Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
Today’s consumers can spot inauthenticity from miles away. They prefer buying from brands that are “real” and honest about who they are. However, it’s not uncommon for businesses to unintentionally appear disingenuous in their marketing endeavors, especially if they’re just hopping on the latest trends in the hopes of going viral or getting likes on social media.
To help you avoid this pitfall, 15 members of Rolling Stone Culture Council shared some signs of inauthentic marketing that a consumer is likely to spot. Here are some things your customers might call you out on and what you should do instead.
Using Platitudes and Generic Language
Inauthentic marketing shines bright and clear when a company is using platitudes, common slogans and generic language that seems trite. When using copywriters and editors (yes, we need them!), ensure your voice and brand are still in the marketing. It should still sound like you and your company. That keeps it genuine. – Gregg Brown, Change Ready Leadership
Simply Adding the Presence of Your Product
If the presence of your brand or product is the only thing separating your messaging from stock footage, you are likely creating inauthentic or generic moments that trigger people’s BS meters. Take the time to craft authentic stories that capture your brand’s promise in a way that resonates with your audience. If it’s still images, video or animation, it should make them feel a real connection. – Matt Blackburn, ORDER
Focusing Too Much on the Competition
One sign is when you’re too consumed with your competition and you become more focused on what they are doing than what you and your company need to be doing. Business can feel like a rat race. The competition makes a marketing move and you react with your version. This strategy kills your ability to innovate. When you’re too focused on everyone else, you can’t focus on yourself. Stick with being you. – Matt Tuffuor, Toasted Life
Letting Others Take Over Your Brand Voice
It’s not a great idea to surrender your brand voice to someone else. It’s a false economy, no matter how big their audience. You, your team and even your customers can share a truly authentic story that is engaging and emotional that speaks to the real value of your brand, and one that will resonate and grow new audiences. – Michael Klein, Miraculo Inc.
Jumping on Trends for ‘Likes’
There’s nothing worse than companies jumping on every Twitter trend for likes while ignoring their own actions. Companies need to stop acting like teenagers and realize they have a social, ecological and ethical obligation to the world. The shareholder-first mentality is so 1980s. Focus on your customers and workers. That will deliver lasting returns, both financially and socially. – Lynn Rosenthal, Periscape
Adding Overused Marketing Buzzwords
In my business of food, a telltale sign is the use of terms like “natural,” “crafted,” “fresh” and “healthy” that suggest something good but are so diluted in meaning that anyone can use them. One look at the menu or ingredient list tells the true story of the disconnect between marketing spin and true values. To be honest and genuine, a company must first be honest with itself and its audience. – Erik Oberholtzer, Tender Greens / cohere
Only Speaking From the Brand
A quick win for authenticity in marketing is to make the message from an actual person instead of from the brand. Tell the brand story and the problem that it solves from an actual team member at the company. – Matt Campbell, My Wedding Songs
Trying to Be All Things to All People
Authenticity is the key! Own your space and do not try to be all things to all people. I am very upfront that our product is not for everyone, and that also applies to our culture and hiring practices. Our company and team are not for everyone, and that is OK. We are for the folks who live by a code of teamwork, dedication and integrity. We literally have a “no jerks, no victims” rule. – Jennifer Randall-Collins, PROOF Alcohol Ice Cream
Selling in Every Campaign or Post
If all your marketing campaigns or posts are trying to sell something, you’re doing it wrong. Showcase or spotlight users’ activity by featuring them using your product or even reward them with contests and giveaways. Showing appreciation and gratitude to your customer base will yield loyalty and respect as they feel valued. There’s nothing better than having a positive and engaging reputation! – Jeff Holmberg, Terra Virtua
Using a Trend to Sell Your Product
Using a “trendy” current event topic to sell your product can absolutely be seen as inauthentic (for example, Pepsi with Kendall Jenner using Black Lives Matter and social justice to sell “fizzy” drinks). If you want to tap into a current event such as this to truly help, create a branded content campaign with a fundraiser that donates 100% of profits to a vetted nonprofit that works directly with the cause. – Cynthia Salarizadeh, House of Saka, Inc.
Focusing on the Company Instead of the Customer’s Problems
Every transaction is a problem/solution proposition. Even entertainment is a solution for the problem of boredom. Rather than focusing heavily on yourself or your company, focus on what issue the customer has and explain how you have built a way to fix it. Being honest about what you can and can’t solve also shows you’re not selling snake oil. – Tommy Stalknecht, Single Music
Doing Something Because Everyone Else Is
Brands make the mistake of jumping on the latest trends. Podcasts are a good marketing tool for B2B and B2C businesses, but not all businesses. Starting a podcast without focus results in messaging that’s not strategic. The business is at risk of putting out infomercial content instead of creating an authentic conversation. Companies should look before they leap into the latest trendy platform. – Traci DeForge, Produce Your Podcast
Misusing Social Proof
An unfortunate sign of inauthentic marketing is when brands and influencers misuse social proof marketing in their branding. For instance, after a prospective client hears your pitch, they usually start researching your brand digitally. Prospective clients and partners can easily see that the publications you claim have written about you were most likely through a press release service. – Jeff Shuford, National Invest In Veterans Week
Leveraging Influencers Instead of Real Customers
I am of the mind that, instead of hiring people like influencers to promote your brand (which day-by-day is feeling less and less authentic in my opinion), you should leverage those already bought-in. This tactic is likely to result in more authentic coverage and overall engagement, as you’re tapping into an audience who already drinks your Kool-Aid. – Taylor Foxman, Parallel
Questioning Your Authenticity in the First Place
These days, people have finely tuned BS meters. If you’re looking at your marketing and questioning whether it’s “authentic,” then it’s not. So often companies make mistakes, rectify them, then communicate the rectification. More importantly, communicate what the mistake was in the first place. Communicate to your clients about the mistake that motivated the rectification. Reveal your mistakes. – Neil Moore, Simply Music