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Honest content: how to make your marketing feel authentic

Attempting to appear "authentic" in your company's content marketing and social media can be a double-edged sword. Here's the principle you can use to create content which actually feels authentic, honest and respectful of your audience.

Ironically, encouraging authenticity can lead to content which appears less authentic.

The word “authentic” can be misinterpreted as meaning “emotional”, “personal” or simply “fun”. How do you make content that feels “honest”? 

Failed attempts at authenticity often lead with an appeal to the personal – “you can trust me because of the internal emotional factors that motivate me.” 

Authentic content leads with an appeal to mutual motives – “you can trust me because the external factors that motivate us both align.”

Why trust me? 

Let’s use an example. Right now, I’m writing an article on the topic of authenticity. But why should you trust that I have your interests (learning how to project authenticity in your content marketing) at heart? Why should you believe that I am being authentic? 

I am writing this because, like you, I am trying to get a job done. In this case, I’m trying to create content which will build trust in me as a content creator at Base Creative and possibly bring in leads via our site, social channels or emails. 

Right now, Google is prioritising helpful content – it’s using machine learning to identify and reward content that answers the question posed in the title and is created with utility to the audience as the main priority, rather than SEO. 

I am in a situation where, by creating the most authentically helpful content possible, I am benefiting us both. By achieving your goal, I benefit. Our external motives align.

A bad example: the crying CEO

Whether my heart is in the right place writing this article isn’t only irrelevant, it’s unprovable, making it a poor foundation for any appeal to authenticity.

That was the problem facing “the crying CEO” Braden Wallake on LinkedIn last week, who was mocked for posting a tearful selfie after laying off two employees. 

Why did this come across as inauthentic, even though there’s no way to prove how Wallake actually felt? It was an appeal to his unprovable internal motives against his evident external motives.

As a CEO, Wallake needs his business to remain profitable, keeping his company afloat and shareholders happy. In this case, that meant redundancies. By talking about how he wished that wasn’t the case, he was creating a disconnect between what he claimed he wanted (true or not) and the financial motives we know he has acted on and will act on in the future.

It’s that disconnect that, good intentions or not, screams “inauthentic”. 

A good example: the forecourt operator

Here’s a positive example. One of Base Creative’s clients that operates forecourts around the UK has big ambitions in electric vehicle charging. The content we produce around their EV goals and achievements can appear authentic by appealing to the company’s core, publicly known motives. 

Corporations cannot afford to be motivated by benevolence. Presenting this client’s EV ambitions as rooted solely in a desire to make the world a better place comes across as inauthentic, even if it is the (unprovable) personal feelings of every individual involved. 

Presenting the facts of their forward-thinking EV strategy – by building infrastructure ahead of demand, they help secure a place for themselves in the long-term as the UK’s leading EV charging supplier – demonstrates how their core motives can be aligned with the audience’s environmental and practical concerns. By achieving the presumed audience’s environmental goals, the business benefits financially.

When creating your social media and other content, respect for your audience means understanding that they already know that you are a business and the core financial motives that entails.

Instead of trying to swim against that current, authenticity requires you to swim with it. Demonstrate how your business’ motives align with your audience’s goals rather than claiming that you and your audience have the same motivations.

More help

Want to get in touch about content marketing? Drop me an email at [email protected].

Charlie Stewart

Charlie Stewart

Content Strategist

Charlie brings his creative flair developing content and copywriting across all of our campaigns.

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