This is Part II of a week-long series that explores the seven core attributes of successful brands in the Digital Age. Shankar Gupta is a Director of Social Marketing Strategy at 360i.
In the digital world, brands are not only competing with other brands to cut through the clutter and reach an audience – they now have to compete with authentic content created by millions of consumers every day via social media. The quality of consumer content is improving every day, with platforms like Instagram, Cinemagram, iMovie and GarageBand helping to narrow the margin between professional and amateur content.
What it means to be authentic
As people become more and more like brands in how they create content and influence brand perception, brands are becoming more and more like people in a quest for authenticity – that crackle of humanity that makes a brand about more than just selling a product. Authentic brands connect with consumers on an emotional level, engaging customers in their brand story and ideals.
Ultimately, authenticity can’t be faked: It’s a wholeness of purpose and action, which means taking a stand for something beyond selling, and then taking actions to prove it. If the brand and the people behind it don’t truly believe in the brand’s fight, consumers will know it – and they’ll change their buying habits accordingly.
Why does this matter?
On YouTube, or any social channel for that matter, there’s way more to see out there than what brands have to offer – from talk show-style vlogs made by a creative amateur in their living room to an iPhone video of a grandson’s first steps posted to Facebook. Brands should pay attention to this content, be it amateur or not, to find what makes a post or video viewable. On social platforms, nobody wants to be friends with someone who only ever posts about their work and the same holds true for brands; companies who post promotion after promotion find their fan base dwindling.
The key is to find something universal and true beneath a brand’s product base or tagline and create content that inspires those ideals. This type of content will more successfully connect with and engage audiences and, ultimately, sell products.
For example, Red Bull sells consumers a belief in the extreme. With a focus on inspiring its audience with the essence of the brand rather than pushing the product, Red Bull creates authentic connections with its consumers. Consumers identify with the brand’s image and share the brand’s passion – turning customers into loyal fans and an energy drink into a symbol of their fans’ energetic lifestyles.
The most iconic example of this philosophy is the Red Bull Stratos stunt, in which a professional daredevil attempted a 128,000-foot free fall to Earth from space. More than 8 million people tuned in live, and to date more than 30 million have viewed the YouTube video.
Three keys to being authentic
2. Think big. Humans take risks – and brands can, too. Ambitious endeavors have become commonplace in social media: from the death-defying Red Bull stunt to real-time content series like Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” and Oscar Mayer’s “Great American Bacon Barter”, brands are stretching the boundaries of marketing more and more. Utilizing social listening ahead of attempting these kinds of campaigns can educate you on potential hidden risks and pitfalls before getting started and improve your chances of success.
3. Be consistent. Maintain a consistent social tone of voice and aesthetic throughout your content efforts to ensure that your brand’s personality rings true no matter what the format. Marketers have been adhering to brand guidelines for years, but with the plethora of media and content formats (think a Facebook post versus a Tumblr GIF), this becomes more complex.
Cover image via Wired