Authenticity Trumps Consistency - Customer Relationship Management

The Cluetrain model—marketing for the social customer—is built on the overall experience of the company and how that experience is transmitted to the customer and other interested parties.

Transparency,From marketing’s standpoint,that means that the human side of the company and its individuals has to be obvious and that multichannel honesty is the actual best policy when it comes to things ranging from service issues to product availability to messaging. To be authentic,what a marketing or public relations maven has to provide is something that is not scripted and not necessarily perfect.

Authenticity doesn’t mean that you can’t be fake. You can. Look at the world-class blog The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs,written by Fake Steve Jobs. This blog got a ton of national attention because it was written as if it was Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs writing it,and it was intentionally hilarious. For a long time,it was known it was a fake Steve Jobs,but no one knew who the real writer was. It turned out to be Dan Lyons,a technology columnist at Newsweek. No one attacked him for his “inauthenticity” because his intent was clear. He was an authentic fake.

But being authentic isn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s often a matter of a culture that is used to micromanage messages. While they are aiming for what has passed for marketing nirvana for years—consistency of messages across all channels—they are missing what customers are now looking for:an actual conversation about the company with the representatives of the company.

For example,there is a large technology company that has managed its messages so tightly that every executive presents in the exact same fashion with the exact same phrasing and even on occasion with the same slides from speech to speech or presentation to conversation. While their messages are absolutely consistent and well aligned,they sound so identical that it rings untrue—scripted and faked.

The way to actually deal with consistency isn’t to provide the same message in the same way. It’s to establish the content of the message and then when that’s clear,let those who are presenting that message do it in the way that reflects who they are. In their own voices.

Think of these two mantras:

  • Consistent messaging doesn’t mean identical messaging.
  • Authenticity trumps consistency every time.

If you establish that authenticity and make sure that it reflects in the culture of the company and the way that you sell and market,you’ll have a company that is trusted by its customers—even if it makes a mistake. Because the model is built on trust,the reputation of the company,not the message,becomes the brand. If that is the initial intent of the branding and marketing,then authenticity becomes an embedded part of the company culture and all its activities. But to get to that state,using tools for it can be something that validates your corporate honesty. Two things you can try:

First,quantify an assessment of your marketing practices by certifying them through credible third parties like TRUSTe. That way you can authenticate your product or other marketing claims which are validated by that third party.

Second,do what SAP did with its release of sustainability tools in 2009. They are able to guarantee that a product in a store is the environmentally best of its class because they’ve developed tools that measure the claim based on government standards for sustainability of products.

Use the tools to support a culture of authenticity. They,in effect,prove the point—verification of authenticity across all channels and in all conversations. But to be able to use the tools effectively,you have to have some idea of what the conversation that’s going on is about and who’s saying what to whom.


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