Marketing Monday: Be authentic, which doesn’t mean phony authentic or with disregard for details

sxsw 2013 logoI recently returned from South by Southwest Interactive, a massive technology conference that takes over seemingly every square inch of Austin with growing numbers each year.

While the marketing spending seems more pervasive — both Oreos and Game of Thrones sponsored pedicabs, as one small example — there’s still plenty of good content, ranging from 3D printing to the relationship of art and technology, from numerous panels about space exploration to the opportunity to get your picture taken with Internet meme Grumpy Cat.

One theme that kept coming up in digital marketing conversations was authenticity. Social media, among other tech tools, give companies the chance to talk directly to customers in real time, and many argue that unfiltered direct access demands authenticity.

Instead of scripted, written-by-committee corporate speak, show the humanity of your business. Let individual employees share their personal voices, don’t let the need to control the message impede genuine communication.

I’m a big fan of real, human interactions. When I think about my best experiences with big corporations, it’s typically because one individual employee went out of his or her way to help me.

But here’s where I worry that authenticity can go sidewise.

In one story, a panelist told of a client who wanted a professional photo manipulated to look like it had been taken on Instagram, a smartphone app used by amateurs to capture and manipulate photos. They wanted a pro picture to look amateur to pretend it was more authentic.

Related, if I see one more professionally made video with intentionally shaky camera a la Blair Witch, I’ll scream. Yes, there’s a time when a handheld camera works, but to fake being low budget or lo-fi seems to miss the point of authenticity.

I think you can eliminate distractions — re-read your tweet to check for typos, use a tripod for your video — and even have good production if you can afford it, and still be authentic.

To me, authenticity is about speaking as a human, like apologizing if your service let someone down, not about make-believe Instagram.

What do you think authenticity is in digital marketing? Do you think it’s actually possible?

Coverage of SXSW Interactive:

Colleen Newvine Tebeau is a former reporter and editor who then earned her MBA at University of Michigan with emphases in marketing and corporate strategy.  She is a marketing consultant who helps small and midsized organizations with strategy and tactics, including social media and communications.

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  1. SXSW, part II: Serendipity’s role in success and how to cultivate it | Newvine Growing -- exploring evolution, revolution and living life intentionally

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