We’ve all had fake friends. You know the type—they never make time for you, put you down to make themselves look good, and only come around when they want something from you. No one likes fake friends. No one likes fake brands, either. Now more than ever, authenticity is vital for small businesses. But you already know that.
The big question for small businesses is how to be authentic— at a time when “selling” can’t be the top priority.
Find your truth.
Small businesses open and thrive for tons of reasons. They might be filling a niche or offering more quality or better service in their industry. What it all boils down to, though, is that your small business has something that no one else has. That “something” is called the Unique Selling Proposition (USP), and it’s the driving force behind every authentic brand.
A USP can be anything, really, but it has two key things it must do:
- Set you apart. All laundry detergents clean your clothes. All healthcare facilities have experienced staff. More importantly, consumers already expect that. If you want your small business to seem more authentic, you’ll need to go beyond the obvious.
- Be true. Not in the sense that you’d lie about your motives, but in the sense that it is the thing closest to the core of your identity. We’ve talked about the power of honesty before, but during a crisis, it’s all the more important—and all the more elusive.
Let’s take a brand we developed, Go Figure Accounting, as an example. For this woman-owned accounting firm with a casual, friendly approach to business, we focused its core messaging on the personalities behind the business. We began with the name. Go Figure certainly speaks to accounting, but also is a fun, memorable use of the common phrase. The word “go” also conveys action, as in Go Boldly, Go the Distance. Visually, we pair clean, open space with bold-yet-feminine colors and fonts. For imagery, we avoid the stuffy corporate cronies, opting instead for realistic small business owners.
Do you know your truth? Here are a few questions to ask yourself. (Hint: if you say “yes” to more than one or two of these, you don’t really know how you stack up with your competitors.):
- Are you the most convenient or affordable option?
- Are you the most luxury, high-quality option?
- Are you the most local, friendly option?
- Are you the most forward-thinking, innovative option?
- Are you the most established, trustworthy option?
- Are you the most exciting, experience-driven option?
Live your truth. (Without the hard sell.)
With a strong USP, your small business grows from simply being a seller of a product to a champion of an idea. Just like that, you’ve boosted your brand authenticity naturally, and unlocked a whole new way to engage your consumers by reflecting their own authenticity back at them.
What does that actually look like? For some, it means being bold and unapologetic. For others, it means being insightful and inclusive. Are you the most affordable brand? Couponing and DIY are suddenly way more authentic coming from you. Are you the local brand? Area news and hometown heroes are now your jam. If your core value is the people behind your brand, course your content from your employees. (You know who did this well? Honey Bunches of Oats.)
You can borrow inspiration from any brand, but it will only work if you apply it correctly to your audience. A company that sells beard balm is going to be authentic in a much different way than one that sells luxury jewelry.
Want some examples? Here are three major brands that we think showcase their most authentic selves through their audience.
Red Bull: As a brand that hangs its hat on the absurdity of adventure, it has released videos and sponsored events that focus on extreme sports and pushing the limits of human ability.
Dove: The #RealBeauty campaign went beyond promoting beauty as we know it and moved to change perceptions of an entire society.
Nike: If this 2012 commercial doesn’t say it all, then we have nothing left to say.