News that UK inflation has fallen to its lowest level for decades, hit headlines last week and was warmly welcomed. Reported figures show that prices in January of this year were only 0.3% higher than the same time, last year. The trend is not restricted to the UK either, economies as far-flung as China and Japan are also feeling similar movements in in quakes and quivers. So, what does this mean for marketers?

As wage growth outstrips inflation, competition is about to become fierce – forget Black Friday, forget January Sales, forget Christmas advertising – brands are not only preparing to battle, they are preparing to go to war. After all, consumers may have more money, but what they spend it on, is up for grabs. As marketers, we must find a way to stay ahead of the competition.

There are many weapons available in a brand’s arsenal to do this, but one of the most valuable is: Authenticity

Nowadays, the market may not be confined to a town centre or cobbled street but, consumer demand for connectivity with genuine companies is at an all-time high. All you have to do, is think about your own experience. The last time you had great customer service? How about a direct response over social media? Maybe, a brand over-delivered? All of these customer experiences celebrate “real-ness” and authenticity. Being transparent and opening your brand to the marketplace conversation is bold, but now is the time to try it.

The proliferation of social media and technology has also brought businesses, crashing back down to street-level. Companies can no longer hide or silence the voice of the marketplace. Conversation has been well and truly reincarnated and – is largely uncontrollable. It is authentic and it is powerful.

Brands and retailers who embrace this shift and are prepared to change the way they think and operate will be well-equipped to reap the rewards…and, let’s be honest, they’ll probably sleep a little easier too, knowing their company is on the pursuit of authenticity both operationally and commercially.

One thing, we can be certain of is – “Authenticity” isn’t a goalpost or finish line, it can’t be found in a marketing brief or a PR boilerplate. It’s a journey, one for the whole company to embark on.

So, where do we start?

THE CUSTOMER:

Remember the customer? No, I don’t mean your “marketable universe”. No, I’m not talking about “prospective generated revenue” or “total potential sales”. I mean – your customer. Whether you sell shoe laces or Business Intelligence software; you need to remember that at the end of every email, phone call, transaction, is a human being. There’s a word for, the realisation that everyone around you, the person standing on the train, the girl who served you your morning coffee, your customer, are all living a life as vivid and complex as your own – it’s called Sonder <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkoML0_FiV4>. Build it into everything you do and you’re already on your path to becoming authentic. Why? Because you’re finally looking beyond the numbers.

TONE OF VOICE:

From your social media strategy to your website, what you put out there, says a lot about your company and what you value. Make sure you’re putting out the right message. How would you read your own messaging – as the customer, not as the Executive VP of Marketing? It’s not just external comms that need a review: internal communications are all too often, undervalued for their role in authenticity. At university, I read in Organisational Behaviours and Psychology, so this part really interests me! What your employees read, see, hear and experience shapes their outward work. It’s simple really – in the same way children learn from their parents and guardians, employees learn to behave like their superiors. If you remember that every other department or function is also a customer to you and, work with their benefit in mind too, you’ll soon see the difference, internally and externally.

OPERATIONAL MAGIC:

Now, for the tough stuff. Operations. I know it doesn’t sound thrilling but I promise that it’s extremely important. People always forget about the operational implications of authenticity – that’s what leads to inconsistency. If you’re going to start looking at your customer differently and change your tone of voice, then you need to take a look at your infrastructure too. So many companies forget this piece of the puzzle and it causes headaches for EVERYONE. Let’s take the example that you’re going to talk on social media more openly and honestly. To do it properly, you’ll need the capacity from PR to man the decks. The PR people, in turn, need to be in touch with engineers for technical questions, who will also need a process for ensuring consistency. That was an easy example. Now, imagine re-writing your entire customer journey and things get way more complicated. The more heads you bring to the table from the off-set and the better equipped you’ll be.

There is no definitive route to “Authenticity” – I know, that’s what they all say. But, start off with the above points and everything else will begin to fall into place. Authenticity is a mind-set and a new way of thinking about business, it won’t happen overnight and it won’t happen easily, but it’s worth it.

One thing that is certain, now is the time to strike. If you don’t, then you can be sure that your competition will. As marketers, we need to lead the movement– we’re responsible for looking at our customer and examining the marketplace, now we need to cast our gaze inwards too. If you don’t, your “share of wallet” will decrease and fall into the share price of your competitor. Decreasing inflation, increasing household incomes and consumer spending, have all created an environment that is ripe for pursuing authenticity. Let’s celebrate the consumer and conversation! It’s a sure-fire way to cut through the noise of the market. There is no denying that we’re in in an era of extraordinary consumer empowerment – so what are you waiting for?