With the influx of information available to consumers today, transparency and authenticity is now a small business sole avenue for creating and maintaining brand credibility. Catchy slogans, sleek marketing campaigns, and the like could easily become fodder for social media backlash should they not be genuine nor be grounded in a reality customers now demand from the companies they frequent. Today’s smoke and vape shop owners and other small business entrepreneurs won’t survive without transparency in marketing.

However, by nature, small businesses may be resistant to such tactics, seeing as their goal is to highlight the positive in an effort to stand out from the crowd. To be honest, marketing as a tool isn’t necessarily conducive to transparency, its sole purpose to present the world with an artificial shine.

“It’s not that traditional content marketing doesn’t work, because it absolutely does,” said Adam Mizrahi, Chief Creative Officer and owner of Miami-based marketing solutions firm Creative Propulsion Labs. “But, it’s a double-edged sword. In order for traditional marketing to work these days, customers have to believe you’re authentic. However, they can’t know you’re authentic unless you show them.”

Still, for most small businesses, transparency and authenticity are not that difficult to achieve, and they are the only way to remain competitive with the contemporary discerning consumer.

Making Authenticity and Transparency The Foundation of Your Marketing Plan
To understand the importance of transparency and authenticity in marketing, entrepreneurs need only look at the numbers. Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer found an overall global decline in trust from 2014 to 2015, with trust in business below 50 percent in nearly half the markets studied. More importantly, according to one agency, Bonfire Marketing, 91 percent of consumers want their brands to be authentic in social media.

The all-important millennial demographic rates authenticity higher than most age groups, with a study from Boston Consulting Group showing that this generation prizes it only second to loyalty discounts.

“It’s not enough to say you’ve got the cleanest, greenest, or all-natural products anymore,” said Mizrahi who now counsels clients of Creative Propulsion Labs on how to be more authentic. “You better be able to back those statements up, to show that you really mean what you say. If not, what will be authentic is the backlash from your customers.”

Smoke and Vape shops and other small businesses can make authenticity the cornerstone of their marketing through a few simple steps. Mostly, however, it comes down to the age-old adage of just “being yourself.”

Authenticity Comes From Show and Tell
Being authentic, in the simplest terms, means showing customers an authentic self and then straightforwardly telling them. Too many small businesses try to use marketing to create an image rather than present their persona. Entrepreneurs need to show consumers their values and ideals at a personal level.

The best way to reach consumers personally is by telling stories that resonate with them. In other words, avoid the sales pitch because today’s customers are way too savvy. Telling the story of a brand in a way that resonates with consumers shows the customer base that the business cares —and businesses that care are more authentic.

“And make sure you talk to your customer, not at them,” said Mizrahi. “There’s this old idea out there still rampant among marketers that it’s our job to tell consumers what they want, which leads to many businesses talking down to customers. Today’s customers are smart, and through the internet, they’re extremely informed. They know what they want.”

“Talk to your customer, and they’ll know that you’re a more genuine business,” he continued.

Honest and Useful Is Better Than Clever and Cool
Marketing and communication teams are the cornerstone of any organization, from the largest Fortune 500 company to the smallest mom and pop corner store. Whether a marketing team consists of a group of professionals or it’s just one person pulling double-duty on social media to help spread the word, the line between creativity and authenticity can be subtle.

“Authenticity doesn’t mean avoiding creativity — far from it,” said Mizrahi. “After all, marketing is about grabbing people’s attention. But being authentic means knowing when to draw the line between being clever and going too far.”

Small businesses need to be both honest and useful in their marketing tactics, while still using a bit of creativity to draw in customers. Honesty is simple; it means transparency in all actions whether it’s labeling a bottle with the correct ingredients or telling customers the truth when a mistake is made.

Being useful means giving consumers something of value or something relevant that makes them feel like they have gained something from the transaction. A blog should provide useful advice, for example, rather than boast about the greatness of a product.

Responsive Brands Are Authentic Brands
In the internet age, customers can contact small businesses via any number of mediums, be it social media, email, directly through a website or something else. It may seem simple, but those businesses that are the most responsive are seen by customers as the most authentic. Most consumers consider non-answers to be an answer in today’s marketplace.

It’s one of the first things that Mizrahi counsels clients on at Creative Propulsion Labs when discussing authenticity.

“Of course, every small business will have some customers contact them to complain about the product,” said Mizrahi. “But, believe it or not, the number one customer complaint comes from not receiving a response to their inquiry. More customers complain about poor communication than about bad or defective products, which goes to show just how important responsiveness is with consumers.”

It’s one of the first lessons in authenticity and transparency that entrepreneurs need to learn — don’t just say the customer is number one, treat the customer as number one. That means be responsive no matter from where the questions may come. Monitor social media, email, the web, and anywhere else customers may post about the business and then respond to them. It shows customers that the business cares.

Authenticity and Transparency Is The Most Overlooked Aspect of Marketing
Counseling small businesses on how to be more authentic is one of the most difficult lessons to teach in marketing, mostly because it’s such a counterintuitive thing to imbue upon someone. In many ways either a business is authentic, or it isn’t. But that doesn’t mean that smoke shops, vape shops, or any small business can’t take steps to adapt their marketing tactics to become more authentic.

In fact, it’s one of those things that any and every business can do right now without breaking the bank. Customers understand when a business isn’t being forthright with them — it’s one thing for a business, for example, to say that they give a portion of their earnings to charity every month, it’s another for that business to be involved with that charity. Today’s customers want and expect the latter.

Most importantly, however, is the fact that authenticity is now the foundation of any successful marketing plan. If customers don’t see the business as genuine, then the most expensive marketing campaign in the world won’t do anything to drive sales. After all, authenticity and transparency is the sole avenue for small businesses to create and maintain credibility today. SVBS

Brandon A. Dorfman is the Senior Writer/ Project Manager for Creative Propulsion Labs, a Miami-based marketing firm that provides comprehensive solutions in web, print, and digital marketing. Their services include user interface design, application design and development, web design, branding, corporate design services, digital advertising, social media marketing, content development, SEO, affiliate marketing, conversion optimization, and more. You can reach Creative Propulsion Labs at (786) 360-1669 or via email at [email protected] Or you can visit www.creativepl.com for more information.