The Key to Capturing Brand Authenticity

During our tenure as producers at Current TV in its formative years from 2006 to 2009, we built a new production model based on audience co-creation. In essence, not only were we giving our audience what they wanted, but we asked them to help us in creating a new form of entertainment.
 
What we did four years ago has even greater currency today in marketing. Leveraging audiences to tell their stories on behalf of brands and services has never been more important. B-to-b marketers have long trotted out their best customers in ads that serve as case studies demonstrating how the marketer helps build successful businesses. American Express Open is one marketer that frequently uses small business owners as spokespeople for how American Express Open supports their business objectives.
 
In today’s market, the actual consumer as brand ambassador has become the new “seal of approval.” As Adweek has documented in countless articles, an endorsement of the brand by the consumer carries more weight than ever before.
 
Marketers now direct massive resources to leverage the power of consumer connections in their messaging: partnering with “mommy bloggers”; creating Facebook Fan pages with deals and coupons for friends; talking directly with consumers on Twitter; empowering consumers on Foursquare; and offering deals based on social engagement are just a few of the 2010 social media tools being extended and enhanced in 2011.
 
Still, for any of these methods to really have impact, they must have an authentic consumer voice. Otherwise they will be exposed in our very transparent, “got you” social media stratosphere. The key is in capturing authenticity. Here are some key methods for finding the “real” voice for your brand:
 
The journalistic approach
Today, everyone is a journalist in some way. Facebook and Twitter are the new wire services. What we learned as nonfiction, video-focused journalists with an army of 18- to 34-year-olds who were part of our network was how to find the most compelling stories—and then to use those stories.
 
Today, as throughout history, the most compelling stories are those that feature real events with real people, not those crafted by creative professionals. Marketers and their partners need to think and act like journalists. Like good reporters, they must uncover the consumer stories that generate positive social media noise and find exciting and compelling ways to disseminate these stories to the masses.


A perfect example is how VW is tapping into the increasing value American’s put on being self-reliant in a new push for Jetta that features consumer resourcefulness. It celebrates empowered consumers who today are taking charge of their own lives and making things happen for themselves.The closing shot of the license plate reads “mine”—underscoring the value of self-achievement.

The consumer as media channel
Using real people in advertising means accounting for their individual social media footprint. In other words, not all consumers deliver the same media value and responsible marketers will recognize the need to carefully vet the metrics. A consumer spokesperson needs to be chosen just as carefully as your media plan is designed for reach and frequency.
 
For the Flip video camera, for example, popular skateboarder Ryan Sheckler sent his Flip videos out to his fans and friends, posted them on his Facebook page—all the things marketers would do to seed a viral video—resulting in a positive brand message with tens of thousands of views. (Full disclosure: Flip is an Urgent Content client.)
 
When looking for a real consumer voice, marketers must consider who and what and where that voice is sharing information. It can mean the difference between a video that catches fire and one that just sparks and fizzles.
 
It’s got to be real
Social media has ushered in a new era of hyper-fragmentation of audiences, consumers breaking themselves into tribes and engaging with each other in post communities. And the same way that locals can spot a shooby in their neighborhood, so can online communities spot a phony marketer lurking about their territory. As social audiences continue to fragment, the strategy for speaking (read: advertising) to them in one language or dialect has become increasingly less effective, and in many cases downright unsuccessful. It’s time to learn how to speak with them.

To capture the authenticity of creative consumer message bearers, you need to start with a brief that can be easily translated for their needs. Facilitate conversations/interactions between the consumer and the brand by identifying pockets of consumers who are passionate about a brand, and then working closely with groups and individuals to craft creative that is inherently meant to be shared. The result will be compelling and authentic content that remains true to the consumers’ voices and the brand’s message.

Audiences have come to expect and trust the voice of the consumer over that of the faceless brand. Brands have many evangelists who are happy to sing the praises of their favorite products, but those messages can be fragmented and lost in space. Instead, those voices must be identified, recognized and embraced, and then shared in a way that translates into positive results. That’s how to raise your bar using brand authenticity.

Brandon Gross (pictured) and Henry Goldman are principals of Urgent Content. They can be reached at bg@urgentcontent.com and henry@urgentcontent.com.