherwin, vp of media, Sony Music
As usual, it’s a word that is so overused by an industry that loves its soup du jour that it becomes almost meaningless. The original “idea” of authenticity was essentially a way for corporations to attempt to not sound corporate in their marketing efforts — or at the very least to stay true to their essence. Increasingly in the social age, it has come to mean a way for brands to be conversational, to be colloquial — a means of presenting yourself as a brand in words, in visuals, in advertising and in customer service — that is more direct and everyday and friendly than perhaps you have been or you think your competition is. I would say “real,” but that is simply the same side of the same coin and doesn’t get you anywhere.

Rick Maynard, senior manager of public relations, KFC
KFC’s social purpose is to celebrate “real.” To us, being real means being honest, inclusive, boldly unapologetic, refreshingly to the point, insightful and occasionally, a little edgy. We steer clear of being artificial, judgmental, insecure, full of hot air, timid or gimmicky. We try to celebrate our real fans, engage in real talk and encourage real consumer-generated content. We prefer “man on the street” images over staged food shots. That’s what being authentic means to our brand. And the great thing about being real is it’s also really easy. It’s much more difficult to try to be something you’re not.

Brian Maynard, Jenn-Air director of brand marketing, Whirlpool
There is a feeling by many brands that all social media needs to be in a certain language meant for active social media circles. There may be a bit of truth in this thinking. Social media language is often a bit more “casual” than other channels, more of a conversation. Even if this is true, you must stay true to your brand’s DNA; you must truly know your consumers and what language they expect from your brand. This language includes imagery. Using Jenn-Air as an example, our consumers are very engaged in cooking. They are foodies and very knowledgeable in this area. When we communicate regarding food, we must do so in a manner that is not made up; it must be authentic to a “cook,” or we will get called out. We need to feature chefs and food writers who are authentic and not just actors as many television “chefs” are these days.

Kasey Skala, digital communication manager, Great Clips
Being authentic simply means brands need to stay true to who they are, what they do and who they serve. You have brands that act and operate one way offline and their online efforts are completely opposite. It seems that digital is causing brands to have split personalities. My biggest gripe is brands trying to become “lifestyle brands” when they have no business doing such. Brands like Starbucks, Nike and Coke truly are “lifestyle brands.” But not every brand is or should be. At Great Clips, regardless of whether it’s in-salon or online, we know and understand who we are and why our customers want to connect with us. If we were to use digital to come off as a high-end luxury brand, our customers would see right through it. Our goal is to bridge the in-salon and online experiences and focus on bringing value to our customers, regardless of the method of interaction. It boils down to understanding your customers and what they want and expect from you.

Joe Barbagallo, social media manager, Volvo Cars U.S.
Authentic means being transparent. We know our audience knows us well, and so we have to be honest. We say whatever we can say publicly on social media. We give them behind-the-scenes looks at what’s going on at our company. I mean, it obviously depends on the way your brand is structured, but every brand needs to make sure it isn’t posting misleading information about itself. You’ve got to be forthright, especially if consumers are asking you a question.