There's been a lot of talk about authenticity in marketing. With younger generations' increasing awareness of advertising practices (particularly those astute Millennials!), marketing executives are hard-pressed to create a sense of authenticity that rises above content pollution and allows audiences to engage deeply and organically in order to build lasting relationships.
"Young people have historically been among the best at telling the difference between something that is genuine and something that's designed to appeal to them," says Joshua Fruhlinger, SVP, Lifestyle at Defy Media.
So, what if marketing professionals attempts to create authenticity are actually limiting the organic expression needed to develop authentic relationships with audiences?
"Millennials respond well to things that are real and they call out things that are not," continues Fruhlinger. "You want to start with something that's genuine and not just built for the demographics. Build something because you care about it, and audiences will care."
When it comes to social media, developing a sense of authenticity can be particularly challenging. Managing content across multiple platforms can be time consuming and maintaining a relatable and personable brand online seems increasingly complicated by the influx of social media platforms and the ever-evolving digital landscape.
"The most successful influencers and influential brands on social media have stopped trying to control every piece of content about their brand," says Tanya Bershadsky, founder of Casting Influence, a specialized media company that orchestrates YouTubers, Viners, Snapchat stars and other social media celebrities' involvement in sponsored content, Hollywood productions, and brand marketing campaigns. "Forward-thinking marketing professionals invite their audiences into the conversation. That's what it really means to be authentic."
Bershadsky works with YouTube sensations Matthew Clark and David Milchard of CoCoMilkTV, the co-creators of "Conversations with My 2 Year-Old." Their channel has just shy of eight hundred thousand subscribers, and was quite literally an overnight sensation.
"Three hours after we hit the publish button, our first video started getting some traction," says Clark. "We ended up on Reddit, got voted up to the front page, and went everywhere. We were showing up on CNN, and HuffPost. By the end of the second day there were more than a million views."
The series is about actual conversations that Clark has with his children, as enacted by Clark and Milchard, two full grown men.
They attribute their success to their authentic content and the dialogue they create with fans. Their motivation wasn't to sell a product, but merely to share comical and relatable parenting moments.
"The show is one hundred percent my personal moments and a way for me to laugh at them, re-live them, and time capsule them in a disturbed way," Clark reflects.
Clark was struck by a trend: the moments that he thought were anomalies in parenting - his most personal pieces of content - were the most well received. "The more personal you get, the more universal," he said.
Clark invited his audiences to participate in meaningful conversations about parenting, and to mutually laugh and commiserate about largely unspoken tribulations of raising children.
"There's nothing more authentic than transparency and humility, and inviting people to share in it. That's what's so appealing about Conversations," says Bershadsky. "That, and it's hilarious."
Taking a lesson from Clark and Milchard, brands need only share what makes them unique, and invite audiences to share in that uniqueness, recognizing bits of themselves in the process.
Bershadsky continues, "Companies will be surprised at how it resonates with the right audiences when they discard the notion of creating authenticity in favor of simply being true to themselves."