There’s a buzzword in content marketing circles that gets a lot of airtime but which also causes quite a few raised eyebrows: Authenticity.
It sounds a bit woo-woo, like vulnerability and self-actualization.
It also smacks of compliance, with an implicit accusation that not everyone is telling the truth (or at least, the whole truth) about their business and its products.
To paraphrase a different metaphor, however, there’s no buzz without activity. In other words, authenticity must be doing something for someone to be talked about this much.
In this post, I’ll explore what we mean by authenticity int he context of B2B content marketing. Then, I’ll explain why I think it’s a critically important ingredient in effective B2B content marketing and give you five-and-a-half tips for cranking it up in your own content marketing efforts.
In our increasingly digital world, deepfakes and deceptive marketing make it hard for us to separate what’s genuine from what’s not.
We rely heavily on our instinctive sense for authenticity.
We use “gut feel” to identify trustworthy suppliers and pay close attention to the “BS detector” in our head.
The internet puts millions of options—and purported facts about them—at our fingertips. That leaves us with the onerous task of identifying which solution will solve our challenge and give us a desirable experience.
Surveys such as the Edelman Trust Barometer show that the epidemic of misinformation has led to a widespread mistrust of institutions and leaders—including businesses and business leaders.
People are increasingly suspicious of leaders’ motives and the claims they make about their companies, products, and services.
When you read a vendor’s claim that they offer the “best customer support you’ve ever experienced”, how does it make you feel?
How do they define “best” and how is it measured?
What do they know about the customer support you’ve received from others, good or bad?
A more believable statement might be “we want our machinery to exceed your expectations, and we promise to answer your service calls within three rings every time and have a service technician at your premises within 48 hours if we can’t resolve the issue over the phone.”
You can decide for yourself how that compares to other vendors’ promises, but it sounds to me like a genuine attempt to assure your satisfaction.
It sounds authentic—the practice of being undisputedly genuine.
It falls on a company’s executives and marketing team to demonstrate authenticity to their target audience.
Companies that succeed in forming a high-trust relationship with their prospects are significantly more likely to win their business.
Those whose efforts are deemed inauthentic are destined to fail.
Authenticity is a powerful tool. Applied consistently to the content that conveys your key messages, it helps prospective customers to trust you.
It leaves no doubt that the information a buyer reads, hears, or sees in a video comes from your company and is an accurate representation of who you are, what you do, and why.
Authentic communication makes it easier for prospects to relate to you and your business, and to understand how what you offer is of benefit to them.
Authentic content gives substance to your business, building its identity into something influential and elevating it above the competition.
Perhaps most importantly, authentic businesses engender trust.
At the end of the day, B2B transactions are really B2H (business-to-human) because one or more humans will ultimately make the decision whether to buy from you or not.
Prospects will more willingly engage with a company they perceive to be reliable and trustworthy, making them more likely to ultimately become your loyal customers and advocates.
The research firm Stackla found that 86 percent of people say authenticity is important when deciding what brands they like and support.
In contrast, respondents indicated that less than half of brands create content that resonates as authentic.
Not only can people tell the difference, but they also disconnect from brands that try to fake it.
Authenticity is a fuzzy concept that means different things to different people and it’s practically impossible to measure.
Ask your team to explain what authentic content means and you’ll hear things like “I know it when I see it.”
When you think about it, that’s legitimate, not someone being evasive. The measure of authenticity lies in how content is perceived by the recipient.
We often find authenticity in organic and customer-created content.
Organic content is posted for free, rather than as part of a paid campaign, so its visibility depends on it being found helpful and worthy of sharing.
Customer-created content often provides unfiltered validation of the business or product about which it is written.
Contrast both with the picture-perfect ads and unsubstantiated claims that companies are prone to publishing. Which would you rather read?
Think about the difference between computer-generated or Photoshopped product photos and posts that show the solution in use in the real world.
Or consider a blog post extolling the virtues of the latest software release compared to customer feedback shown on G2 (a popular tech marketplace and review site) that describes what worked well for an actual user and where they saw room for improvement.
Attributes that buyers associate with authentic content include realness, respectfulness, and reliability.
Anything that looks fake, applies a heavy filter to make things seem better than reality, wastes your customer’s time, fails to address their needs, or turns out to be unreliable could be damaging to your brand reputation.
Prioritizing authenticity is one of the most important things you can do to ensure the effectiveness of your content marketing.
Without it, none of the other great things you’re doing will matter.
Here are five (and a half) ways you can produce content that customers are more likely to find authentic:
Personalization done right can go a long way toward building trust.
Identify your customers’ individual needs and tailor their experiences accordingly.
Implement modern customer relationship management (CRM) software to bring appropriate personalization into their interactions with your marketing, sales, and customer support efforts.
User-generated content, such as online reviews, social media posts, and video testimonials, is powerful stuff.
Don’t be tempted to fake it. Buyers are highly adept at spotting manufactured content.
Remember that realness matters, so you must publish the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Being open to all types of feedback reinforces your honesty and transparency and showcases a customer experience that’s real and relatable.
Content that explains how your products deliver an impact beyond saving the customer money or making them look cool is both engaging and authentic.
If you can legitimately claim to improve the buyer’s wellbeing or enhance their company’s social or environmental impact, make that the focus of your content, ahead of any financial and performance benefits.
An authentic brand is inextricably linked with authentic leadership.
The people at the top of your organization must be visible and demonstrably human.
This means connecting with your customers through channels like Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, where customers can see leaders “walking the talk” and demonstrating that they care about the company’s purpose, its impact, and its employees.
Before anything reaches your website, blog, social media channels, video library, sales collateral, or any other channel, someone qualified must ensure it is authentic.
The more extensive your content marketing strategy becomes, the harder this will be and yet, the more critical.
If it doesn’t read or sound like something you would have written or said, don’t publish it!
This isn’t really a whole sixth tip—it’s more of a general wrapper in which to carry all the other tips around.
There’s no reason to limit authenticity to content marketing.
Come to think of it, producing authentic B2B content shouldn’t require any additional effort.
Why not just be authentic all the time?
Quit pretending you know more than you do, that your products are better than they really are, or that your leadership team is on par with the gods of Greek mythology.
More practically, quit embellishing and resist the temptation to only tell half the story when the other half is less rosy.
“Tell it like it is” should be the mantra of all great marketing departments, closely followed by “always be helping.”
Then, pass that expectation on to your contractors and inculcate it in your team.
At that point, your role is simply to hold everyone to the standard you’ve set.
Hit the emergency stop whenever you spot any slippage toward inauthenticity and call out your competition when it happens to them.
Utopian? Perhaps, but I see little harm in trying. Won’t you join me?
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Image credits: Adobe Stock