Quick, recite your company’s vision statement. If you’re like most people, you can’t even recall the first few words. If your company’s vision statement is like most others, there’s no shame in your inability to recall something that has little to do with reality. And worse, if the statement doesn’t resonate with you, it certainly won’t resonate with customers.

Vacuous, vague, and jargon-laden marketing communications represent more than wasted effort. According to a study last fall by Cohn & Wolfe, 91 percent of consumers believe that honest communication about products and services is the most important attribute a brand can possess. For Millennials, who today represent the vaunted 25-34 year old demographic, trustworthiness and authenticity are two of the top five brand attributes sought, according to a survey by Initiactive last year.

(Source: MarketingCharts/Cohn&Wolfe)

The high cost of inauthentic messaging

Every time one of your constituents bumbles into an inauthentic message (one that doesn’t jibe with reality), the brand loses an opportunity to spark interest, build credibility and make a positive impression that will actually stick. Insincere messaging carries with it a significant opportunity cost, and the impact reverberates throughout the brand’s buyer’s journey. However, the impact of whitewashing doesn’t stop with potential customers. Inauthentic messaging bores your staff and erodes credibility with journalists and analysts.

In fact, if the demand gen engine is sputtering, the social channels are stalled or inbound traffic is at a standstill, chances are good that a lack of authenticity is the root of the problem. Content that fails to speak to audience needs and interests, and instead speaks solely to the brand’s view of it self or management’s aspirations will fail to resonate every time.

Developing an authentic brand voice

Developing the authentic brand voice requires honesty, insight, and confidence. First, the organization needs to honestly assess message performance against audience interest. To achieve that, the marketing team needs to acquire clear insight into what matters to the marketplace, and the brand’s role in within that context. At that point, the brand needs to develop the ability to tell that story confidently across all channels, from social media to demand gen to face-to-face sales.

The insight part is relatively easy; social listening tools and other data sources, combined with market research and personal development, can equip a marketing team with deep insight into the needs and interests of customers and prospects.

Building the organization’s confidence take a little more work. Your people need to believe, buy into and remember the story. For those things to happen, the story needs to be absolutely authentic and in-step with the marketplace.

The authentic story

Many brands are so focused upon the story they want to tell, they forget the other side of the equation: the story the audience wants to hear. Foisting an inauthentic story upon your customer facing teams erodes their confidence and enthusiasm. I’ve heard heads of sales say their teams aren’t ready to talk to customers in a particular vertical, that they need more training etc., when in fact problem isn’t with the people; it’s with the message. And therein lies the key to developing an authentic story. The story the audience wants to hear is the context in which the brand must develop its own message.