How Authentic Is Your Brand ?

June 23, 2009

Authenticity is a term we hear bandied about a lot these days, but it’s one that you need to pay particular attention to. In a recent post “What Marketers Can Learn From The Obama Campaign — Part 2,” I talked about the importance of authenticity in the Obama campaign. Authentic means honest, real and not manufactured–adhering to facts and supported by experience. And it’s increasing in importance because of several key factors.

What’s Driving The Need for Authenticity ?

  1. Crisis — The economic crisis revealed that things aren’t exactly what they seemed. Or, as Warren Buffet puts it: “when the tide goes out, you find out who’s wearing bathing suits.”
  2. Digital — The web has democratized information and consumer sharing. Brands are increasingly unable to hide as consumers uncover facts, inconvenient truths and rapidly share information. Advergirl.com has an excellent post on this at: “Social Media Demands Authentic Brands.
  3. Marketing Excess — An awful lot of Marketing feels like used car sales. Companies exaggerate their product benefits and often avoid the reality of their product experience. Marketers are partly responsible for consumers becoming jaded and less trustworthy of their messages.

Financial services marketing is a case in point. Battered by the economic crisis, subject to negative sentiment across the web, and Marketing that tells people to trust and be confident. In the land of happy, content, retired people walking on the beach and playing with grandchildren, few brands stand out as being different — and authentic.

Charles Schwab — An Authentic Brand

One brand that does is Charles Schwab. No doubt you’ve seen the unusual looking Schwab ads:

The Charles Schwab Brand -- An Authentic Marketing Message

The Charles Schwab Brand -- An Authentic Marketing Message

The ads have the air of authenticity. Why ? Because the Schwab brand:

  • Is irreverent– willing to say what other brands would rather not have you hear.
  • Shows real people saying what they think– and connecting with consumers real world experience.
  • Encourages a conversation: “talk to Chuck.” How can a brand be authentic without conversation ?

Becky Saeger, Head of Marketing at Charles Schwab notes:

“One of the most important and challenging things financial services companies are faced with today is rebuilding the trust of consumers. This principle of authenticity is central to rebuilding trust and conveying that you are trustworthy: You cannot TELL people to trust you, or even convince them to by telling them why they should. Every manifestation of your brand–from communications to products to human or web interactions–needs to be true to the promises of the brand, and deliver the actions that are proof of those promises and collectively signal trustworthiness. The only way I know to do that is for your brand and your marketing, and therefore all of the above, to be grounded in the authentic purpose and values of your company. Yes, this is a huge and potentially lofty goal, maybe even more an aspiration. But how else can you trust that your brand–buffeted about in the wild and crazy, social, digital, consumer-in-control world we live in–will rise above the fray and earn the trust of those very savvy and often disappointed consumers?”

Authenticity and Creativity

A final point. Authentic doesn’t equal boring. The Schwab campaign is very differentiated in the financial services space. The use of rotoscope animation enables the campaign to both feel authentic and look differentiated at the same time. A real creative hat trick and one that other Marketers could learn from.

So how does your brand rate on the authenticity scale ?

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