Marketers, are you fake?

I was invited to deliver a keynote speech in the Digital Marketing Conference Malaysia 2017. I spoke nothing about digital.

Here is what I said.

Marketers, allow me to begin with a question.

“Did you sign up to be a fake marketer?”

I am sure none of us did. But, a quick google search shows that so-called authentic marketing is gaining attention over the recent years. If we are not fake, why is the world asking us to be more real?

Because three things have changed.

The consumers have changed. The world today is and will continue to be powered by millennials.  In a recent Millenial study, Gallop summarized as Millennials is a generation that values “purpose over the paycheck”.

The living standard for millennials has improved dramatically compared to our parents and grandparents – so the kids have more time and mind space to think about the higher order of human needs in the Maslow hierarchy, in another word, they are more driven by a sense of purpose.  They don’t care about you and your brands. Instead, they care about themselves and their purpose.

Secondly, the world has changed. Sorry to say the world is quite fu*cked up now. It feels more divided and chaotic than ever. Do you remember the good old days, when we ran free and could enter our neighbor’s house freely? Today, you get buglers breaking into your house despite having some of the most advanced security systems. There is a global epidemic of trust-famine. We now live in a world where we are starved of trust.

Cohn & Wolfe has discovered that 75 percent of consumers surveyed in 14 markets believe that companies and brands are not open and transparent. They find it hard to trusting the brands. have problems trusting the brands.

Well, guess what? I agree! And it has to do with the third thing that has changed… some of us.

Log on to the United Airline’s website and you will see its brand values.

  • We fly right
  • We fly friendly
  • We fly together
  • We fly above and beyond

Beautiful statement, aren’t they? Then, they threw a senior passenger out of a plane by brutal force and had their CEO endorsing it! Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case by one corporation. There are many other incidents. For example, remember the phone that acted like a timebomb?The group CMO of CIMB bank, Mr. Adam, said that the business world is increasing driven by capitalism. We are pressured to focus on profit, month on month target, and share prices. The punishment by Wallstreet and shareholders can be brutal.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with making money. In fact, I think profitability is so important. It keeps a company like mine running for hundreds of years. Let’s take the United Airline for example again – you can have fancy purpose and values on paper but if you do not preach what you say, it is a lie. I have a problem with liars.

Now, let’s look at the formula.

We have a purpose driven generation who lives in an increasing F*ed up world and the brands they are supposed to trust are waiting to bully them. It is not hard for us to agree why authenticity in marketing is not a nice to have, but a tool for survival.

Hold on…what is authenticity?

We use it so loosely that it has become vague. So for the purpose of this speech, I want to define it more narrowly. The Cohn & Wolfe report I mentioned earlier says that the biggest gap in perceived brand authenticity is trust.

So I want to invite you to a simple exercise.

“Think of a person you trust the most – what makes you trust this person so much?”

I trust my late grandfather because he was wise, he listened, he was stable, and he loved me. A brand is not very different from a person. So, going back to the basic, this is how I define authenticity.

A brand is an iceberg.

The work that we do day in and day out is on the tip of the iceberg. They are measurable operational kinds of stuff – like design, SEO, SEM, copy write, big data, and content production. they are important works because they keep the brand running. But, they are only 20% of the brand iceberg.

The other 80% of the brand iceberg is more abstract, less measurable, and some people say it is fluff – so we tend to overlook it. It is the “why” of your brand. Some of you call it “purpose” or “DNA” and I think they mean the same.  The “why” is the soul of your brand and just like our souls, we can’t measure it but we know it is here and it is important.

Do you know why you do what you do?

Let me introduce you to Victor Mills.

Victor was a grandfather in the 1950s during the preexistence of disposable diaper. One day, Victor was disheartened to see a how a wet cloth nappy made his grandchild uncomfortable. Being an inventor in Procter&Gamble, Victor thought, “there must be a better way!”. He was determined to find a solution.

It took Victor 5 years to invent the world’s first disposal diaper in 1961, Pampers. The brand has since grown to be the world’s no. 1 diaper brand and a billion-dollar brand.

Victor did not create the brand to make tons of money. Profitability is a by-product of a strong “why”. He did it out of his love for his grandchildren and love for babies. Today, the Pampers brand builders around the world see ourselves as the champions for healthier, happier babies; we are guided by this love for babies.

Here are two ways we can use to crystallize the “why” for your brands.

Look backward. Every brand has a day zero – the beginning. Look for the heritage and history of your brand. The “why” is usually embedded in the original intent when the founders started the story. For example, KFC was created because someone loved fried chicken.Look forward by asking what is the B.H.P your brand can and should focus on solving? B.T.P stands for big hairy problems and the world is full of it. The mission of a brand is to add values to the world and you do so by solving real problems.

Here are a few thought-starters on how to be more a more authentic brand.

Deliver! You must do what you promise. No amount of Facebook “likes and share” will convince you to trust a navigation app that brings you to the wrong destination. If you sell pizza, make sure it is damn tasty before you starting giving out that vouchers. Keeping your brand promise is boring and nothing at all “digital”, but it is timeless. it works.

Be Consistent. A lie is when you tell a story with plot holes. As a marketer, sometimes we have so many stories to say and we might overlook the consistency. Boring is good in the process of building trust. For example, Nike has told the “just do it” story consistently for many years. What determines a good story? The one that brings to life the brand’s “Why”.

Listen & participate. When I was a kid, I trusted my mom more than my dad because my mom listened. In today’s world, the most authentic marketing tactic is to actually do something about customer feedback. We have moved from one-way communication to two-ways communication to now multi-way communication.

Consumers are praising and bitching about us all the time – are you listening and offer your empathy? Do you know how I decide which credit card to sign up? I call their customer service call center and I ask them tough questions. Try that – an easy way to tell if a brand listens.

Embrace vulnerability. Being honest means being real and realness includes imperfection. Philip Kotler in his book “Marketing 4.0” mentioned that social recommendation is the next wave of marketing. Social recommendation is derived from genuine conversations among our users and key influencers and each conversation are unique. We need to be comfortable with the fact that the power that propels the brand forward is not with us but within the million voices around the world.5) Be your brand ambassador. Have you tried asking a vegetarian to sell steak? It never works. Make sure everyone who works on your brand is a raving fan and advocator. The biggest brand endorser is always the one who work on it and I don’t mean just the brand manager. It is everyone including your supplier, financier, and agency. Remember, passion is contagious.


Why is this important? Why don’t we just be contented with delivering our KPI?

Seth Godin, the renowned thought-leader in marketing said it well.

“Marketing is the world’s most powerful job. We are responsible for spreading ideas. Some of them will change the world”.

Two years after Pampers was invented, in 1963, Martin Luther King gave the iconic speech “I have a dream” and rallied the world to be a slightly better place. In my opinion, it was marketing done right.

Marketing done right is a powerful force. It can move the world. Guess what? The messy world needs good, honest, well-intended marketers like you more than ever now.

Marketers, allow me to end with a question.

“The power lies in you. What are you going to do with it?”

Thank you.

One comment

  1. Great writing, Brandon! Not a marketer myself but how you wrote this piece brings along clarity to some of my misunderstanding of marketing, with some humor. Thanks for sharing your insights! Cheers =D

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.