Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Brand Managers: 3 Ways to Really Be Authentic

Brand managers know that target audiences want authentic dialogue. They want to be spoken to directly. As a graduate student in the Northwestern Medill Integrated Marketing Communications IMC program, I have found 2 articles that address the need for authenticity and present ways to achieve this in brand communications.

As consumer trust moves increasingly towards peers via reviews and social media, skepticism of advertising is growing. Consumer behavior responds to authentic, one-to-one conversation and referrals from trusted sources. In my graduate coursework, I have explored this changing communication relationship between business and consumer. The following articles address the rising importance of casual language with consumers and the value of an emotional connection, even in situations of extreme consumer skepticism.

In Branding Magazine’s article Scaling Familiarity: How Language Can Help Brands Move Closer to Customers author Chad Cipoletti discusses the importance of the familiar language of brands. With greater access to data and a world of social connectivity, brands are viewed more and more as a familiar relationship. Brands are more like the county grocer than the distant celebrity. The language of companies should reflect that. As customers increasingly view corporations more like other “people” (as described in this Baylor College of Medicine study), there is a greater emphasis on the language of brands. With more brand encounters and more touch points, this requires a concentrated effort but also, opportunity! This article highlights this importance and articulates an effective approach to embracing familiar language.


In another article, Brandbuilder blog author Olivear Blancard’s Advertising and Skepticism describes the consumer’s current environment and how it leads to greater skepticism of advertising. Traditionally, advertising sought out people, and people did not seek out advertising. Today, that relationship has changed. Consumers are skeptical of the truth in the abundance of advertisements and instead rely on trusted sources via peers, social media, or online reviews. This article points to interesting research from the University of Washington on consumer responses to different types of advertisements. The research reveals how even the most skeptical of consumers will respond to emotional advertising. But there’s a balance in tugging on the heartstrings and executing an emotional branding strategy with the right impact. Emotional connection grabs attention, but can also be distracting. The article quotes Vanderbilt University psychologist David Zald: "We observed that people fail to detect visual images that appeared one-fifth of a second after emotional images, whereas they can detect those images with little problem after viewing neutral images.” Emotion has influence, but the key is in finding the sweet spot where the message is relevant to the consumer and in line with the brand character.

Based on the insights in these articles here are 3 ways for your brand to really be authentic:
  1. Be familiar with your target market. Reveal your company’s human side in what you say and how you say it.
  2. Communicate relevance to your target market. Create emotional experiences that connect deeply with the consumer.
  3. Be realistic about the connections you’re trying to make. Match your product accurately with the emotion you’re trying to evoke. The emotional tie can lose value and lead to skepticism if it doesn't match the identity of your brand. 
More and more, consumers place incredible value on a real brand connection and relationship. Brands face pressure to be authentic. The challenge is in determining what authenticity looks like for each brand and implementing a strategy to communicate it.

Katie Lahti was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN where she received her B.A. in Business Leadership and Management and Business Communications from the University of St. Thomas. She has worked in print, digital, and social media in private education and is focusing on brand strategy, content marketing, and digital and interactive marketing in Medill’s Integrated Marketing Communications program. @katielahti

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