Authenticity Is a Battle of Two Brands, Both Are Yours

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Think you’ve only got one brand? You actually have two, argues Ian Truscott. And the space between them is crucial to ensuring your brand’s authenticity – and trustworthiness.

The brand you define through your marketing is a promise. It’s the story you tell that represents who you aspire to be as an organization, why you do what you do and how you are going to it for the potential customers, carefully crafted in a conference room or over a chai latte in an agency think space, you are wondering if they will finish or if it’s supposed to look like that. 

However, you have another powerful brand that consumers connect with and communicate; the brand that they define. Based on a story that represents their experience of who you really are, what their friends say, what you really did and how you really did it, whether you honored the brand promise.

A particularly cynical Seth Godin observed:

“Some organizations work very hard to weasel in the promises they make. They imply great customer service or amazing results or spectacular quality, but don’t deliver. No, they didn’t actually lie, but they came awfully close. The result: angry customers and negative word of mouth.” 

Are these dark days for brand marketing? A faded rock star as relevant as the cigarette on Don Draper’s lip (or maybe even references to Don Draper in marketing blog posts?).

The prize to be won in the battle between these two brands, being played out in mind of the cynical consumer, is trust and the authenticity to deliver on the promise.

How does a Rockstar marketer win at the battle of two brands?

Brand 1: the brand you own, the promise you make

This half of the brand conversation, that the marketer owns, has not changed since the Lui family created the earliest known printed advertisement for their acupuncture needle shop almost a thousand years ago, that featured the claim:

“We buy high quality steel rods and make fine quality needles, to be ready for use at home in no time.”

It’s a classic statement, of quality, speed and convenience. They supported this claim with an image of a white rabbit, which was an even older cultural reference to acupuncture and no doubt chosen to imbue trust in the statement and a clear visual indication of what they do.  

This primitive printed flyer is no different to the promises made during a ludicrously expensive Super Bowl ad today. The Lui family had a brand statement, an easily identified logo. A promise.

Which makes you wonder what the bloody hell Madison Avenue has been doing for the last thousand years, or maybe finally we have proof of time travel.

Brand 2: the brand you influence, but don’t own

I imagine that if you were wandering the streets of Shandong Province in 1028, looking for acupuncture needles, your buying decisions were influenced by this message, but even back then I imagine that whether you bought your acupuncture needles from the Luis or not, depended on whether you trusted the logo and the claims, whether you felt the steel rods were authentically high quality and if they could deliver such a convenient service.

That feeling would have come from Brand 2; the perception of an organization, service, product, by its consumers.

Consumers that tell the Brand 2 story are being invited to the main stage. The experience when they called support, witnessed someone sleeping on the job or had their guitar broken by an airline – it’s being shared with thousands.

The amplifier for Brand 2 is up to 11

The difference for a brand today to the Lui family story, is the scale of distribution of Brand 2. In the battle of the brands 10 years ago Brand 1 had a massive stage, the awesome sound system and the stadium tour of big budget radio, TV and media advertising. Brand 2 and the consumer had the equivalent of an acoustic guitar at their cousin’s bar mitzvah.

Today, consumers that tell the story of Brand 2 are being invited to the main stage, the experience a consumer had when they called support, witnessed an employee asleep on the job or if an airline broke their guitar are not just spread between friends and neighbors, they are being shared with thousands, go viral and then they make the news.

The brand gap just makes Brand 2 louder

The wider the gap between the story you tell, and the actual service provided, the juxtaposition of these two brands, the more the volume gets cranked up on Brand 2.

The media – and the digital consumer-fuelled social media in particular – loves when brands fall short of their promise and they are able to juxtapose the marketing promise against some customer service faux pas: 

  • The TSA agent asleep at an airport security desk is juxtaposed against the promise of safety, security and vigilance from Homeland Security.

  • McDonald’s with its brand promise of convenience and basically having what it displays on the menu makes the news for running out of a promotional sauce.

  • A budget hotel that doesn’t quite clean the room as you would like – meh, well what do you expect? But, with its brand promise of “travel brilliantly”, when Marriott doesn’t meet its brand promise, we reach for Twitter

A great marketing tagline that says one thing, combined with a broken promise, is a gift for a journalist; the ‘sensational’ story writes itself!

When you develop and tell your brand story, be careful of being drawn into writing the story of the aspirations of the company, the imagineering of being the top of your category, the leading vendor, of next day delivery when you know it takes a week.

Create a harmony in the battle of the brands

Marketers can no longer simply buy the best ad space – a commercial during the Super Bowl or every billboard between here and Tallahassee (or if you are The Lui Needle Shop, from Yantai to Jining) – and peddle a made-up snake oil story to build a brand.

Shit happens to consumers of even the best of organizations and sometimes a brand has to react, but if we start with a story that is based on a promise that an organization can keep, we reduce this risk. A marketer’s job is to tell a positive story about the brand, but this can’t contribute to the gap between the promise and delivery.  

When you develop and tell the brand story of your brand, be careful of being drawn into writing the story of the aspirations of the company, the imagineering of being the top of your category, the leading vendor, of next day delivery when you know it takes a week.

Spend time to discover who your organization is, find its imperfections, find its culture, find the strengths and you will find the authentic story of your organization.

And don’t worry about the flaws, as Robert Rose writes in Face It: Your Brand Is Flawed:

“As content marketers, we are the perfect candidates to be the holders of our flawed brand character. We must have the strength, the courage, and the developed muscle to communicate our intentions to live up to the set of ideals our brand represents. And we must know that we never fully will.”

Do it right - and many have, from the usual suspects of Apple to Zappos - and you recruit an army of fans and customers that want to believe in Brand 1, the promise, and will help you protect the brand that you don’t control.

“As content marketers, we are the perfect candidates to be the holders of our flawed brand character.

Fail to keep that promise and you’ll spend more time trying to keep up and reconcile your two brands in the market. 

Make great promises, build trust and authenticity, win the battle of the two brands.


Ian Truscott

Ian Truscott is an accomplished B2B content marketer, having held marketing leadership roles within global software vendors in both the US and Europe, before growing a content marketing practice within an international agency, developing a methodology that enabled clients such as Nasdaq, General Motors and American Express to realise the value of content marketing. Ian is applying this same passion for content as head of marketing for censhare AG.

Go backstage with Ian here, or read more of his articles


Read more from the October issue…

In an era of fake news and a cynical consumer wary of the lies, it’s time to heed Nirvanna and Come as You Are in this months issue, as we explore authenticity in marketing as well as the usual straight talking advice and a peek backstage with our newest rockstars. Read more

Ian Truscott

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