In a recent article, Fast Company asked six advertising experts about where they see the advertising business today and where they see it going. Colleen DeCourcy of Wieden + Kennedy (which recently created this powerful ad for Nike, one of the many they’ve done for the brand) had this to say: “We’ve talked about the death of irony before, but I think this could be the death of bullshit.”
The brands built around their purpose and genuine care for and understanding of their customers are rising to the top (or maintaining their hold). The brands that aren’t are quickly being left behind. What lessons can owners and marketers of even smaller, local businesses take from this?
Your brand is a reflection of you and your people, first and foremost
When people think of brand, they might think of the logo, or the website, or some of the other marketing tactics that their clients and customers interact with. This is the representation of your brand. It can be, more or less, ‘created.’ But your actual brand is born from the way you do business and the decisions you make. It can’t be created. It’s a result of your values and your beliefs. The experience people get when dealing with you and your people, whether they end up buying your product or service, is dictated by your actual brand, not the representation. And that can’t be faked or covered up.
When we develop a brand or go through a brand refresh with our clients, it starts with digging into who they are, what they genuinely care about, and why they’re in business. It’s not, “who do you want to sell to and how do you want them to feel” – that comes later – it’s “who are you, really.” We’re looking to find their purpose or reason for being in business and building their brand from that.
Where businesses go wrong
Things go wrong quickly when a business tries to be seen as something they’re not (usually because they’re trying to attract a particular type of customer). Everyone wants to be seen as authentic, for example. It makes sense. Authenticity has a lot of value. But it’s also something that can’t be faked or ‘marketed as,’ it just is, or it isn’t. Mike Shields of Business Insider spoke about this regarding Peloton’s marketing misstep: “If you’re trying to figure out how to be authentic, and find a way to make sure you come across like you’re real to consumers, you probably shouldn’t do it, because you’re probably going to end up with fake authenticity.”
As people, we process vast amounts of interaction-based information, which makes it harder to bullshit each other with words alone. If a business tells you they are empathetic to your situation, for example, but their actions don’t reflect that, you’re not going to trust that business.
The secret to being ‘real’ and gaining trust isn’t a secret at all: your marketing should align with your purpose and your actions. Don’t market your business based on what you think people want to hear. Giving back to your community, for example, is something people appreciate. But if you market your business as one that gives back, then volunteering, making donations, and supporting your community in other ways should be regular, consistent parts of your business. That’s real, and that’s something people can connect with.
When businesses really get it right
When your marketing is connected to your purpose and an honest reflection of what you value, you’ll attract people that appreciate the same things. This is what allows a business to form genuine relationships with customers and clients, and these relationships are critical to long-term success and weathering unexpected and uncontrollable changes.
Many businesses that have the capability have pivoted to making facemasks or hand sanitizer. For some companies, this is a way to contribute to the greater good. For others, it is a necessary shift to help them stay in business and keep people employed, and most are some combination of the two. Regardless of the motivation behind it, the companies that are seeing success from these initiatives have their purpose, actions, and marketing aligned. This is what forms genuine connections with customers. Those businesses are having success because they already had a customer base that loved them and trusted them. And they will likely see customers introduced to them for the first time through these new products again for more than just masks or sanitizer. This happens because they’ve given them something more to connect with than a product. Something genuine.
Let your brand represent precisely who you are, even if you know not everyone is going to connect with it. The goal isn’t to get everyone to like it. The goal is to get the people who share your values to love it. When people love your business, you can pivot, you can temporarily close, you can do all the hard things businesses have had to do right now, and those people will still be there.
So, what does “the death of bullshit” mean anyway?
Your audience, now more than ever and regardless of who they are, are looking for something real they can connect with. The brands that are telling customers what they think customers want to hear are stumbling, and so are the brands that are trying to be everything to everyone. The brands that are succeeding know their purpose and know exactly how to speak to their audience because they value the same things. The successful ones are setting the expectation and delivering on every level, from their products or services, to how they’re adapting to wild changes and marketing their business.
When your marketing and your actions are true representations of your purpose, things fall into place. You’re able to build trust and genuine connections with your customers and clients, and you never have to worry that the expectation won’t meet the reality. Be authentic, whatever that means to your business, and there will always be someone that finds value in it.
If this is “the death of bullshit” in marketing your business, so be it. And good riddance.