During the breakout sessions I attended at The New York Times Small Business Summit on Monday, the successful entrepreneurs serving as panelists kept coming back to one key concept for attracting and retaining customers: authenticity.
Customers only want to be evangelists for brands they believe to be authentic, said Yes To Carrots Inc. co-founder Ido Leffler. And that craving for authenticity goes beyond brands to the people leading the companies.
“These days, a brand is really all about personality,” said Leffler, and revealing your personality — who you are — allows you to do so much more as a company founder.
Still, leaders can’t carry their companies’ characters and personalities into the world solely on their own, said HappyBaby founder and CEO Shazi Visram. “You need to have really great team members who can exude your message.” And if you have worthwhile information to share with customers, then it becomes less like marketing and more like you’re connecting with them, Visram added.
Connection is a requirement for getting good word-of-mouth from influencers whose enthusiasm and endorsement will bring in more customers than many advertisements. A lot of people make the mistake of trying to identify influencers simply by pestering the ones with the most followers on Twitter, but that can be a huge mistake, said Beth Harte of Harte Marketing & Communications.
“Influencers aren’t going to influence for you if they aren’t your customers and don’t have a connection with your brand,” Harte explained. You want to target the people who would naturally be interested in what you’re selling, even if they aren’t the ones with the most followers.
Customers’ craving for authenticity also has changed the way companies are establishing themselves, said Naked Pizza co-founder and chief brand architect Robbie Vitrano. “So much of what we do has to do with our sense of authenticity.”
The traditional model for advertising was about control, explained Vitrano. The marketing and story were developed from the top down, carefully designed and tailored, and largely detached from the product. “Today, people create the story along with the product and it’s more authentic,” he said — the storytelling is baked into the whole package.