Branding In An Age Of Authenticity

The rising importance of authenticity for brand marketers has been getting a lot of attention lately. Brian Morrissey of Adweek has been championing the cause, as have Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine and John Battelle of Federated Media. Simply put, many folks out there believe that marketers and pundits may be focusing too much on the Internet's impact as an advertising channel -- and not enough on how it changes the way that consumers know and interact with brands in their lives.

Basically, in the new world of marketing communication, the future will be a lot less about what you say and much more about what you do. Thus, brands now live and die by how they perform for their customers, because the Internet permits those customers service stories to be amplified and shared. The power of those experiences is already starting to eclipse anything that marketers can do with advertising. We've seen this in the positive case of Zappos sending flowers to a bereaving customer and we've seen it in the negative, as in Jeff Jarvis's Dell Hell. I agree Brian, Jeff and John. This is the future, and we'd better get ready for it. Here is why:



* They will know. Like it or not, almost nothing that happens to or in or around companies is secret anymore, particularly if anyone involved has any interest in having it known. You can't hide anymore. The ability to forward emails has seen to that. If a company's customer service is bad, the customers know that and are certain to share it. While their only recourse in the past was a letter to the editor, which was rarely if ever published, today they can post it on blogs or YouTube for all to see. If a company does something terrific, it is just as easy for those delighted customers to share that information.

* Bald puffery doesn't work anymore. Consumers are getting more sophisticated -- and more cynical -- by the day when it comes to commercial communication. While many companies and their PR firms try to game this system, and create fake blogs or pay for blogs, more and more they are being outed. Consumers are getting better and better at judging authenticity, and taking more and more pleasure catching companies trying to trick them.

* More competition. Whether you want to point to the growing global economy, or the opening up of low-cost distribution and logistics systems, or the power of the Internet to help any marketer interact with virtually any consumer, every company in the world is facing more competition today than it used to. Thus, there is almost always someone out there who wants to be sure that any bad experiences that you have had with your customers is reported quickly and distributed broadly. There's nothing like competition to get bad news around fast.

Is the age of the brand slogan and advertising ending, about to be displaced by the "age of authenticity" and conversational marketing? I don't think that it will be that extreme, but I certainly think that the most important brand slogans in the future will be those uttered by marketers' customers, not those that marketers broadcast at them. What do you think?

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