The power of an authentic marketing campaign (and how to create one)

We’ve all seen ads that seem so fake, forced, or sappy that we roll our eyes in disdain. “Who would ever fall for that?” we wonder.

In the modern marketplace, consumers can sniff out disingenuous advertising from a mile away. Forty-three percent of Millennials rank authenticity higher than content when consuming news. They won’t even read it if they don’t trust the brand. Millennials believe advertising is all a big marketing spin, which is why they fast-forward through commercials and avoid banner ads.

To stay on top, your company has to learn how to create awareness and influence without selling, which means maintaining authenticity in your digital marketing campaigns. Here’s how your brand can get started:

1. Stay true to your core values

Align your marketing activities closely with your culture and values. Although following the latest trends can attract attention and raise profits in the short term, it can make you lose sight of your brand identity. What’s more, many successful brands have built purposes that go beyond selling so people can get behind them. As Zappos founder Tony Hsieh put it, “We’re willing to make short-term sacrifices (including lost revenue or profits) if we believe that the long-term benefits are worth it. Protecting the company culture and sticking to core values is a long-term benefit.”

2. Understand your customers’ likes and dislikes

Knowing your customers’ wants and needs helps you build rapport with them on a personal level. By listening to your customers, you can gather meaningful insights that help you consistently deliver on your brand promise and surpass customer expectations.

Lane Bryant, for instance, recently launched its #ImNoAngel campaign, which celebrated women of all shapes and sizes by redefining what is “sexy.” The campaign — which generated more than 15 billion impressions and sparked a $7 million increase in incremental sales — was the brainchild of the CMO, who was moved after talking with store customers about body image and their concerns with the brand. It was also driven by the CMO’s own experience with one of his daughters.

3. Tell meaningful stories

People buy your product based on the story you tell. When they choose your brand, it’s because of the values and relevance you demonstrate in your messaging.

When REI “canceled Black Friday” this year, the retailer encouraged customers to #OptOutside and share on social media how they spent the day doing outdoor activities — messaging that resonated with its outdoorsy fan base. Millions of people chose to participate, and the company received extensive press coverage on its stance that retail is not just about money, but it’s also about what you stand for. Brands that act with integrity resonate with their audiences and inspire people to share.

4. Take calculated risks

Be willing to take risks — as long as they align with your core values. For example, be transparent about what problems you want to solve and how you are fulfilling your mission by overcoming them. Consumers want to be empowered and are are willing to reward brands that touch them in meaningful ways.

A solid example of a company that took a calculated risk (that eventually yielded great success) was when Domino’s rebranded itself in late 2009. Often the brunt of jokes by avid pizza lovers, Domino’s pies were regularly compared to cardboard, and the company’s brand began to suffer. Calculated risk came into play when the company’s leaders realized the only thing to do at that juncture was to be honest — that’s not always easy, especially in the limelight. But by highlighting its own weaknesses, and later, actively trying to fix them, consumers were introduced to quite the brand turnaround.

While CEO Patrick Doyle admitted he was hesitant about essentially knocking his own brand, he was later quoted as saying, “You can either use negative comments to get you down, or you can use them to excite you and energize your process of making a better pizza. We did the latter.”

5. Drive organic social media

The decline in organic social media reach on platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram has charged brands to access their own fan bases. The result is that many social media platforms become push and not pull, where many paid social ads are shoved at potential consumers. Social media has gone from a free channel to a big budget line item because its the companies pushing their content rather than customers and fans using their own organic social reach (which doesn’t have any corresponding expense).

If you can emotionally inspire followers to take your campaign to their social media networks, the distribution is much faster, it’s free, and it feels more authentic. Scores of women shared how Lane Bryant’s #ImNoAngel message resonated with them, and young girls posted that the campaign changed their outlooks on body image. The campaign generated more than 16 billion unpaid social and media impressions worldwide in the four weeks following the launch.

Authenticity is critical in digital marketing today. With social media sharing and 24/7 communication via mobile devices, customers can quickly discover whether a product is effective or whether a brand’s claim isn’t substantiated.

To spotlight your authenticity to customers, stay true to your core, understand customers’ wants and needs, tell meaningful stories, and take calculated risks. You may find that the resulting campaign doesn’t even cost a lot of money, and it can become viral for the right reasons.

What does your brand stand for? How can you sell without selling to maintain your authenticity?

Image: Ara Pehlivanian via Flickr.



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