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. 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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Marketing Slogans are for Lovers

April 27, 2009

The development and use of a great Marketing slogan is a long lost art. And a key to effectively building your brand equity. Yet, I see so many weak slogans these days that seeing or hearing a really great one has a way of reminding you of the astonishing power of a simple idea, well articulated.

One of the things I remember most about driving to and from the Darden School at UVA back in the early 80’s is, strangely enough, the state’s marketing slogan: “Virginia is for lovers.” Growing up in east Tennessee, I would frequently see cars buzzing up and down I-40 and I-81 with the provocative slogan emblazoned on their back bumpers. I’m sure you too have seen or heard the line, and no doubt, have never forgotten it.

Virginia is for Lovers Marketing Slogan

Virginia is for Lovers Marketing Slogan

Created 40 years ago this year, it’s a great example of a marketing slogan that really works.  For more examples of great advertising and slogans, check out the monthly Ads of the World winners. Strangely enough, “Virginia is for Lovers” wasn’t the original slogan–the more clunky (and much less powerful) “Virginia is for history lovers” gradually evolved into the final line. Driven primarily by bumper sticker advertising–who can forget the white font and red heart–it embodies several things that are common to all great slogans.

First, it has a clear target–lovers. What a truly original way of personalizing a state for everyone. Whoever wrote the line was a genius, because the line isn’t primarily about the place, it’s about who we want to be. It’s aspirational. Who isn’t, or doesn’t want to be, a “lover?” This marketing slogan speaks to everyone.

Second, there’s a clear benefit:  If Virginia is for lovers, it’s for people who are, or want to be, in love. Who wouldn’t want this ? And importantly, anyone who has spent time in the state knows that Virginia does, in fact, have a dreamy feel to the place. So, it’s entirely plausible: Virginia really is for lovers.

Third, the slogan is provocative. New Jersey is the “Garden State.” Ohio is “So much to discover.” A state for lovers is in a category and space all its own. It has stopping power. It makes you stop and think.

Lastly, it’s memorable. How many of us, if asked, wouldn’t know the state’s marketing slogan ? Try this test at home: “_______ is for lovers.” Amazingly, most of the “marketing” that I recall for Virginia is from automobile bumper stickers. Who needs new media when you have a great idea ?

There’s something else that’s important here–durability and longevity. Check out the list of U.S. state marketing slogans. Notice how most states have multiple ideas that change over time? Notice how Virginia only has one? I have to give a lot of credit to Virginia for sticking with it. Marketers spend every waking minute thinking about their brand, their value proposition, and how it’s being articulated and communicated in their marketing plans. They swim in their own marketing ideas and often forget that their brand is nothing more than a millisecond of thought in the mind of the average consumer. And thus, they tend to tire of a good idea way before consumers do.

So the folks in Virginia should be applauded. They have a great marketing slogan that communicates their state benefit in a compelling, provocative and memorable way. And they haven’t walked away from it. But don’t just take my word for it. In the year the slogan was introduced, Virginia travelers spent only $800 million vs. $14+ billion in 2004. 

Why can’t all Marketers be as inventive, disciplined and impactful ? Great marketing slogans are for lovers.