“Authentic” Isn’t Just Another Overused Buzzword

Let's face it: Most of us think we're authentic, right?

When it comes to the ways in which we bring brands and ideas to life, being "real" and "authentic" is often seen as a critical factor for success. We find ourselves pining over what language to use and digging for the best visuals to ensure that we communicate our brand's message in an authentic way — but what exactly does it mean to be "authentic," and how can we ensure that we're authentic enough to connect with consumers in a meaningful way?

When it comes to models of creativity and connection, there are plenty of inspiring storytellers, businesses, and agencies that have led the way across various industries and media. Here, we've pulled together some bastions of authenticity — companies doing authentic well — to motivate us and keep us striving for a little more real in our every day.

Get Real, Fast

While visual storytelling is anything but new, the opportunity to capture and share stories with a wide audience has never been greater. However, with greater opportunity comes greater challenges, especially now that we have entire troves of storytellers — big to small — running around with smartphones. The average ten­-year-­old can capture life's moments, while publicly chronicling them with the help of social platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. They use words appropriate for the context, a layout that's worthy of the story they want to tell, and more.

Capturing this growing audience (and keeping their attention) is anything but easy. Young, tech-loving up­-and­-comers will make you work for it and possess quite an intuitive gaze on great design and creativity. So how can we hold their attention? The answer: Be authentic. Now.

Taking risks seems an absolutely inevitable part of staying relevant, authentic, and real.

Whether it's a digital advertisement or a printed brochure, the visuals you use — from designed logos to illustrations and photography — demand an honest look that reflects a relatable, lived experience. Try departing from images that convey a perfect picture of reality; they likely won't be nearly as entertaining or gripping as those that include all the messes and imperfections of real life.

Authenticity Inspires Empathy

Similarly, real life stories are what ultimately engage people — not marketing strategies like SEO or “clickbait” headlines. Consider Volvo's Life Paint campaign. Volvo did two things really well: First, they took a real life, modern problem — how do we fit bicyclists on the roads in a safer, more integrated fashion — and developed a product solution. Second, they used emotion, and our ability to relate to injured cyclists, as a lead into the story. They projected authenticity through the video footage, expert interviews, and testimonials — which developed a sense of empathy in the consumer.

Take Risks

Just as our personal lives are filled with constant change, authenticity is also portrayed when a company takes risks and isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo. As creative professionals and progressive business minds, it's important to recognize our need for something fresh, raw, and compelling. We all appreciate when a brand takes their position somewhere we haven't expected. Taking risks seems an absolutely inevitable part of staying relevant, authentic, and real.

Consider creative masterminds Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh — or James Victore. These three live to push the envelope, experiment, and even ruffle feathers. Even if your "real" never looks like theirs, let's strive to operate from that same place of passion. This desire and risk taking is real, and it will register to your audience as emotive and authentic.

Align Your Actions to Your Company’s Mission

Above all, a reputation for authenticity must be earned. With endless purchase options at our fingertips, we tend to be drawn to brands that have a sincere story and consistently deliver on their mission (especially when that mission stands for something greater than making money). It’s all about inspiring loyalty and developing a relationship of trust with your customers — do what you say and say what you do.

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