In November 2010, TED curator Chris Anderson started a TED initiative, in line with TED’s motto of “ideas worth spreading,” calling on companies and organizations to make ads worth spreading.
His idea was brilliant—advertising needs to be more than stalking potential clients and trapping them into a corner where they feel obligated against their better judgement to interact with the company or product being marketed. Good companies are above that, they sell a product or provide a service that has a meaning to the audience. Mr. Anderson points out two main criteria of what is needed for an ad to do this:
- Passion—the intense attention of the audience
- Authentic community members—people want to see / read / hear your message and share it
Since Mr. Anderson’s call to action, many companies have turned to blogging—the idea behind which is to provide information about the firm and its products and services to potential customers and clients. However, a great many of these posts are built around one thing: SEO optimized fluff. These articles solely exist in order to have a blog and to get Google searches to land on a company’s blog. Just like our diets—made up of cheap calories—the printed word is cheap, and more is … well … more. And as we get fat on empty calories we become deaf and blind to the onslaught of noise and images that bombard our daily lives. This content lacks passion and does not find authentic community members. Given this reality, one might say that Mr. Anderson’s dream has failed.
Yet, I give credit to Mr. Anderson’s appeal for ads worth spreading. Some companies are doing it and they are doing it brilliantly. So how do you and your company achieve this? The answer lies in who you are and what you want. Here the Zen belief of “like attracts like” holds true and authentic messaging will find an authentic audience. Genuine, sustainable and in the end profitable growth is gained when your message is true—done with a purpose that goes beyond the simple sale’s pitch of whatever it is you have to offer. Aligning your firm with a cause that improves the lives of your customers, employees and those in the community is a way to go about this. Telling your story or one of your client’s story is another.
As always the golden rules of less is more, and quality is more important than quantity are vital. In the turbulent noise of today’s modern media landscape there is an important place for craftsmen tailoring your messaging to tell the world who you and your firm are. Elegant and precise writing, beautiful video and photography woven together with your story will find you the audience you want and help you stand out and experience organic growth.
To round off this post I’d like to tell you three stories of how I’ve seen authenticity work for businesses.
The first story is about a young design firm in New York City. While questioning the purpose of the firm and the ideals that the business wanted to see in its current and future team members the folks at Holstee came up with a wonderful manifesto picnicking in the park a few years ago. They wrote down their feelings and attitude about work and life and created a beautiful poster and did a few creative and simple videos that have since gone viral.
The team didn’t spend a lot of money on the idea, but they listened to what was going on inside their firm—that which makes them tick and then shared it with the world—that’s authentic. What’s your firm’s manifesto?
My second story is about getting to the core of what you want to do. IBM, a company that has seen itself move from computer hardware production to technology consultant that finds solutions to modern problems through computer systems simplified their purpose even more. They find answers to make cities smarter. And in identifying what it is that they do, they came up with an ad campaign that not only says what they do, but shows it. Elegant yet simple posters also meet a societal need in the urban world. Authentic messaging provides the audience with a value.
Lastly, I’d like to share my own story. I used to teach German in Zurich. After watching Mr. Anderson’s video and thinking about what it was that I did. I realized that many of my students had no grammatical background and that this is necessary in order for them to understand German. I started blogging about the German language in English and taking real-life problems and explaining why they happen and how to correct them. The blog grew slowly, but now receives over 20,000 views and approximately 12,000 visitors a month with over 100 articles entailing over 600 hours of research, writing, and formatting. This was one of the most authentic things I could do, as it picked up on real problems that many German learners have and can now find clear answers to. As a result the exponential growth curve of visitors and further recommendations show that even without investing hard money into Google Ad Words or Facebook marketing, you can get a following with genuine material.
As an individual, a firm, or a brand, I am positive that finding your authentic voice will get you your authentic audience. Great advertising isn’t advertising at all, it’s being yourself and showing who you are. You can get started with this right away by holding focused brainstorming sessions with your team members. Start off by asking them about the words that they associate with the company and its purpose, and then which stories they would tell. Doing such an exercise may even reveal new product and market potential for your firm. The possibilities are as endless as the ideas teeming inside your company. So before you go out and hire someone to invent a new story for you, or to yell out your tagline, take an inward look at the amazing things already happening within your company and craft your true authentic message from that.