How much do you agree with this thought:
“Honesty is something you can’t wear out.” – Waylon Jennings
Here’s another question.
Is it possible to be too honest? Over-transparent?
Everyone has at least one person they know who says too much. It can be irritating.
But in content marketing, brand honesty and authenticity are the opposite of off-putting.
In fact, these virtues are necessary to build trust for your efforts.
Maybe Waylon Jennings was onto something.
Let’s explore my data-driven research on this important, perhaps critical, marketing topic of today: brand authenticity and honesty. (You’ll also see why I believe in it so much. I put it all out there when it came to an issue I faced in 2016.)
Consumer Reviews in an Age of Content Marketing
Did you know that 90% of consumers read less than 10 reviews before already forming an opinion about a business?
In an age of ever-advancing technology and communication, online reviews remain an important part of consumer research and decision-making.
Why is this?
Because online reviews are honest. And we need to know that the product we are purchasing, the realtor we are working with, and the pizza place we’re thinking about for dinner are both trustworthy and worth our time.
The same is true for our content. If our brand’s integrity and honesty shine through, we are setting up an environment where our audience will trust us and keep coming back for more. But while consumers want honesty, not all feel like it’s present.
According to Chon & Wolfe, 75% of consumers surveyed across 14 markets believe that companies are not open and transparent. While this may seem like a negative statistic, it actually opens up the door for us to engage in the type of practices that will close this gap.
Ready to jump in with us?
How Brand Honesty and Authenticity Build Serious Trust for Your Content Marketing
There is tremendous power behind authentic and honest messaging. When the story resonates, the audience listens, and when we hear what they are saying and respond with thought, the conversation continues and we all benefit.
Brand honesty and authenticity build trust for your content marketing efforts not because you are saying what they want to hear, but because you’re saying what’s real.
Did you catch that? It’s not about throwing out a catchy sales pitch or trying to be something you aren’t. When we are real, all of a sudden, we feel less alone. We find that someone else “gets” us, makes mistakes like we do, and finds it in themselves to move on in spite of it.
Here are three ways brand honesty and authenticity build trust in your content marketing efforts.
1. Honesty adds value
Presenting an honest front adds value because it sets you up as an authority. Would you take parenting advice from someone who’s never had kids? Would you take your car to someone who’s never popped a hood and trust him with your engine?
But maybe you notice your neighbor working on cars every weekend and then you talk to him, and he mentions that he’s been a mechanic on the side for 20 years. In this case, maybe you would consider asking him why your car is making that funny noise.
Why is that?
Because you have seen him act as an expert. You can now take a step forward in trusting him with your own vehicle.
When our content marketing is backed by personal stories and experiences because we’ve been there, it adds value to what we’re saying. We are moving ourselves from an advice-giver to a credible source of information and real solutions.
We are adding value to our brand.
2. Honesty shows you care.
Genuine interest in the midst of a busy life isn’t as difficult as it seems. At the same time, failing to communicate authentically leaves an empty space that leaves your audience wondering where everything went wrong.
It is true that customers want to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly, no matter what. Silence begets distrust and suspicion, openness builds trust. (Forbes)
Honesty in your brand’s message communicates to your audience that you care enough to tell the truth, even if it isn’t pretty. As an authority in your field, you are looking beyond your own reputation and moving into an attitude of transparency with your readers.
3. Honesty clarifies who shouldn’t invest in your brand.
HubSpot recommends that in our attempts at insane honesty, we tell the world who should probably not buy our products.
Why is this? Because it clearly identifies those who should purchase and alienates less likely customers, those mismatches and time-wasters. And contrary to what we may think, people won’t walk away mad or turn against us. They’ll just keep looking until they find a good fit.
It’s less about wasting their time and more about attracting the right audience for your message.
What Makes a Brand Authentic? 2 Factors
The Cohn & Wolfe survey cited earlier found that among consumers, authenticity from brands would earn them more loyalty. Consumers would also be more likely to:
- Refer to friends and family
- Invest in the company
- Consider working as an employee for the company
What makes a brand authentic?
Your audience expects you to be reliable. Social Media Examiner reminds us that instead of just talking about our products or services, the key to drawing in an audience is to create reliable content that they can easily relate to.
Each time we provide authoritative content in an honest way, we are building a foundation for our current readers and potential future connections.
One example of a reliable brand is John Deere. From building the first polished plow back in the 1800s to the publication of The Furrow, which attempted to educate farmers on new technology and how to be more successful business owners, Deere & Company has proven itself to be a reliable brand for its customers.
Graphic from Contently
The current art director for the publication credits the magazine’s focus on the audience, rather than the equipment they sell.
Can your readers count on you to deliver consistent, high-quality content that meets their needs?
Respecting someone, even if we don’t agree, is not always an easy thing to do. And what about your competition? Yes, even that brand or company is headed up by a real person who deserves respect.
One example of a respectable brand is Nike.
Scroll through their separate customer support account (@NikeSupport), and you’ll find phrases like “we’re here to help,” and, “if you need anything else, we’ve got your back.” This makes a big difference, not only for those who need to approach the company for assistance, but also for future interactions.
The audience will know that they will be treated with kindness and respect.
In your interactions with your audience, do you put their needs first?
Realness: When content marketing is too salesy or comes across as promotional, it drives an audience away. Rather than trying to tout a product, focus on providing real value to your readers and see where it takes the relationship.
It’s our responsibility to deliver authentic content every time. This extends to social media, visual content, and email content. When Southwest Airlines made the move to “Transfarency,” they showed the heart of the brand and the foundation of how the company does business.
How does your message express the heart of your brand?
Case Study: Our Move to Go Completely Authentic
In May of 2016, Express Writers made the move to be totally transparent with some things that happened in the company around that time. In response to previous staff members failing to deliver quality content and embezzling funds, we determined to be honest and upfront about the entire issue. Rather than hiding behind a façade of we’ve-got-it-all-together, we chose to come clean and make changes in the process.
After talking to a ton of people about it, I decided to write an “immediate-response” blog about what we were going to do to improve our entire workforce and company, and later on, tell the story in a podcast.
Read about what happened and what our response was here on the blog, and here in the podcast episode.
Although it was a difficult choice for me to make – being that transparent to our entire client and subscriber base, I heard positive responses from the majority of readers. (Of course, there was that 2% that said “TMI.” But I’m glad I went with my gut on this one.)
Strangers on Facebook even shared my podcast about it:
Ready to Build Trust for Your Brand?
Authenticity cannot be faked.
It requires commitment to delivering through on promises and engaging on an honest level.
It’s work, and it isn’t always easy, but it’s worth the time and resources you invest.
Your brand will be better, and your audience will stick around because they know they are only getting what’s real and reliable.
If Waylon Jennings was right about honesty being something we can’t wear out, our content marketing should be as honest and authentic as possible. This approach not only connects us with our audience, but sets us apart as an authority.
One more time: real connection happens not because you say what they want to hear, but because you’re saying what’s real.