Creating and sharing authentic content is how you attract and engage with your target audience – THAT’S what any number of marketing gurus will tell you. But what is authentic content?
If there really were Ten Commandments of Marketing carved in stone one of them would read:
But when it comes to creating marketing content, what does being authentic mean in practice?
The purpose of marketing is, according to CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing):
To identify, anticipate and satisfy customer demand profitably.
Putting marketing into practice involves promotion – basically, communicating your marketing messages to reach your target audience.
We’re used to seeing promotion as a means of persuasion or even compulsion. We don’t necessarily associate it with authenticity.
Can you achieve authenticity? Why should you, and if you don’t, can you fake it?
In content marketing, authenticity matters. So, what is authentic content?
It’s all about how your audience perceives your brand. This perception helps determine how your audience will receive and respond to your content marketing messages.
It’s helpful to understand what makes content marketing different from other forms of marketing and why this is important.
Content marketing is, in the words of the Content Marketing Institute, a strategic marketing approach that’s focused on:
“Creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
Let’s unpack this.
Content marketing isn’t restricted to online activity, but it’s online where this marketing strategy has expanded significantly.
Why? Because when we browse online, we like to think we’re in the driver’s seat. We’re searching and exploring and following our own agenda.
What happens when, in mid-search, ads and marketing messages flash up on-screen, blocking our view and interrupting this activity?
They’re very likely to become irritants. They’ll have the opposite effect of their intention, driving us AWAY from the products or services they’re promoting.
There is an alternative. Content marketing works differently to this because instead of pushing messages out, it pulls audiences in.
As mentioned above, the content you use in content marketing should appeal to your audience by addressing their specific needs.
But you can only create relevant content IF you clearly define this audience.
Content marketing may appear a softer option because it’s inbound rather than outbound, but it’s still fundamentally a marketing activity.
And for any marketing activity to work, there must be a definable target market.
Therefore, first, know who you’re talking to.
When you’re clear about this, you can create content designed to attract this target audience.
But attraction alone isn’t enough. Success in content marketing is about retaining your audience and building relationships with them.
This is where consistency is vital.
It also highlights how SEO (search engine optimisation) continues to evolve. It’s not enough to front-load your content with keywords, hoping to make it more searchable.
Your content needs to be perceived as helpful – by Google and by your audience.
You can only build an audience for your content if there’s real substance in what you create.
Obviously, for your content to reach its intended audience, you’ve got to create it first.
Content marketing may consist of video, imagery, written copy or a combination of these.
Regardless, it’ll only work if it reaches the audience you want it to reach. They’ll only find it if you distribute it effectively.
This means knowing where your target audience will be searching.
For example, LinkedIn is an ideal platform for distributing B2B content but it’s not ideal for reaching B2C audiences.
This is the crux of content marketing. It has the same ultimate aims as other marketing activities.
It’s just subtler in its approach. It’s not pushy, it’s helpful.
By being helpful, your content builds trust in your audience. The more they trust you, the more likely they’ll want to buy from you.
When you watch a TV documentary, you assume that what you’re looking at is true.
Even when there are dramatic reconstructions, these should be truthful representations of events that have occurred.
But when you watch a piece of fiction – a series, say, or a film – you don’t carry this assumption.
Of course, the narrative should carry you along so that you feel invested in it, but you don’t believe in the literal truth of the story.
Your content marketing needs to be believable. You want your audience to trust what you’re saying.
This trust comes from how they perceive you as a storyteller: are you a trustworthy source?
Your perceived authenticity is what makes your audience trust you and your content.
Authenticity is a brand foundation. This applies both to your personal and commercial brand.
In your personal brand, authenticity comes from how you represent yourself – what you say, how you say it and how you interact with others. Basic things like body language can influence it.
Are you a genuine version of yourself when others see you?
For commercial or business brands, authenticity is more complex. The main point is that authenticity is, essentially, out of the brand’s control.
It is a matter of perception. How the customer or client perceives the brand and its actions.
The brand can control its actions, shape its image and messaging, but authenticity is in the eye of the beholder.
In content marketing, defining your audience is crucial.
This audience will decide whether your content is authentic. To make it authentic, it must resonate with them.
But to resonate with your target audience, your content must do more than pander to their needs and likes.
It must also represent your brand values, using a consistent style and tone of voice.
You should think carefully about the content you create:
Be generous with your content.
Solve problems, offer useful tips and advice. Broaden your focus. Think laterally – how does your content fit into the wider context of your audience’s lives?
Be relatable. Demonstrate empathy with your audience. Make sure your content feels human and real.
Here’s a riddle: is authenticity authentic?
Authenticity in marketing is subjective – it’s how customers perceive a brand and its products.
But seeking something authentic doesn’t necessarily make the thing being sought authentic in itself.
Or, to put it another way, what one person finds authentic, another might perceive as superficial.
You might think your favourite brand of trainers is authentic, while I think it’s just another product rolling off the corporate production line.
Authenticity is about individual interpretation.
Earlier, I looked at the difference between a true story and a fictional one. But fiction still depends on believability – regardless of the setting or plot, you need to invest in the characters if you’re going to feel the story has impact and resonance.
The key to creating authentic content is in its conviction and credibility.
You might not be the leader in your field or the most successful business in your sector.
But you can create authentic content if you understand your audience and you’re consistent in your communication. You can get them to believe in your business.
You don’t have to be authentic, just believable.
To discover more about creating content that will build your credibility with your audience, please get in touch.