We are surrounded by inauthentic communications. Regardless of what companies say in their advertising, corporations cannot feel — only people have emotions. You may have a great relationship with the owner of a small local store, and you may have a great relationship with a single employee at a big box retailer. But a company is not a person, and no organization can care about you. Any attempt to humanize a large corporation inevitably fails against this simple unwritten truth.
As a result, mass marketing is seen as inauthentic. The “average” people that appear in ads are played by actors that we recognize from sitcoms or movies. We know that their reactions are faked, and we know that they are paid to pretend that they love the product. But when small business owners do the things that mass marketing cannot — reach out to customers using real, human interaction that demonstrates your mission and your values — it bypasses all the mass market clutter that we find so annoying. When small business owners demonstrate authenticity the effect is far more compelling than any ad or direct marketing piece.
In this way, small businesses have a remarkable advantage over big, impersonal corporations. Yet most of the time, small businesses attempt to use the marketing methods employed by big business, and avoid using the most powerful, least expensive communication method available — real, authentic human relationships. As you begin to develop your brand in the minds of your customers, remember that you can engage people in ways that large corporations can’t: a handshake, a phone call, or a handwritten note.
But if your communications contradict the experience, the negative consequences will destroy your brand. If your expensive handmade jewelry falls turns necks and wrists green, any chance at repeat business will evaporate. If your pricey homestyle ravioli tastes like something that just came out of a can, no one will believe your menu descriptions. And, thanks to modern communications, your fraud will quickly be exposed.
If your communications and offerings are in harmony, it creates authenticity in the mind of the customer. But customers can spot an incongruous element as easily as a stain on a white shirt. If they see any evidence of a façade, they won’t return. As you develop your offering, ensure every facet of the customer experience is authentic. Don’t lie, don’t cover up and don’t pretend to be something you’re not. That way, you never have to worry about being perceived as a fraud.
One more thing: if you feel like you need to lie to your customers, there’s something wrong with your offering. Fix the offering first. Your offering is the place authenticity comes from, and it’s where you start building your brand. Give real value, and you’ll get real value in return.