One of my favorite authors, David Foster Wallace, often wrote about authenticity as the secret ingredient that instills greatness in creative people. Whether writing about Franz Kafka, David Lynch, or John McCain, Wallace recognized that true authenticity is what makes human beings and their work endure. It connects a content creator to the right audience. Given our CEO Jeb's definition of modern marketing as "creating brand believers," I think authenticity and creativity also go hand-in-hand when it comes to the way marketers represent their products and services.
In the digital age, authenticity seems hard to come by for many businesses. They struggle to connect with the right audience because they aren't even sure of their own identity, let alone that of their ideal customer. The first step to creating believers in your brand, as any SmallBoxer will surely tell you, is to know the purpose of the brand/organization. Besides the obvious answer (making money), why does your business exist? Is it to boost local culture? To improve the lives of others? To make the best hot dog in the world?
After you've established your purpose, finding your ideal audience is much easier. For my organization, Musical Family Tree, everything comes back to the purpose of "spreading Indiana music." I'm comfortable connecting with an online audience in a number of ways (Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, etc) because I know that as long as I'm serving Indiana's independent music culture online, I'm fulfilling MFT's purpose. I can also connect with the MFT audience in the real world, at concerts, community events and record stores. However, an e-commerce store that exists in large part to serve homebound individuals doesn't have this same luxury. Here's where online ads can come into play for such a business...
How about a mini-case study to emphasize my point?
I recently sat down with my coworker Drew Deboy to chat about a Facebook contest administered for one of our clients, Dr. Todd's Relief-For-Feet Products. Last year, Dr. Todd's discovered their purpose to help their customers "reclaim life" by providing important footcare products for people who needed them but were often homebound due to age or disability. Many of us may not think about diabetic footwear very often, but Drew points out that Dr. Todd's is effectively improving the quality of life for the thousands of people who do need their products and services. When it came to running a contest on Facebook for Dr. Todd's, Drew knew that creating believers in the brand was his main goal. On the surface, they were giving away a pair of comfortable slippers and a gift package, but by knowing their purpose and speaking to their ideal audience, they were able to double the number of "likes" for Dr. Todd's Facebook page and reach people who want precisely what Dr. Todd's has to offer.
They bought a Facebook ad that encouraged people to "like" their page and register to win, and they were able to target the ad to specific audiences by making it more visible to people who already displayed an interest in resources for diabetics. By knowing which people out there were most likely to be receptive to their purpose and product, Dr. Todd's shows that they truly have a passion for helping people who need what they provide.
People who are 50 and older are the fastest-growing demographic on Facebook, and according to Pew Research, they're logging on "to keep in touch with family and friends, hunt for people from their past, and seek support for chronic illnesses." Some of these people are still somewhat new to the internet and are looking for brands and services they can trust. By giving away a pair of slippers and a few gifts, Drew and Dr. Todd's connected hundreds of individuals to a brand that will have a real, measurable impact on their lives.
I'm not saying that buying a Facebook ad inherently makes Dr. Todd's a more authentic organization. What's important is that they started by knowing their organizational purpose ("reclaim life") and used that as a lens to help them focus in on the right audience. By understanding these important elements (and putting them into practice with something as seemingly mundane as a Facebook ad), Dr. Todd's was able to display the type of authenticity that will help them maintain and grow their online audience.
Whether you're promoting local indie rock bands, selling footcare products, writing a novel or doing just about anything else that will be observed by an audience, you need to be authentic in order to create believers in your brand. The first step is knowing your purpose. Then, by recognizing your ideal audience and giving them what they want in the most appropriate setting, your purpose will be affirmed time and time again.
In the case of the Dr. Todd's Facebook contest, that meant recognizing that older people and those with a pre-established interest in diabetes would be the most likely to express interest in their brand. For MFT, that means promoting the best underground local music to a crowd that's likely to enjoy other similar interests. For SmallBox, it means empowering greatness in others and ourselves and documenting that process. What does it mean for your brand?