Maybe it’s a generational thing (more on that later), but authenticity is something that I really look for in marketing content. If a brand comes across as insincere, like it’s showing one face when it really has another, then I don’t want to know. I am out of there. B2C or B2B: I need to feel like the conversation a brand is trying to have is real.
My personal opinions aside, there are lots of reasons that B2B marketers should really care about content coming across as authentic. Here are three of them:
3. Authenticity makes storytelling work
Being authentic in telling stories means being truthful in them. As noted by several speakers at least year’s Content Marketing World, basing stories in reality is really important for B2B audiences. Why? It ensures the story is relevant to the audience.
You don’t need to go about naming names and depicting events verbatim (unless it’s a case study). For instance, there is a feeling of authenticity in Adobe’s Mean Streets videos that can only come from basing it on something that does happen in real life.
In those videos, Adobe managed to tell an authentic story that really spoke to marketers like me, because it’s based on the fact that these are actual dodgy social media marketing practices.
2. Brands need to be true to themselves
If a business has chosen to present itself in a particular way, and then presents itself in a completely different way (and it’s not a rebrand), it comes across as weird. In fact it seems incredibly two-faced.
In copy, this will be most keenly felt if a brand suddenly starts using a tone of voice that doesn’t match their existing tone of voice. Imagine a big, long-standing, enterprise technology firm, known for being no-nonsense, suddenly using the kind of chummy tone of voice that Innocent drinks are famous for. That brand would appear inauthentic – especially if, as so often happens, this tone is only used in their social media and nowhere else.
Actor Kevin Spacey once advised content marketers on how to be authentic: “stay true to your brand”. Don’t go full Innocent unless doing so is being true to the brand. If you do start creating content that uses an off-brand voice or tone, as James T Noble once explained for kissmetrics, you risk creating “suspicion and mistrust” among your audience.
1. Authenticity is important to one growing B2B audience: millennials
This is that generational thing I said I’d be getting back to. How big an issue is appealing to millennials? Consider this: almost 50% of B2B researchers are from Generation Y. And being authentic is one of the key ways you can appeal to my generation, as Kyra Kuik notes for Distilled:
“Since Millennials align more closely with brands personally and emotionally than older generations, it’s important to them that brands be genuine to their own brand identities.”
“The new authority is authenticity.”
Only 6% of millennials trust online advertising, and this generation is also less trusting of traditional media than older generations as well. In order to appeal to this growing audience, B2B content needs to be authentic. And if it isn’t? Then no trust will be built between brands and this growing segment of their audience. But it’s a fine line to walk between sounding and being authentic and appearing insincere.
How to stop content from setting off people’s bull***t detectors
When I was explaining inauthentic content and millennials in this podcast episode, I talked about the BS detector. Everyone has one, to an extent: that inner warning that a piece of content is false. The aim with being authentic is to stop setting it off and to keep people interested in your message.
Here are some tips on how to do that at the copy stage:
- Let your copywriters tell truthful stories: don’t be afraid of borrowing from reality, as it helps your audience to identify with what is happening. Change names of people and places if necessary, but let stories feature what you know to be real. Anecdotes are awesome.
- Keep the tone consistent: businesses don’t have to sound the same everywhere and to everyone. But if the tone on a Twitter account is playful, then it’s probably going to rankle with followers if its Tweets suddenly start sounding serious when the context doesn’t call for it.
- Don’t lie in headlines: don’t promise something in the headline and then not deliver it. Even if clickbait headlines fit in with tone of voice, your audience won’t appreciate headlines that lie. You can still be sensationalist, as long as you deliver what you say you’re going to deliver.
- Help your writers to write for real people: providing detailed, realistic audience personas will help them picture the kind of person they’re writing for – which will result in more authentic language and fewer meaningless buzzwords.
And if all of this fails, when it comes to reviewing copy, ask yourself this: does this copy sound authentic, or does it sound like bull***t?
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