It’s easy to question our intuition when the vast majority of marketing gurus and books considered to be the bibles of modern marketing preach about an approach that doesn’t feel authentic. We may even feel a little crazy bucking the conventional wisdom. However, the age-old axiom about finding an untapped need or desire and then filling it, as in “niche marketing,” doesn’t work for conscious businesses.
The narrative we’ve been taught makes logical sense and has guided the development of countless successful endeavors. And yet, flipping the process on end and starting first with our purpose, our calling, and then designing a product or service as an authentic expression of our purpose, not only feels right to conscious business people but is actually a better approach.
Marketing from authenticity begins with a different premise. Rather than researching audiences, conducting focus groups and surveys to find an untapped need or desire, we begin by venturing within ourselves and our companies to discover the true and authentic essence of who we are and what we stand for. Once we have gained clarity into our authentic essence, the product or service we wish to offer (and the way we wish to offer it) becomes very clear.
Once we are clear about the product or service and approach, the next step is to explore the audience that would resonate with this product or service. We need to explore not just where they go, what they read, what they buy, but what they believe and what they stand for.
The final step is to communicate with this audience as authentically and transparently as we can and continue to pour ourselves into the work of making our offering as good as it can possibly be.
This approach seems counterintuitive to conventional thinking, but it actually works. The reason it works is because when we truly come from a place of authenticity, our words, actions and offerings become powerfully compelling to those who value authenticity.
The key is that we have to be truly authentic, not just attempting to sound authentic because we’ve heard that an authentic approach is a viable marketing strategy.
Our approach has to be real . . . we have to be real . . . but being real is not an either or. We don’t wake up one morning not being authentic, and the next we wake up authentic and real. It’s a process and a journey, which is why this approach is so effective at transforming existing brands that have fallen off the mark. If a brand worked once, we can always turn back the clock to the original vision to re-discover the authenticity that made it work. That doesn’t mean turning back the clock on innovation, technological or cultural changes, but rather the feeling that drove the company’s initial success.
In 1969 Harley-Davidson was bought by AMF, a company with no real understanding of the motorcycle culture or any particular passion for the Harley brand. After more than a decade of cost cutting and quality decline the company was purchased by a group of investors, many of which were motorcycle enthusiasts. In the following twenty years they built the company into one of the leading motorcycle brands in the world by returning to the core of what they were about as a company. And in doing so, they produced motorcycles that resonated more strongly with their audience.
So, did Harley focus on their audience needs, or did they start from the authenticity of who they are? One could argue either way. Our position, however, is that without authenticity they never would have been able to design the kind of motorcycles their audience truly desired, and they never would have returned to preeminence in the marketplace. AMF was not capable of taking the company where it needed to go because cruiser style motorcycles was not authentic to who they were.
I’m Forest Forest Gump
The reason this approach is so effective is because we’re hard wired for authenticity. The adoring public did not take so readily to the Forest Gump character because people aspire to mow lawns, run continuously across the country or work on a shrimp boat. People loved Forest Gump because he was so real. The same for Patch Adams or Richie Cunningham or Brené Brown.
Realness in life and realness in marketing is a powerful attribute for brand building. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about our audience, in many ways, it means we care even more.