Brand is no longer bullshit.

A lot of B2B marketers are talking about authenticity now.

It makes sense.

Sure, the internet’s been a good way for anonymous/pseudonymous trolls to spread bullshit.

But it’s also been the absolute best way for honest, authentic, well-meaning companies to get known.

When I look around at the B2B brands being established online – brands like Apptio and Stripe and a16z and Slack – one thing sticks out.

These brands weren’t ‘built’. They were earned.

Apptio didn’t just tell IT financial planners they were technology business management experts. They actually did the hard work of establishing a technology business management framework the industry could find value in.

a16z didn’t just tell founders they weren’t like the other VCs. They actually shared more secrets, gave better advice and exposed more network. They didn’t shy away from the fact they had skin in the game. They showed skin.

Stripe didn’t just say they were ‘passionate about helping people start businesses’. They invested serious time, money and effort into Stripe Atlas so it’s actually easier to start a business.

Slack didn’t just say it was a more fun, easy way to get everyone in a company talking to each other in one place. It actually made something so fun and easy everyone in the company started talking to each other in one place*.

So yes, it’s fair and right and true to say that ‘authenticity’ has been key for all these brands.

But here’s my problem.

Too often, when I hear marketers talk about authenticity, I worry they’re doing it inauthentically.

That is, they’re more worried about looking authentic than being authentic.

(If you’re saying authenticity is a big deal for you now, you’re also saying it wasn’t before. Pro tip: maybe don’t do that in public.)

So let’s be perfectly clear about the imperative for authentic brand building.   

There is no shortcut.

There is no tell. There is only show.

There is only what you actually do.

And what it means to me.

It’s that simple. And that hard.

Brand is no longer bullshit.

*As an aside, I wonder what percentage of nice things said about Slack are said in Slack.

Image credit: Derek Gavey

Comments

Very basic article, with points that feel like they belong to 2007.

    Hey Ethan. Thanks for your contribution. I think the points Harendra makes are pretty simple, on the surface. And he could have made them a decade ago, sure, but the context would be totally different. For one, the whole idea of ‘authenticity’ as a brand value has gone through its own hype cycle. Some brands always had it; the internet was just a bigger platform. Some used the internet to gain it. And some used the internet to fake it. And now, any attempt to demonstrate authenticity (which sounds like a bit of a paradox in itself) is going to be a fraught situation for a brand – largely because of all the bullshit claims of authenticity we’ve seen since, say, 2007. Just look at the response to Gillette’s ad this week.

    In B2B, ‘authenticity’ looks a bit different. Sometimes it’s straight-up CSR, like Salesforce’s Pledge 1% thing. Sometimes it’s showing your thinking, because you know that even if people know what you do, they can’t do it how you do it. Usually it’s still at the intersection of marketing and product, but I’d say it’s more tied to product. Like, how do our beliefs inform our philosophy AND our product. An authentic brand is more like a business model and less like the objective of a marketing drive. Anyway, what do you think? p.s. is Ethan your real name? 😉

    Fair enough

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