When considering all the different ways to communicate openly and honestly with your audience today, it’s ironic that we find ourselves in a constant search for authenticity due to the hyper-curated nature of everything we experience online and in real life. Is everything really that perfect in that influencer’s life? No way. Much of the time, we can’t even be sure someone is real, let alone know whether they believe their own claims about a product or service. The natural skepticism that we all feel about our messaging consumption and participation has been heightened over years of observing sophisticated marketing and advertising, and we’re all becoming more aware of how we are targeted and even leveraged as consumers and market data points.
Because of the widespread awareness of these previously hidden aspects of communication science, it’s more important than ever we remain as authentic and true to our values as possible when pushing messages out and participating in open discussions online and beyond. In order to help you and your team navigate these waters, Firespring recommends considering the following five themes: Audience Matters, Moments of Truth, Consistent Engagement, Listening and Vulnerability/Connection.
One of the scary insights we have as marketers working at the bleeding edge of behavioral science is that it’s now possible to know almost everything about our specific audiences. Most importantly, we have insight on what’s important to consumers both in their lives and when they consume products and services. Instead of trying to make all people join our audience, we should focus more specifically on finding the exact audience for our messages by ensuring that we have profiled the potential recipients thoroughly and as personally as possible. Nobody wants to see an ad that’s not tuned to their interests, but when those who are already aligned see an ad, their propensity to resonate with that message is exponentially higher every time.
While we will go deeper into Audience in future articles, for now, you and your team should focus on the four key Audience areas of Segmentation, Messaging, Engagement and Measurement. What are the different characteristics of our different audience segments? How can we more personally message to each of those segments about things they find important? What’s the best and most authentic way to engage with each segment around those topics? Finally, how can we more acutely measure the impact of our strategies in connecting more personally with these audience segments?
Moments of Truth
It used to be that the First Moment of Truth (first time we try something) is all we had in our ability to get to know a product or service. Nowadays, we have a wide variety of different moments of truth from reading reviews to social validation to instantaneous cross product comparisons available at the flick of a thumb.
The Zero Moment of Truth thinking has us questioning how consumers get to know a product or service prior to purchase which can help us better understand how to meet people where they’re at instead of trying exclusively to influence a person at the store shelf or on a sales webpage. Using tools like Empathy and/or Journey Mapping will help break down all the potential touchpoints and allow you and your team to meet people where they’re at every time.
While it’s tempting to think that we can just push out messages when we think it’s important—when we have a product launch or some other milestone we want our audience to care about—it’s more important than ever to make sure we are communicating all the time, consistently. When we reserve our messages only for times we think something is important, we lose major portions of our audience. This happens for two main reasons: Their attention has been pulled in other directions and we have not developed the level of trust that is unique to brands and entities who maintain a consistent disposition and value regardless of the buying cycle or other market factors.
There are many great examples of this kind of consistency. We like to use Gary Vaynerchuck as a great example of someone that speaks with his [huge] audience broadly and deeply regardless of whether he is pushing something at any given time. He and his team personally respond to every one of the thousands of comments on his social channels and across Vayner Media’s channels. His work is a great place to start for those who want to see how the best in the world remain consistent with their audience engagement.
For these last two areas of focus, we generally like to think about speaking and listening to people online in the same way you would join a conversation at a real life party. You wouldn’t just jump into someone’s conversation and start talking about whatever you want, so why do so many companies do that when messaging online? Rather, you would politely listen to what the people are talking about and then try to figure out how to join the conversation appropriately.
Too often we are so excited to get our messages out that we forget to really listen to our audience and their interests before shouting into the void. Listening allows us to get a much better sense of how we can fit into their lives and address their needs instead of simply convincing them to buy or think something. This lost art is more valuable than ever in today’s noisy marketplaces. Why should anyone listen to you if they don’t first feel heard?
Vulnerability & Connection
We see so many organizations, brands and people pretend that everything in their world is perfect and observe them projecting an image or identity that is removed from the normal vulnerabilities which define the human experience. This fake depiction of a world that isn’t most often backfires because the modern consumer simply sees through it. Consumers know the veneer is not at all true and genuinely distrust brands and voices who don’t offer the sense of vulnerability that is unique to being real with your audiences about life’s ups and downs.
People care about real experiences, and while we all have an aspirational streak inside us that reaches for the very best and most fantastic, we are naturally drawn to leaders, brands, influencers and people who show real human vulnerability, allowing us to connect to them and one other. Ultimately, this is what authenticity is all about: being real with your audience and yourselves out of respect for the human experiences we expect people to have with our organizations, brands and the messaging we put into the world in the hopes that they’ll connect with us and our work.