Episode #188: Six Steps to an Authentic Brand

Today we learn about marketing from everyone’s favorite mentor and football coach, Ted Lasso. That’s right, coach Lasso teaches us about brand authenticity, and why it’s so important in today’s hyper-connected, UGC content-fueled environment.

Smells like potential.

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Just groovin to my tune here. When I finally get to go on a real stage, do a live presentation again, this has to be playing in the background. I miss the song so much. Anyway, hi, I’m Grad Conn, and welcome to the Copernican Shift.

Alright, so today I’m going to talk about brand authenticity. I saw this great article, it was actually sent to me by someone I work with, and it’s from Gartner. And it’s an article by Julie Reeves. It was from November 22 2021. And it’s called the Ted Lasso Guide to Brand Authenticity. So, let me talk a little bit about Ted Lasso, just in case you don’t know. It’s a possibility you don’t. So Ted lasso is a TV show. It’s on Apple+. You’re definitely not going to know that I dressed up as Ted Lasso for Halloween, 2021. Big hit. People loved it. In fact, I was at a party the other day. And a gorgeous redhead came up to me. Not the gorgeous redhead I’m marrying but another gorgeous redhead, came up to me and said that I had the best costume at the Halloween party. And I nailed Ted Lasso. And I looked just like him. I did get some comments. My fiancé, gorgeous redhead, did get some comments from people saying, how did you get the actual Ted Lasso to come to your event? So it did like pretty good.

So Ted lasso, TV show. In the show, it’s essentially, it’s a fantastic fish out of water story. So if you’re… I don’t know if you’re familiar with that technique. But, you know, an American Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain would be a good example of that. It’s a classic storytelling technique where you take one character, put into an unfamiliar environment, and let hilarity ensue, often used in comedy situations. So in the Ted Lasso case, there’s a soccer team in the UK, and the owner wants the team to do very poorly. So she goes to America, finds a college football, like American football, coach. And then she brings that American football coach to the UK, or to England to coach this team. And obviously, to coach it into oblivion. That doesn’t happen. Ted Lasso surprises. He has a lot of tricks up his sleeve. Just goes to show that greatness can be called upon. And there’s some amazing stories.

But if you know the show, you know, Ted’s the head coach, and the Diamond Dogs leader. Rebecca and Keeley are mentor and mentee friends, and Roy and Keeley are romantic partners. And the show is extremely popular on Apple+ and has made a significant cultural impact. And people are trying to figure out what’s going on? Like, why is this show working so well. And the theory is that it’s because all the connections that these characters have with each other, are truly authentic. And I would say that the Roy and Keeley romance is extremely authentic and maybe uncomfortably authentic, especially the way they ended the season.

This sense of authenticity is something that people are constantly seeking, I want to talk about this in a couple of different contexts. But there’s a general sense that consumers are craving genuine relationships. And Gartner, she calls it seeking sincerity. And they actually call it a top consumer and cultural trend for 2022, which is pretty amazing. So the feeling here is that the world’s becoming more complex, more connected and more challenging, and faster. The more humans that are connected, the more rapidly we innovate, the more quickly we come up with new ideas. And so people are almost retreating to sort of straightforward and authentic interactions with each other and with brands. I think there’s a lot of this going on. I think it may be driven in part also by the rise of social media, where the people that you’re reading and the posts that you’re reading are very authentic, they’re from your friends. The pictures that you see are very authentic, they’re pictures on their phone, you know of their families or a situation or a sunset or whatever. And increasingly, what I’m seeing is a gap between the media that people consume and the content that’s being produced by companies.

And we’re very careful about this as organizations, because if we keep cranking out, you know, super slick, and super voice-y type of stuff, it’ll seem increasingly distant and disconnected from the highly authentic, slightly misspelled quirky stuff that everyone’s consuming every day with the UGC, casual photos all done on an iPhone. I’ve been on this bandwagon for a long time, you know, nudge nudge, wink, wink. Alison Tintle, are you listening? And I actually think, I think I was right about this a long time ago. I think I’m really right about it now. Which is the human brain is an averaging machine. There’s a really great study, which was, what is beauty? How do we learn beauty? Good question, right? Like, what is like that person’s beautiful? That person’s maybe quirky? That person’s maybe like, not beautiful? How do we know that? It does seem that we are generally in agreement across the 7 billion humans on the planet, what ugly, quirky, and beautiful look like. It’s not a hard one for us to figure out. How is that? How’s that possible. And that standard has changed. So the cover model for Vogue magazine in 1955, very different looking from the one in 2022, and the one from 1955. Not so much. What’s going on?

They did a very interesting scientific study, they took a hypothesis. And the hypothesis is, the human brain is an averaging machine. And we’re driven to reproduce. That’s kind of a core human drive. Hopefully, that’s not a giant newsflash for people out there. And as reproduction machines, it’s essentially what we’re doing. We are seeking to partner with people who will be good mates. And the way someone becomes a good mate is an absence of mutation. Think about that for a second. So you’re essentially seeking absence of mutation. That’s what your brain’s doing. And the way that your brain determines mutation is that it looks at all the faces that it’s ever seen. And creates an average face. And that average face is the least mutated face, because it’s the average. And then essentially, you look for people that are closest to that average face. And that’s the least mutated face. All right, stay with that for a second. You know, anyone who’s ever had a baby will understand what I’m talking about. Like, people will come you got your baby in your cart, your stroller, people come to your baby, and they’re like, looking at its hands and feet. So weirdest thing ever is looking for five and five. I remember when my first daughter was born, I said to myself, I’m not gonna check the number of toes and fingers, I’m not gonna check the number  of toes and fingers. I’m not gonna check with them toes and fingers, it doesn’t matter. I’m not gonna check the number toes and fingers. She’s born, oh, my god, the first thing I do is check the number toes and fingers. I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t stop. So there’s this DNA level stuff, right? So they took this as a hypothesis, kind of an interesting hypothesis. And what they did is they took about 1000 faces, and they had people independently rate the beauty of the faces. Then they morphed those 1000 faces into 500 faces. People were asked to rate the beauty of those 500 faces and they kept doing this. So what they found that each stage as they morphed the phases essentially average the phases together. The beauty rating went up until we got to one face which was a morphed from 1000 faces and guess what? Highest beauty rating. completely supportive hypothesis.

Now what’s happening in society is that at one point in time, all the faces we’d ever seen were the faces in our village. So there would always be a most beautiful person in the village because there’ll be an average or someone close to the average. Our village has gotten bigger, a lot bigger. So as our village has grown to encompass the entire planet, and the faces we see are from more places and different cultures and different colors and looks and feels and all kinds of stuff. Our averages changed. So if you look at a Vogue color cover model today, the skin is darker, more closer to an average. It’s like a Sasha doll if you know what those are. All the features, like everything’s now more averagely human. The Voyager satellite that was sent out had an average human on a gold plate meant for aliens to read, and know where to find tasty vittles. A little map of Earth is. So when Voyager gets captured by aliens, watch out.

Anyway. So going back to this. So this is what’s going on with the human brain. And as we think about this idea of what is authentic, our definition of authentic has changed, because we’re consuming 1000s and 1000s of images from social media, that are essentially UGC. So when I look at that corporate picture, it’s increasingly looking fake. And I can tell, because it doesn’t look like the average. The human brain’s an averaging machine. Okay. I hope that’s reasonably clear. I’m happy to dig into that a little bit more in the future. But let’s just stay there for a second.

What makes an authentic brand? So we’re looking at this world where we’re surrounded by authenticity. How do we make sure that the brands that we’re selling in the organizations and the shows feel authentic as well. So when you watch Ted Lasso, what’s interesting about that show, and the reason it feels really authentic, is it’s stumbly. It’s awkward. It’s shot very interestingly, very first person, they’re very deliberately very modern, in the way they approach that show, it feels real. And it’s messy. And it’s uncomfortable. It’s all these wonderful things that make it feel real.

So in the article that Julie Reeves published, and I’d encourage you to read it, she actually comes up with a set of things. She has like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 things that she says make a brand authentic. So she lists them as clarity, she very cleverly, by the way, uses a C for each one of these. So clarity, consistency, caring, curiosity, communication, and confirmation. And I’ll just briefly go through what she means by each one of these. So in clarity, it’s like, what is this brand? And what isn’t it, you know, at its core? And what’s the foundational strategy? And I would argue that, you know, what’s the emotional component of that? And what’s the functional component of that? It’s very important to understand both of those. You know, Ted Lasso was a coach who cares more about helping his team be the best versions of themselves, on and off the field. That’s his thing, regardless of the win/loss record. And it’s got some consequences. Some good and some very, very significantly bad. But it is authentic, and he stays with that and doesn’t change. What choices and what clear choices is your brand making?

Consistency is the second one, which is, you know, how authentic are you? And how consistent are you when you’re talking to different audiences. So if you’re talking to your friend, if you’re talking to your lover, if you’re talking to your child, if you’re talking to your boss, are you the same person? Are you different people? I had very interesting evening on Sunday, I’m not going to get into all the details. But there was a moment in a discussion I was having with my fiancé, where I was trying to tell her story… there was a point to it. And I never did actually get to tell the story. But there was a point to it. Probably she’d heard it before, so she didn’t want to hear it again. But the interesting thing is that she didn’t like that I was telling her the story, because she felt that I’d made a tunnel change. She felt like I was presenting to her, not talking to her. It was very interesting. And so she couldn’t accept or even listen to the content or even understand where I was going with it, because she felt that I had lost authenticity with her. It’s a fascinating moment for me. And I learned a lot from that. So there’s this idea of: Are you the same person with everyone in your life? And anyone thinking about Ted Lasso, if you watch it, he’s the same person, whether he’s talking to his players, or the other coaches, or whether he’s talking to the press, he never changes. You always know what to expect from Ted Lasso. So knowing what to expect from a brand is really important.

The third thing is caring. So he genuinely cares about his team members. And they believe that he does. He remembers their birthdays in a really authentic way. Are you trying to create a deep relationship with your consumers? Or do you just try to sell them something? This idea of caring and caring about them, he can’t fake that. And that does drive the need for things like a really robust customer data platform, or CDP. Really robust interactions across social media, like you’ve really got to connect with people in a really authentic way for them to really believe that. It’s tough to do, but the rewards are significant, because it makes your brand more genuine.

The fourth thing is curiosity. How do you develop an authentic relationship with your consumers? Well, be curious about them, care about them. You want to know them. Ted Lasso quotes Walt Whitman and says, Be curious, not judgmental. It’s pretty cool. Why do people care about this product? What are people doing? What are you learning about them? And curiosity actually is genuinely a great skill to nurture in you from a career standpoint, or any other part of your life.

The fifth thing is communication. So brands are getting better at two way communication. We call it mass one on one here at Copernican Shift. And that’s a really important part of making sure that customers care about your brand, because you’re responding to them. And so today, consumers will post things on a multitude of different channels from Tik Tok to Twitter, and they expect to be responded to, and they want that response in five minutes. If you don’t respond to them, they will start to dismiss your brand or think that you don’t care about them. Even worse, if you respond to them in a form letter way, and we’ve got some good examples of this, that’s almost even more irritating, because now we’re really disrespecting them. But if you can respond to them, one to one, and answer their questions and do it in an amusing way, it’s amazing. Take a look at the real Mark Hamill, he does an incredible job of this and drives great fandom as a result.

The final thing, the sixth one is confirmation. And so we actually did a lot of stuff around employee advocacy, getting your own employees to tell the story of the brand. If you are an authentic brand, and people want to tell that story, they’ll share it. You know, interesting little fun fact, at Sprinklr, 83% of the employees were sharing their stories, sometimes about two, two and a half times a week. That’s a pretty incredible stat. You see that in different places at different kind of varying numbers. But if you really create an authentic brand like Sprinklr did, you’ve got something really worth talking about. Your employees want to talk about it.

So, you know, Julie closes the article by saying as Ted Lasso has shown us, being authentic isn’t always easy. It is a commitment. But it pays off in the long run. And I’ll just stress that there’s a bravery here. There’s bravery here. There’s a vulnerability here. But if you don’t do it, I don’t think you’re going to be relevant. Not in the next decade. People are reconnecting in ways that they never could before. I would say that it’s pretty interesting. That’s an awkward word. Interesting is an awkward word for this particular subject. What’s a better word? Encouraging? inspiring? It’s been inspiring to see how the Ukrainian defense has been using social media to win the media and propaganda war against the Russians. Pay very careful attention to what they’re doing. The Russians are running their usual disinformation campaigns, which get a little tired and kind of like oh, here we go, Russian disinformation again. Ukrainians are doing stories showing people talking about brave standoffs, letting captured Russians call their families and connect with their families back home. Ukrainians are really leveraging social media to create a completely different reaction globally. And they are driving global opinion in a very positive way. And, let’s face it, they’re a free democracy, battling brutal dictatorship. So it shouldn’t be that hard. But it’s actually amazing that we were not more on this. The Ukrainians have been threatened by the Russians for several years now, we let the Crimea just slip away. And they are doing a great job of showing the world what’s going on. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the end. It’s tragic to watch and disheartening to see traditional war returned to Europe. But in the end, I do believe that there will be a victory of sorts by the Ukrainians because of what they’re doing to channel authenticity, to channel real humans. They’re putting faces on this war. They’re putting faces on this tragedy. And that’s very powerful. And that is the difference in the world we live in today.

For the Copernican Shift, I’m Grad Conn. I’ll talk to you next time.