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The Power of Being Real

December 28, 2020


The Power of Being Real

I talk a lot about brand essence and knowing our brands, getting down to the core of them. We have to understand ourselves and our customers if we want to succeed. That’s what has ever made any brand successful. That’s what will continue to make brands successful in the future.

What changes are how we communicate and the tools we use to communicate those messages. Take a look at TikTok sensation Gymshark. Yes, we can wring our hands about not knowing how to use TikTok. But the real key to success has been the brand getting in touch with its essence—knowing its own identity.

And that’s what so many brands are discovering right now. There is huge power in dropping the slick marketing jingles and catchy slogans and focusing on being real.

So, as we prepare for 2021, let’s think about what that means.

What Does It Mean to “Be Real”?

Real talk—what does “being real” even mean when it comes to your brand? In short, it means being authentic.

There’s been tons of talk about that in the last couple of years, so let’s dig a little deeper than that even. What does it mean to be authentic?

Does it mean going on a livestream completely unprepared? Does it mean letting your employees speak their mind, not giving guidance on “brand voice”?

Those actions might feel like authenticity—but they kind of miss the mark. Being unscripted and being real aren’t quite the same.

So, what does it mean to “be real”? It means our brands are self-aware. We understand what the brand is about, who loves it, who buys it, and we speak to that.

What does that look like? We can go back to the Gymshark example. This is a brand that connects with social media fitness influencers. They partner with the influencers to get them in their gear, but the brand’s ultimate message is to “do you.” The social media influencers are themselves. Whatever their shtick was before their Gymshark partnership, it’s the same after.

Those social media influencers are, by and large, being real as well. One of Gymshark’s partners crawled around NYC on all fours for veterans’ mental health. He’s known for this kind of content and for raising awareness about causes that matter to him—and his audience.

How about viral sensation Squatty Potty? This is a product meant to ease difficult bowel movements. It's based on the scientific idea that humans didn't evolve to sit on toilets. As a result, a lot of people have perhaps unnecessary problems.

Squatty Potty seems like a ridiculous product at first glance. And they embraced that, then took it to the next level with their marketing. They produced a video that shows a unicorn straining and struggling, before finally adopting the Squatty Potty. (Turns out that unicorns do poop rainbows, in case you were wondering.)

It’s ridiculous, but it also got people laughing and sharing the promotional video. It’s “toilet humour” at its finest—and it plays to an Internet crowd who tend to talk about things not being “all unicorns and rainbows.” Apparently, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows in the bathroom without a Squatty Potty!

Poo-Pouri is another product in this vein. Even Dollar Shave Club engages in this kind of “real talk.” The brand knows who it appeals to—people who are looking for a cheap razor. They’re economical consumers. They’re, well, cheap. Why else would they want to join the dollar shave club?

They’re also Internet savvy, and they’re skeptical of big brands. They’re tired of the Schicks and Gillettes hawking five blades, six blades, seven-blade technology for your closest shave ever!

They might also be minimalists. They don’t need the fancy razor with the ultra-luxe handle that’s curved especially to fit their hand. Nor do they need the rainbow of colours. And they definitely don’t need the price tag that we see on some of these products. Even looking beyond that, we can see that Dollar Shave Club is committed to this. Their packaging, their marketing is bare bones and done on the cheap. It’s nothing fancy—but their customers don’t want fancy.

What Being Real Is Not

From these examples, you might get the mistaken impression that “being real” means being gritty or cheap or funny. That’s not what we mean by being real.

To see that, we can look at beauty brand LUSH. The brand tries to be upfront and honest, first about their values, and then about what’s in their products. They tell you what each ingredient does. They even tell you who made the product, including the name and a picture of the worker who made the product you’re using.

It’s not a “bare bones” experience like Dollar Shave Club. In fact, you could argue LUSH is precisely what its name says: a lush experience! It focuses on using high-quality ingredients, fairly sourced, and on doing good. So you’re going to pay a premium for these products, but you can feel good about doing that.

Any brand, with any essence, can be real. It’s a matter of being aware of the brand’s essence and values.

What Does This Look Like in Practice?

When we want to be real in our marketing, it means first understanding the essence of our brands. What is our purpose? Why do our customers choose us and not our competitors?

Once we understand that fundamental idea, we can start to develop our brand identity. From there, we can imagine what it looks like to be in relationship with our customers.

And that’s what these brands get and do so well—they put the customer relationship front and centre. LUSH tells their customers about what’s in each product and the good it’s doing, so their customers can feel good about buying from them. Squatty Potty and Poo-pourri make us laugh—in part because there’s truth in what they’re telling us. (After all, the basis of a good joke is often a shared truth or experience.)

So Squatty Potty is here to make our lives easier, but they also understand that their product is kind of funny. They’re here to make our lives better, in a way—either through entertaining us or helping us in the bathroom.

Dollar Shave Club is also here to help its customers save money. They’re that no BS, back-to-basics ethos, and everything they do reflects it. Because that’s what their customers want and expect from them.

Imagine if Squatty Potty was super serious or Dollar Shave Club made gold-plated razors. Customers would probably feel that these brands had lost themselves.

And that’s the crux of being real in marketing: being aware of ourselves and putting that into messaging. It’s saying, “Yeah, isn’t our product ridiculous? It works though!” or “You like saving money and we want to help.”

It’s Being Human

The other thing we need to remember is that being real also means being human. There are people at the core of our brands, with beliefs and values and a vision. And people buy our products, whatever we happen to sell.

Being real, being authentic, being human are all part and parcel of understanding ourselves. It’s not the corporatized “humaning” version of these movements.

Getting Real

So, how do we get to “being real” in our marketing? We start with unearthing our brand essence. Often, that starts with talking to our existing customers. What do they turn to our brand for that they can’t get anywhere else?

When we understand that, we can begin to understand our brands. From there, we can develop a brand voice that speaks to our customers’ needs and provides them with what they want from us.

Like always—it starts with the why!


Here to inspire!

I am a business person who has excelled in driving a competitive edge through marketing, strategy, innovation, building irresistible brands and unlocking the genius that exists. I am writing is inspire or create new consideration. If you have ideas or questions that you would like me to put a pen too, I would be delighted.

I would also be grateful if you shared this or any of the articles I have written to inspire others.

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