Authentic Marketing: An Incomplete Concept

authentictagxedoI detest taking my three girls shoe shopping. Even stores with good products and decent customer service can’t figure out how to get families with young kids in and out of their stores before kids melt down.

My family at the shoe store: Enter. Sign-in (Great, we’re number 8). Wait. Child spots sparkly shoes. 3,2,1 …“Mommy, I neeeeed these!” Waiting. Waiting.  “I waaant sparkly shoes!” sings the child as she dances through the store. Still waiting. Melt-down begins. Wait some more. Hiding head in large tote bag thinking, “Wish I had a flask in here.” Melt-down heats up. Inconspicuously (or not) steer child to the door. “Nooo, I waaaant sparkly shooooooes!” Escape to lobby. Give up. Return another day. Repeat.

Enter Zappos, one of my favorite companies and a case study in authentic business  They solve a problem: making it easy to find shoes, free and easy shipping and returns, a satisfaction guarantee, and the best customer service ever. Can’t ask for better than that.

Zappos is successful because they focus on their customers’ needs and always put them first. They treat their employees well and it shows in the way they relate to customers. Their message is clear, consistent and unique. They don’t follow trends, they set them. Their authenticity is not limited to marketing but is a part of their business model.


Authentic Marketing is really an incomplete concept. If you develop a marketing strategy that “gives the impression of” being authentic, you’re not actually “being authentic.” Authenticity is not a strategy, gimmick or a trend, but a standard way of conducting business that allows customers to relate to the organization. Successful authentic businesses do not limit authenticity to the marketing department. They embrace it in every aspect of their business.

Successful companies stay connected to their customers by developing their business practices around an unwavering commitment to their mission and core values. This includes the way it treats customers and employees, its policies, its products, the kind service it provides, and the messaging delivered through its marketing and communications efforts.

The keys to being authentic in business are simple:

  • Treat customers the way you want to be treated when you are a customer.
  • Build your business in a way that respects your customers, employees and the community.
  • Don’t do what your competitors are doing at the expense of your customers or your company’s reputation.
  • Always think of your customers’ perspective when making business decisions. Ask yourself: if I were my customer how would I feel about this decision? When you answering the question, don’t lie to yourself. If it’s a matter of having to cut costs, get creative to make sure you don’t drive customers away.

 “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is,
it is what consumers tell each other it is.” Scott Cook, Intuit

In a social media driven world, you can tell people who you are and what you stand for, but if it’s contrived, your audience will see through the smoke and mirrors. People will form their own impressions and come to their own conclusions. They will tell you when they are happy or angry because social media makes it easy for them to do that. For more on this read my earlier posting:  Your Customers Have Social Media and Aren’t Afraid to Use It.

101302.strip Dilbert Marketing is Lying

Let’s look at some other examples:


Have you ever walked into a professionally decorated home that didn’t make you want to move or redecorate? Ever wonder how designers are able to pull things together with coherency and a feeling of serenity? Great designers are brilliant at designing homes that appeal to people’s lifestyles.

Interior Designer, Kirsten Anthony Kaplan of Haus Interior Design shares how she uses authenticity to her advantage in her successful design business. “It took me several years of being in business for myself to realize what makes my business authentic. I become indispensable to my clients by demonstrating knowledge and vision that they do not have and cannot implement without me. I gently push my clients to consider perspectives that might be outside their comfort zone. I educate and share rationale and insights. I give my clients provocative creativity and meaningful collaboration. In my particular case, where I am the face of the company at all times, I have to be genuine and available, and act with honesty and integrity. Running my business that way leads to long-term client relationships and more satisfying work.”


Vaguely funny writer/producer/improviser Dan Ewen reached over 18,000 Twitter followers by being vaguely funny. What makes him authentic? Self-deprecating Twitter handle (@VaguelyFunnyDan) and genuinely makes over 19,000 people laugh at random times throughout the day. Dan shares his secret sauce: “You never want to be the guy who says, ‘I’m super-funny! Hey, look at me, I’m so funny!’, ’cause folks will immediately be dying to find you unfunny–thus the handle. I’ve been on Twitter a year, and I’ve made it a point to Tweet about ten bits of original humor a day. I try to honor (via retweets and #FFs) other folks who share material and make me laugh. I’ve found that interacting with followers is also important. The Twitter community seems to have a strong BS detector. Vaguely strong anyway.”


Being authentic in business and marketing requires utilizing your company’s core beliefs and values to consistently shape your way of doing even when it becomes difficult, loses favor with your competition, or becomes more expensive to support. Reliability and consistency are a testament to authenticity. They tell your customers you value their intelligence, their business, and your relationship with them.

Once you understand what makes you authentic, use it to your advantage, and don’t change it unless you are planning to make it better. Keep it real, ethical, truthful, customer focused, and consistent.

Thanks for reading!