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Authenticity. Pointless buzzword or competitive advantage?

6 July 2020
by Nico Jones

Would you rather watch than read? Check out the video version of this article

Authenticity is a word that’s bandied around a lot these days…most often by creative agencies. You’d be forgiven for rolling your eyes and lumping it in with ‘storytelling’, ‘brand roadmaps’, and ‘vision statements’, as something that sounds lovely, but when it comes to your online strategy, is difficult to quantify in terms of tangible ROI (hey, there’s another one!).

In fact, maybe you’re a business that hasn’t got time to worry about capturing your authenticity…because you’re too busy actually being authentic. Most successful businesses are. It means you’re for real. When you tell your customers you care about them and the quality of service you provide, they know that you mean it. So where’s the problem? Well as usual, the internet is ruining everything. Because…

 

Online, anyone can appear to
be authentic at first glance. 

 

 

Remember the last time you had to choose between a set of potential suppliers? Solicitors, builders, web developers, whatever. Odds are that all their websites will pretty much look the same as their competitors. They’ll say they’re passionate about what they do, just like everybody else. There will be nice pictures of their work, which is indistinguishable from everybody else’s work.

But then you book some meetings so you can make a decision. You sit down across a table, and suddenly: the supplier’s personality, that had perviously been hidden behind some slick web copy or status update, is now laid bare before you, for better or worse. You’ll know whether you want to work with someone within minutes of talking to them, because in that scenario you can tell if they’re for real or not; whether they’re a jobsworth just in it for the paycheck, or if they’re as passionate as their website claims they are. 

 

That’s the crucial, pivotal moment the internet will take from you, if you let it.

 

So how to capture and harness something so intangible? Well first, we have to agree on what drives that lightning-in-a-bottle moment when a buyer makes their decision based on emotion rather than reason. I’ll forever assert that it is the people who make the crucial difference in any business.

Every positive experience I’ve had with a company comes down to my dealings with a real person. Without people, a business is a shell without a soul, mechanically delivering their product, nothing more nothing less. But the more services like Uber or Amazon try to eliminate people from the equation in their quest to deliver you or your stuff a little bit quicker, the bigger the difference between them and the organisations putting people at the heart of what they do. 

Authenticity, or culture, if you want another buzzword, isn’t created in board meetings – it’s driven by people. And think about it: your people are the one thing that’s utterly unique to you. Your competitors may offer a similar service, but they’ll never be able to match the nuanced, unpredictable, beautiful tangle of personalities that make up your workforce. Which is just as well, because…

 

If your people are for real, you can turn them into a unique, competitive advantage that will set you apart.

 

You can probably tell where I’m going with this, so let’s cut to the chase. Video is the single best way of bringing your offering to life online. But not so fast my friend, because it’s not just a box to be ticked off; in the online world, not all videos are created equal, especially where authenticity is concerned. 

Have you ever been filmed for an interview? Had a massive camera and lights stuck in your face, and been asked a load of questions by someone you’ve never met? How authentic did you feel then? Scripts. Storyboards. Creative meetings. They all chip away at the things that make you for real. 

That said, I’m never going to argue that user-generated video should replace slick, traditional productions. Every business needs the best showcase video they can afford, smack in the centre of their homepage. But that’s not where the battle for authenticity is won and lost, so let’s look at where the real skirmishes are taking place…

 

Social media, where content is king.

 

It isn’t practical, from a logistical or financial standpoint, to consistently plough one-off, top-notch video onto your social channels. That said, perhaps you have an in-house video team – In which case, great, but you’re still limited by geography and capacity, and you still risk compromising authenticity. 

The power of user-generated video is that everyone now basically has a film camera in their pocket, and anyone can contribute, no matter where they are. That’s insanely powerful when combined with an engaged workforce, because that will in turn engage your social media audience like nothing else, and keep them coming back for more. And we haven’t even touched on the power of bringing your customers into play with user-generated video! That’s for another article…

 

So what can you do right now?

 

You can film a little vlog. Sling it up on LinkedIn or facebook. Why not? It doesn’t need to be slick, it just needs to be real. Get an employee to do one when they’re doing something interesting. Simple, effective. But what to use as a guide to the content? Here are a few tips…

  

  • Focus on the customer’s journey, not yours.

Aspirational instagram influencers have skewed the graph here; a lot of businesses can get caught up in telling their own stories because it can seem like the sensible thing to do. While there is a place for your story, focussing on what you can help your customer achieve is infinitely more compelling than talking about what the colours in your logo signify. 

  • Pick a problem to solve. 

Businesses exist to solve problems, and that’s what your customers care about. Make a list of all the problems you solve, and pick one a week. Talk about how you can solve it. If you mean what you say, your passion will come through in a way that no paragraph of web copy can match.

  • Show some action

If you’re talking about doing something, get some shots of yourself actually doing it. Yes, we’re getting into the realms of basic video editing here, but it’s worth it. The difference between telling your audience something, and showing it in action is massive. Active beats passive any day of the week.

  • Forget the features and benefits

On social media, as a rule, avoid talking at length about anything too dry or stodgy that can be taken care of elsewhere. Video should be used to win over hearts; the mind can get what it’s after on your website. Something like a video webinar, or a youtube series, is a different thing entirely. Keep it lean and light…heck, maybe even have some fun. 

  • If you don’t ask, you don’t get. 

If you’ve just imparted some useful information to the viewer, you’re allowed to ask for a little something in return! ‘Visit the website, sign up to the mailing list, schedule a call’, whatever it is. Show confidence in your product, and ask them to get involved. Speaking of which…

 

So there we have it – the power of authenticity, and the absolute basics of harnessing it in video. If you’ve got it, flaunt it, set yourselves apart from the crowd and watch your engagement ramp up. If you want to move into creating more sophisticated, powerful video content, gathered and managed at scale, Captain is here to help you steer the course.

 

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