What are the New Nuances of Authenticity? Spontaneity, Community, and Subtlety in Digital Content

May 2, 2016

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As a creative director attending a digital marketing conference, I felt a little bit like a jazz musician at an orchestra conductor convention. I knew generally what was going on, but it was not really my world. As a result, I listened with a naïve mind, and tried to tune into the big picture for any insights that might help me craft better content. One of the biggest themes I picked out is that connecting with people is getting personal. Like, seriously personal.

The 2016 Midwest Digital Marketing Conference opened my eyes to the fact that granular data and online communities allow us access to people at an unprecedentedly intimate level. It’s clear, however, that we need to respect that privilege if we want continued access and engagement. In other words, we need to remember that we are communicating with real people just like us. That “realness” requires authenticity, and that’s where I think it gets interesting. In her talk “Content and the Millennial Mindset,” Finola Austin, Brand Strategist at Refinery29, said something that really stood out to me. I didn’t record it, so this isn’t verbatim, but it was generally this: “We need to stop talking about authenticity as if it’s unique to Millennials. Everyone wants authenticity, so it’s not a useful marketing term.” I have always cringed when I’ve heard that term applied to creative, and I’m happy to hear it that it’s something we can start moving beyond — even if not everyone’s ready.

Many companies, especially larger ones, clearly still struggle with being sincere and being themselves. For them, the time to bridge their authenticity gap is now, because it’s only going to become more intrinsic to the kind of content we produce and the ways we deliver it. New technology and new platforms bring new levels of nuance to “being real.” Live streaming, for example, opens up a whole world of building personal trust with its spontaneous, sometimes charmingly messy delivery. Companies are going to have to get comfortable with not being perfect if they want to embrace this powerful way of connecting. Then there’s the way we consider our audience. There are online communities that are stronger than any brand, and we need to respect and support the bonds they’ve built. And maybe the hardest new reality to embrace may be subtlety. With so many touchpoints and so much content creation, we can’t afford to beat people over the head with our brands and our messaging. If we do, the seemingly endless ways we have of communicating with our audience today will be shut. One single door at a time.