By Jake Bayham, Head of Strategy at BSSP
Authenticity is arguably the most important attribute in today’s culture. According to Morning Consult, 88% of Gen Z and Gen Y think it’s important for influencers to be authentic and to genuinely care about their interests. The rise and stumbles of social platform BeReal or the recent “de-influence” trend are perhaps the clearest real-world examples of the growing weariness of curated, polished content, and the greater desire for authenticity – which is no easy feat.
But this is not just a youthful phenomenon. If there’s one thing to learn from Donald Trump over the last eight years, it’s the power of authenticity. Trump…authentic?! You exclaim. But this is where the critical nuance of the learning lies. It’s not about facts, or truth, or knowledge or even acting above board. It’s our overall desperation as a society for someone who isn’t scripted. Someone whose words and actions seem to come from their gut. Not from research, advisors, or a script baked in some corporate lab. But from within.
When it comes to brand authenticity though, the approach typically takes one of two paths – either radical transparency or handing the reins to consumers, influencers, and creators. Although these are both important parts of any brand ecosystem, there is a critical component that is often overlooked; for brands to get to know themselves.
Knowing your brand is a marketing superpower. It’s the north star that allows brands to confidently react to culture at the speed required to be relevant without over analysis, something a brand like Aviation Gin does so fluidly with ads that tap into real-time pop culture moments. It’s also the foundation for the richness and longevity of brands like Guinness, who stay true to their core product attributes even when cultural tastes skew light, refreshing, and convenient. But it’s also the anchor that stops brands from jumping on trends or into conversations they have no part in, a la Pepsi x Kendal Jenner. Or worse, not standing firm on your positions like Bud Light.
So, as 2024 approaches, and calls for authenticity no doubt get louder, here are a few ways marketing teams can re-immerse themselves and get to the heart of their brand.
Reevaluate the foundation.
Consider reviewing the brand’s foundational documents with a critical eye. Is the language sharp enough to define a truly unique point of view in the world? Is there a strong personality, a belief system, and inherent tension built into the narrative structure? Make sure you don’t just have an amalgamation of platitudes, but pointed language that conjures individuality that is distinguishable from others.
Take a page from Barbie and start world building.
What’s the brand story or memoir? Who are its friends? What are its hobbies and interests? Where does the brand live? Heck, what does its house look like? These exercises will quickly illuminate authentic characters, collaborations, influencers, activations, and conversations that will bring the brand to life like never before.
Now, get even more intimate.
Sit in the brand’s real strengths and maybe more importantly, weaknesses. Don’t just do a SWOT analysis, but have the hard conversations. Are the brand’s strengths something you’re willing to double down on? When it comes to weaknesses, would you celebrate the messy truths or try to defy expectations? Undoubtedly harder conversations, but ones that give brands, like Barbie, a real, authentic cultural resonance.
All this to say, if our industry has one New Year’s resolution for 2024, let it be to fully embrace authenticity. Let’s strive for honesty and transparency. Let’s get to know our consumers intimately, and utilize the creative voices that have their ear. But above all else, let’s not assume that having confidence in our own brand point-of-view is somehow designated to a few outliers.