In a world where brands are constantly looking at ways to forge deeper connections with consumers, the word ‘authenticity’ is thrown around a lot. Yet achieving authenticity is only possible if marketers are able to be their true selves in the workplace, according to Jan Gooding, the former Aviva and BT marketer who is now chair of the board of trustees at LGBT charity Stonewall.
Brands, are you owning your authenticity?
Speaking at The Drum and Shutterstock’s Story Times conference at the Barbican last week, Gooding reflected on her career as a marketer and how coming out as a lesbian, later on, allowed her to be better at her job.
“When I began my career, the CEO of my first agency told me that marketers should never say sorry or explain anything personal to a client, but I always thought that was fucking weird advice, especially in the current climate,” Gooding said in her very honest and inspiring interview titled ‘Coming out as you’ on stage with The Drum associate editor, Sonoo Singh.
“I know that when I had to hide who I was, I was far less productive. I believe brand authenticity requires all of us to come out about things about ourselves. As leaders and people who sit behind brands, it’s our hands that create the advertising. Therefore, us being comfortable in our own skin and owning the journey around authenticity is critical if we want to create an inclusive culture and branding that’s genuine. I’m a better, happier marketer if I don’t have to hide who I am.” Read more about Gooding’s story here.
Brand storytelling is no longer just about entertainment, trust is a big factor
This inward-looking approach was also endorsed by Al Young, a creative partner at FCB Inferno, who was speaking on a panel about storytelling and how the industry is looking to reinvent brand communication with new content models and metrics. He said marketers who look deep within themselves to own up to their mistakes will create much more memorable campaigns.
“When I started in this business, brands tried to entertain. If you made people laugh, you could pretend you were their mate and that was a success, but we are way beyond that now!” he explained. “In order for brands to gain trust, you need to do something meaningful in a consumer’s life, like how Amazon is so reliable with delivery.
“Another way to achieve an authentic voice is to fess up when you do something wrong! When KFC ran out of chicken, they did a charming ad saying they had fucked up, so owning the narrative is important. Otherwise, you look disingenuous, like Facebook when they did that campaign trying to spin the data leaks. It was difficult to swallow.”
The idea of confessing to mistakes was something experienced by Snapchat, when an update to its app was met with negative reviews by users, many of whom found it difficult to navigate. Speaking on the same panel, Hannah St Paul, head of client partnerships at Snapchat, advised marketers: “You have to fit seamlessly into the audience’s life and be prepared to start again if something isn’t working or you risk losing them forever.
“When we had the redesign, our audience was vocal about not liking it. We moved quickly as a platform to change features back to how they were before. You can’t be too disruptive if you want to build trust. The same goes for brands. The best Snap campaigns are the ones that integrate into our platform and feel like an authentic part of the experience rather than just being shoehorned in.”
The future of advertising is images
The idea of being authentic is especially important in the world of film-making and photography, with an audience able to tell if a picture is staged or not coming from a place of truth. A panel later in the day around how brands can use images, saw esteemed war photographer Lalage Snow talk about why technology must not get in the way of telling a story. “Technology enhances the storytelling, sure, but you have to be able to strip it away and still be able to get to the heart of your story,” she advised.” She single-handedly produced, filmed and directed her first film ‘Afghan Army Girls’ for Channel 4. Most recently she produced, filmed, directed and narrated ‘The Gardeners of Kabul’, a half-hour documentary for the BBC.
For Javier Garcia, director of sports photography at Shutterstock talked about the creative process of being a “good photographer”, which according to him is about trusting your gut instinct. “Picking up a camera and clicking a button is one thing, but making an impact is another.”
Freelance photographer, Ben Sherlock, added: Technology just enhances the storytelling. If you can strip it away and get to the heart, then you’ve captured something truly great. You need to get to the heart of your story quickly with a photo. It’s like when marketing has too many layers around it and the central message doesn’t filter through. You need a heart.”
For Snow, “You can have the most amount of technology available on a campaign or for a picture, but if the story isn’t good in the first place or the photo doesn’t come from a heartfelt place then that technology just gets in the way and becomes a gimmick. Being authentic and true to your subject creates empathy within the audience.”
Yet as Gooding said earlier – marketers must ensure they’re not guilty of fake authenticity either. She concluded: “I’ve watched senior leaders at places I’ve worked tell the same stories over and over. If something crops up about the gender pay gap they reference their daughters as people find it disarming.
“By only sharing your truth, no matter what that might be, you reduce your blind spot and allow for more constructive feedback. Brands need to be vulnerable. There’s a lot of fake authenticity out there and if it doesn’t come from a real place, the consumer will ultimately figure it out, as that will come through in your work too.”
Originally posted by Thomas Hobbs
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