Authenticity is dead. Long live brand transparency

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Authenticity. It’s the buzzword du jour in marketing at the moment. And, frankly, it’s all getting a bit unbearable. But, brand transparency could change all that.

The traditional brand-consumer barriers – the ones that saw the rise of corporate jargon and heavy-handed sales pitches thrown at the audience in all communications – have broken down in recent years. 

And for good reason.  

They were cheesy, low rate ‘marketing 101’ types of strategies that were, really, quite patronising to the consumer. Customers just wanted to be talked to like real people, not open wallets. 

So, instead, brands began falling over themselves in a race to be seen as the most authentic. To be personable. To have their own (completely, definitely authentic and not at all gimmicky…) voice shouting louder than the rest.

Social media channels are now filled with brand accounts trying to sound like one of the lads. 

Weekly newsletters are written as if they’ve come straight from your best gal-pal. 

Website copy has gone so colloquial that it’s unintelligible.

The problem is, in this clamour to be perceived as more authentic than the next, most brands have completely missed the point.

And for consumers, you know, the ones that have to listen to the din of these faux-authentic brands all trying to sound like real people, the irony is deafening.

The authenticity problem

The rise in authenticity within marketing should have been a good thing. 

It should have promoted more open conversations surrounding business practices and the origins of products and services. It should have included the audience in the conversation and delivered the information they were looking for. 

But it didn’t. 

Like many well-intentioned ideas, it got co-opted by big corporations. They jumped on the bandwagon and gimmick-ified the concept. 

Authenticity went from a genuine breath of fresh air, courtesy of a few start-ups and market-disrupting brands, and morphed into a cringe-worthy practice tainting the majority of brand to consumer communications. 

Brands trying to capitalise on viral memes or trending topics is common practice now; they think this is authentic enough to satisfy their consumers. 

But, when a brand uses an organic meme created by real people to try and peddle their latest product, the veil of authenticity quickly slips away. 

It’s easy for audiences to distinguish between a genuine message and one that’s desperately trying to jump on the latest trend.

So, what we’re left with is a disconnect between what audiences want, and what brands are providing. 

Which, coincidentally, is where we began. 

Would anyone miss you if you disappeared? 

Sure, your brand might have compiled a flashy new authenticity-centric marketing strategy, but does anyone actually care?

76% of consumers expect brands to contribute to their quality of life. They want you to make their lives easier, cheaper, more efficient and add a little luxury. 

But, if 77% of brands disappeared no one would care.

Yep, those customers you’re desperately trying to gain and retain, the ones that demand all this genuine, transparent content from you, they’re a fickle bunch. 

You could disappear tomorrow and they wouldn’t even notice. Wouldn’t give a hoot. Would not care less. 

But, there are two sides to every coin. So, how do you get on the side of the 23% of brands that customers want to keep around?

How do you streak ahead of the competition and fight to make your content so great that customers couldn’t cope without you?

Keeping consumers happy is simple; just change the world

Consumers are more socially and environmentally aware than ever before.

60% of Gen-Z say they want to change the world while 61% of millennials are worried about the state of the world and feel personally responsible to make a difference.

National recessions, the housing bubble bursting, the climate emergency and the migrant crisis have made people more aware of the state of the world, the effects of mass consumption and the role that businesses play in this.

The consumer desire for authenticity was a plea for more clarity, which would allow them to make more informed decisions when engaging with a brand.  

And with 55% of consumers believing brands have a more important role than governments to create a better future, receiving authentic content was a way to hold these brands to account.

But, if authenticity has lost its charm, what’s next for open, honest brand to customer communication?

Enter, brand transparency…

Authentic content simply aped the informal, conversational and colloquial style of user-generated content published on blogs and social media. It rarely went any deeper to talk honestly about brand practices and their consequences for consumers and the wider world.

This is where brand transparency is different. 

The goal of brand transparency is to provide a complete picture of your brand. No sweeping shady practices under the rug or distracting from dodgy decisions with flashy marketing campaigns.

Audiences are holding brands to account now more than ever. 

Just look at the backlash against Jeff Bezos and Amazon. Consumers, workers and the press nagged him so much that he pledged $10billion to tackle climate change. 

They saw that the brand wasn’t being transparent, so they spoke up and shared the information that Amazon wouldn’t. 

The days of the hypodermic model and passive consumption are well and truly over. People aren’t just taking your word for it anymore. 

If a policy sounds too good to be true, or a deal doesn’t add up, people are going to find out and they’re going to make that information public. 

Keep audiences happy with brand transparency

To stay on the good side of your target consumers, you need to be upfront, honest and transparent. 

Because if you’re not going to be open about your business, you can be sure someone else will do some digging and spill the beans on your behalf. 

Admitting when you didn’t get something quite right, or were contributing to a global problem and then publically putting strategies in place to rectify that has huge appeal to customers. 

But brand transparency isn’t just about coming clean as a form of damage limitation. 

Talking about the origins of your products or the diversity of the employees providing your services in your communications all help you to create a transparent brand-consumer relationship. 

When you’re transparent in your communications and messaging, your potential audiences receive the information they want; the information that helps them to decide if you’ll be the brand that will contribute to their quality of life

Meaning that, when these audiences choose to engage with your brand because they have a transparent view of your business, they’re already in the mind frame to convert into customers.

The brand transparency bottom line

Now more than ever before, consumers are more conscious of the ramifications of the purchasing choices they make.

Issues such as the environmental impact of single-use plastic and the rise in veganism and cruelty-free beauty trends have made consumers more discerning in their brand selection and loyalty. 

And headline-making scandals over diversity practices and pay parity have made people more aware of not just the personal benefits a brand can provide, but also the community and societal benefits.

Plus, people simply want to spend their money more wisely and get the quality of product or service that they were expecting. No dodgy dealings or being short-changed by rogue traders.  

In this socially conscious age, we’ve all woken up to the fact that our individual decisions have collective consequences.

And audiences are far more aware of, and vocal against, the impacts that businesses and governments are having on issues that affect them individually and the wider world.

There’s no getting away from the fact that, generally speaking, people hold brands, businesses, charities and corporations to higher standards nowadays. 

With so much choice and information at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to shop according to our values rather than necessity. 

Being upfront in your communications and transparent in your practices will work to help your business form meaningful brand-consumer connections. 

Connections that make your brand one of the 23% of businesses that customers would miss if it disappeared. 

So, ditch the faux-authentic naffness and try a transparent approach to your marketing and brand communications. 

It’s much more effective, a whole lot less shady and, importantly, it’s what consumers want. 

About the author...

Alice Cass

Alice Cass

A detail-oriented, aesthetically driven creative copywriter, Alice works to produce content across web, blog and social platforms. She joined Hedgehog in September 2019 after graduating from Falmouth University with a First Class degree in Journalism. Whatever the topic, Alice produces creative, meticulously researched content filled with wit, passion and an ingrained understanding of what makes a good story. When she’s not hard at work producing content, you’ll find Alice dishing out cake to everyone in the Hedgehog office.

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