Blog post

Authenticity in Marketing is Not Optional

By Hank Barnes | March 28, 2013 | 2 Comments


A few years ago, I was interviewing for a VP of Marketing job with a local software provider.   During the interview, the CEO posed this question:

“I want to be known as the best company to work for in the Triangle.  How will you make that happen?”

This was an interesting question, and a big challenge with SAS based here, but my response was not what he was expecting.  I simply asked:

“Are you?”

He was somewhat taken aback by that and asked me why that was relevant.   At that point, I knew this was not the right job for me.  

While I could talk about different tactics to publicize what a great place the company was to work, if it was not based on real facts and stories, then the effort would be a waste.   The truth would eventually come out and the company’s credibility, and my own, would be questioned. 

The simple reality is that, as the title of this post says, authenticity in marketing is not optional.   (A great book on the topic is “Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want” by James Gilmore and Joseph Pine.

 Every marketing message, program, and activity needs to be based on a promise that the company wants to make that it can keep.  Yes, marketing’s job is to present the company in the best light, but there are boundaries that need to be observed. Crossing those boundaries are a recipe for disaster, particularly in the social-networking enabled world we operate in today.

This story was brought to mind by a recent inquiry that came to me.  An IT service provider was asking how they could reposition their services to have more strategic value.  In the prep material, the client talked about where they provided value today and acknowledged that they did not yet have the ability to justify a more strategic position.  I was concerned that he was looking for ways to create a story that help promises that he could not keep.

Happily, that was not the case.  Instead, the executive was simply a guy who understood his business and value to clients instrinsically.  He looked to us to help him identify ways to expand their capabilities and deliver more strategic value.  Once that was in place, he wanted our help to make sure that more strategic story got told.

That is the right way to do it.

To net it out, in addition to the simple questions I’ve talked about in the past (“Why?” and “So What?”), you also need to ask yourself if you are making promises you can keep.  If so, great.  If not, you may want to rethink what you are doing.

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  • John Rooks says:

    Seems to me that consumers want the illusion of authenticity – authenticity without the trappings. One need only look at what consumers consume to see this: jeans that look well-worn, vintage t-shirts that were printed last week, off-road vehicles for city driving, GMO-laden food with pictures of happy cows on the packaging, most green marketing, happiness in a bottle [Coke], fitness without effort, plastic surgery…and so on.

    Authenticity is indeed a prerequisite if your consumer is authentic. Sadly, I think most are more influenced by the spectacle of authenticity than the “real thing.”

    There are examples of authenticity winning for sure. But mass markets don’t yet operate on that principal [nor does Capitalism for that matter]. We’re working hard to make it so, but we have a long way to go.

    Lying works very well when consumers are trapped in the spectacle.

  • Boney says:

    Authenticity especially in the online marketing area is completely ignored. Being a part of the hosting industry I am aware that alot of hosting companies market and make false promises about their services. But sometimes in order to get business, small companies have to market themselves as they are the big fish in the pond or else bigger companies will eat up their share. Is it the right authentic way of marketing, probably not, however is it necessary, I would say probably yes