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Get Real: Why Authenticity is Crucial to Your Branding

“Authenticity” has been a buzzword lately for brands lately– for good reason. The internet has thrown back the curtain on brands, ushering in an Age of Transparency. Self-awareness, honesty, and a willingness to show the “perfectly imperfect” are no longer seen as weaknesses – they’re now the signs of a brand’s strengths.

Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy about messaging. More online resources are available that let customers compare brands against one another, double-check brand claims, monitor news and activity from brands and take a deeper dive into the people, business model and decision-making behind a brand.

Either due to disillusionment or optimism (or maybe a mix of both), younger consumers are ignoring slick, too-polished messaging and heading straight for the brands that display sincerity.

Part of demonstrating your authority as a brand is having the strength to admit to the boundaries of where your expertise stops. Ironically, this transparency doesn’t make you look bad in front of your customers – it actually makes you look better.

It’s like the old job interview question, “What are your weaknesses?” Trying to bury your answer in the context of your strength won’t get you far. Today’s interviewer is simply trying to get a clearer understanding of the limits of your skill set so they can determine if you’re truly a fit for the position.

Your relationship with your customers is no different.  They’re trying to determine if your brand is “a fit” for them.

So, what does authenticity look like from a brand standpoint? Here are a few ways to show your customers who you really are.

Admit your mistakes

It’s tempting to try to cover up company missteps in the hope that your customers won’t notice. But by doing so, you’re simply perpetuating the smokescreen.

Though small businesses are generally not publicly held companies, in the end you do have a de facto set of shareholders to answer to: your current and potential customers.

Demonstrate respect for your audience by looping them in to the challenges your company is facing and share your strategies for making things right. You’ll demonstrate that you have the confidence – and the proactivity – to address problems as they pop up.

Tackle negative feedback head-on

No one likes dealing with difficult customers. It’s even more challenging when a disgruntled former client rears their head to publicly lambast the company you’re proud of and have worked hard to build.

Whether their complaints are valid or not, they have lobbed a public grenade at your company, and it’s your job to limit the fallout.

Address the issue upfront with an apology. After all, they’ve had a bad experience with your company and that’s a bummer for everyone. Offer to speak with the person offline to hear more about their concerns and discuss what, if anything, can be done to remedy the situation.

Not only are you able to straighten out your reputation in the mind of an unhappy client, you show future customers that you are a responsive company.

Listen to your customers (and do what they say)

Here are two of the biggest mistakes that small businesses make concerning customer feedback:

1. They don’t ask for it. 2. They don’t pay attention to what they hear.  

Asking for customer feedback shouldn’t be a “wouldn’t it be nice if…” afterthought. It should be a built-in part of your business process.

Knowing what your customers think of your brand (and competitors) want from companies like yours and what’s important to them provides empirical evidence that should inform your business decisions.

There are lots of ways your company can determine what your customers want:

  • Online surveys
  • In-person (or virtual) focus groups
  • Social media listening
  • Online reviews

Figuring out what your customers want is only half the battle. Then you have to do something about it.

Once you make a change, shout it from the rooftops. Announce it in your website, newsletter and social media feeds – again and again and again. Your message should read something like, “We listened! We’re now offering…” Or “New changes are coming, thanks to you…”

It might seem obvious, but clearly drawing the connection between what your customers want and how your company behaves shows that you’re not afraid to adapt to meet their needs and expectations.  

You love it when your friends take your suggestions, right? Your customers are no different.

Create a human connection with your customers

Lots of major brands do a fantastic job of communicating with their customers in a conversational tone. Dollar Shave Club nails it with blunt humor. Chubbies is keeping it casual, like their shorts. Andie swimsuits knows that cool and classy is always in style with their customers.

Much like you wouldn’t speak to a judge in a courtroom the same way you would speak to a teenager at the mall, once you know more about your customers, you can figure out the communication style that resonates with each.

Remember, no matter what industry you’re in, there’s always a human being on the other side reading your website. Even if that person works for the world’s most advanced technology company, they want to be “spoken to” by your brand like they’re a real – and important – person.

Authenticity adds up to trust

Whether you’re a B2B brand or a straight-to-consumer offering, you need your clients to trust you. If not, there are plenty of other competitors ready to step in and take your place. Trust begins (and possibly ends) at the moment of first engagement with your brand.

When you believe in your brand enough to be honest, transparent, listen to your customers, and show a willingness to change, you establish the valuable concept of “authenticity” without even really trying.

Is your brand giving your customers what they really want? We’ll help you find out.  

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