It’s no secret that Millennials are skeptical of traditional marketing techniques and gimmicky brands. Many articles have been written on this generation’s mistrust of large institutions and disingenuous brands as well as their preference for things and experiences that are "real." Brands have rushed to assure Millennials and other consumers, of how "authentic’ they are, particularly in natural and organic categories. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a natural brand that doesn’t incorporate some form of the word real or authentic in the brand positioning and consumer-facing campaign communication.
But if everyone is authentic, can it still be a differentiating factor? If even the most processed food products are touting their "real ingredients," how can truly natural and organic brands stand out? At this point of saturation, authenticity can no longer be a true point of difference.
So, if authenticity is past the point of being meaningful, what’s a brand to do? Focus on storytelling. That’s not to say that brands should abandon their true selves and make things up, thereby losing sight of what makes them real. There is a better way to communicate uniqueness above and beyond the concept of authenticity. Specifically, brands should focus on sharing a precise, meaningful, and consistent message that represents the brand. Many brands are successfully employing this strategy and leading the way forward in our post-authenticity world.
Telling a specific, precise story feels more real than throwing the word authentic into a campaign. Invoking a sense of place, using a company’s founder story, heritage or vision can create a memorable image in the mind of the consumer. Annie’s Homegrown does an excellent job of telling the brand’s unique story directly on the box. The letter from co-founder Annie Withey links a face to the brand name and instantly distinguishes her brand, and her mac and cheese, from the guys in the big blue box. Even the bunny embedded in the logo takes the consumer to a pastoral image, a direct connection to the wholesomeness of the product.
Take a Stand
Having a clear purpose tied to a deeper brand value is one of the most concrete ways to deepen a story. This approach to brand storytelling is most successful when tied directly to the brand’s function or product. It’s also a well-known fact that Millennials have flocked to brands with charitable or environmental missions (i.e., Tom’s and Warby Parker).
Ben & Jerry’s is also a brand known for its commitment to climate justice and other social issues. In fact, these issues are so important to the brand that nearly half the company’s website is devoted to their values and mission. As one of the first brands to prominently ensure that their product was hormone-free, it was clear that the commitment to natural products was central to the brand. The company’s passion for social and environmental justice also fits right in with the "hippy" positioning and cheeky voice.
Last and arguably the most important aspect of successful brand storytelling is consistency — and no, consistent doesn’t equal boring. Inconsistency is one of the quickest ways to tell when a person is lying or confounding the truth and the same can apply to brands. Thus, a consistent brand story is key to authenticity. Whole Food’s 365 brand has been crucial to the company’s commitment to organic foods because its own product is held to such high standards with milk produced from family farms and a notoriously rigorous quality control process. America’s "healthiest grocery store" keeps that claim alive by committing to that mission in its own products.
In this post-authenticity world telling a precise, meaningful, and consistent brand story may actually get the attention of the sought-after Millennial consumer. This can work for big brands and small. The key is to find the story you have to tell and to tell it well.