In this blog series, we’ll look at how to create a more authentic brand—and combine it with effective performance marketing to generate better connections, increased loyalty and higher ROI.
Three steps to a Better Brand
If you follow trends in marketing and branding, you’ve probably heard a lot about “authenticity.” It’s the idea that a brand perceived as honest and genuine will build stronger connections with people, generate loyalty, and ultimately, earn more business.
In fact, take away the “perceived” part—today, brands must actually be honest and genuine, because people are better than ever at recognizing those that aren’t (and also those that try to fake it). Maybe that’s why a 2017 report found that only 16% of consumers in the U.S. felt that brands were “open and honest.”
David Perrell, the founder of North Star Media, calls truly authentic brands “Naked Brands”; they’re stripped of pretense, they’re transparent, and they relate to customers instead of trying to sell all the time. We call them “Better Brands”—because that’s exactly what they are. When you have one, they make everything better: Your marketing, your bottom line, and most important, the experiences your customers have with you.
So how do you build a Better Brand? It’s a process that requires you to be mindful, and perhaps do things a little differently. Here are three things to start you down the path.
Consumers are increasingly cynical; they aren’t likely to believe you have their best interests in mind unless you consistently show them. And providing all of the information they need can help them make better purchasing decisions. Southwest Airlines is one famous example—the company’s no-hidden-fees approach to pricing made for a great campaign centered around “transfarency.” Buffer, a social-media management company, takes things to another level entirely: The company has a page dedicated to transparency, where you can find out where every cent of your subscription cost goes, from salaries to profit. (You can even see what each individual employee gets paid.)
Your company doesn’t have to go quite that far, but think about what you could do to make customers say: “Wow, that’s interesting. I’m glad they told me.” For example, every hotel asks guests to consider reusing linens and towels to save water and energy; very few point out that it is a cost-reduction strategy as well. Why not provide a breakdown of just what it costs your property to wash linens and towels? “Every hotel asks you to reuse towels to help conserve water. So do we, because conserving water is great. But it also saves us money—washing and drying enough towels for every room here costs about $X. We’d rather spend less on laundry and invest more in improving your experience. We’re guessing you would like that, too.”
Have conversations with your customers
Better Brands know their audience—so it’s not enough to talk to your customers and potential customers any more. You have to talk with them. That means two-way conversations where they actually have an opportunity to engage with you. Why do they choose you? What is your company doing well? What could you be doing better? Are you spending a lot of time and effort on initiatives that you think are important, but that don’t move the needle for customers?
These conversations can be on social media. They can be in person when a guest stays with you. They can even be achieved by calling people out of the blue and asking for their honest feedback. This is different than asking someone to fill out a comment card, or for a review on Yelp—this is you personally asking someone how to make their experience better, or what made their experience great in the first place. That goes a long way. Especially when it’s clear that you are listening.
Build true relationships
Think about lasting romantic relationships you’ve had in your life, or the longest friendships. Did you build and maintain those relationships by constantly talking about how great you are? Of course not. You did it by enhancing the life of your partner or friend, by providing value and generating trust—by demonstrating how great you are through your actions every day. That’s what you have to do to create a Better Brand. (If you really want, you can still hire a big celebrity for a massive ad campaign, but it won’t have nearly the same impact as it would have 10 years ago.)
Just like those friendships or romantic relationships, your brand’s relationship with followers won’t always be easy. You’ll have to own up to mistakes and apologize sincerely. You’ll need to find ways to make amends. You’ll have to put in the work to make the relationship succeed.
The work that goes into your Better Brand won’t ever stop; you can’t set it and forget it. But that’s a good thing, because it means you’ll stay more in tune with your customers, ready to adapt to their shifting needs and preferences. It also means your marketing will be more effective—and eventually, if all goes well, you’ll have devoted fans marketing for you. We’ll talk about that in our next post.