The Key to Corporate Authenticity

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The adage “honesty is the best policy” is one that extends to the corporate world.

Consumers today are in search of not only honesty, but also businesses with integrity, transparency, and values that mirror those of their own. They want to hear stories in voices they recognize. It doesn’t take a marketing expert to know that responding to a customer’s desire will make a difference to the bottom line.

The application of the above characteristics can be wrapped up in a single term: “corporate authenticity.” The phrase doesn’t just include the positive talk preached in a company’s mission statement or slogan. It also includes the way a company operates publically and privately, and how well it lives out its own values.

Corporate authenticity isn’t just a feel-good concept, it can have real implications on the success of your business.

Millennials are especially keen to support businesses with a strong sense of corporate authenticity. An article in the Economist says that this generation ranks authenticity second only to those companies who reward customer loyalty with discounts. Other consumers place corporate authenticity on a similarly high tier.

The Core Values of Corporate Authenticity

Now that you know why corporate authenticity is important, here are a few ways to incorporate the practices of authenticity into your company.

Care About More Than Just the Bottom Line

Customers support brands that create initiatives they believe in. Corporate social responsibility involves the practice of cultures, behaviors, and values that benefit those outside a company.

A recent trend has been the buy-one-give-one model adopted by major companies such as TOMS and Warby Parker. For each pair of shoes sold, TOMS donates another pair to community members in more than 70 countries around the world. Likewise, with every eyewear purchase, Warby Parker works with a nonprofit partner to donate a pair of glasses to someone in a developing country.

This model and others speak to the rise of social entrepreneurship, a new model of doing business that sees entrepreneurs create initiatives that blend capitalism with meeting societal need. Social entrepreneurship is lauded as the next business trend to take hold of the industry.

Sound Like a Real Person

Companies occasionally need to be reminded that they’re communicating with real people, and that the best way to do that is to sound human. Having a “real” voice is one of the tenets of corporate authenticity. When a brand sounds real, customers are more likely to engage.

HubSpot has an interesting list of “boring” businesses that effectively sound human in their marketing. One of them, General Electric, uses social media such as Pinterest and Instagram to give followers an inside look at their factories, introduce them to its staff team, and share content that is more conversational and human sounding. While an Instagram following of 230,000 users may be difficult to translate to sales, the impact of authentic engagement can be witnessed in the thousands of likes and dozens of comments each of General Electric’s posts receive.

Another surefire way to sound human is to talk about the things people actually talk about. As the Content Marketing Institute says, “Don’t sell products. Sell information, education, and inspiration. Don’t sell me a camera. Teach me how to take a great picture. You say your brand is great? No one’s listening.” Customers will thank companies that offer not just a product, but a genuine experience.

Tell Stories

One of the best ways to sound like a real person is to tell a story. Humans have been telling stories for generations, and effective storytelling should be at the heart of any marketing campaign>/a>. One of the best ways for a company to come across as authentic is to share the stories of the real people influenced by a product or service.

One of the best examples of storytelling in aid of corporate authenticity has been the Dove Real Beauty Campaign. For the past decade, the soap brand has been transforming the world’s perception of beauty, featuring women of all sizes, ages, and races in their advertisements. Dove is also the master of telling powerful heartwarming tales. One of the brand’s ads from 2013 is the emotional story of John, a military father who wanted to see his kids after being away for seven months. The man’s personal story has been viewed more than 2.1 million times on YouTube.

While not explicitly promoting soap, John’s story and others from Dove reach beyond their product to promote real emotions it can share with its customers. It humanizes the brand and gives its products a face and a name.

Treat Your Employees Well

When it comes to employees, corporate authenticity translates into corporate culture.

When treated well, your employees can become your company’s best ambassadors and strongest advocates. Think about it: who else spends 40 hours a week thinking and talking about a company’s product or service? Getting staff on board with the goals and values of a company and enabling them to work in a positive environment will mean they’re speaking positively about their work to friends and family. Customers respond to companies that function as meaningfully on the inside as they do on the out.

Plus, employees that are treated well are more productive, loyal, and empowered in their roles. It’s a win-win situation.

Admit Your Mistakes

Another way companies can be authentic is by admitting they’ve screwed up. After all, nothing makes people more human than the cycle of failure and recovery.

For example, a series of Domino’s Pizza ads from 2010 involved the company’s CEO on national television admitting they weren’t making very good pizza. The ads included critical comments from customers, along with a confession from the CEO that the customers were right and that the company was going to start over. An article entitled “The Art of Admitting Failure” in the Harvard Business Review lists the Domino’s Pizza case and others as examples of companies admitting to their mistakes, and being praised by customers for doing so.

This honesty — be it positive or negative — resonates in numbers, too, and 91% of customers list honesty about products and services as the most important part of corporate authenticity.

For companies aiming to grow their sense of corporate authenticity, look no further than the elements that make you and your employees feel good. Bringing an authentic human element into business can start by asking the people themselves for their opinions.

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