Keep it Real - SXSW 2016

Decompressing from SXSW is hard. It’s difficult to know where to begin with my pages of panel notes. It’s tough to identify the best party or show. And we all know it’s impossible to fully remove a weeklong layer of flash tattoos. Still, it’s remarkably easy to identify an overarching theme of SXSW.


Okay, so hear me out. When I say “authenticity,” I can hear branding strategists and marketing professionals groaning from miles away. I know, I know – but the overarching theme was authenticity and it’s not what you think. It’s important to note that this type of authenticity is different than the “authentic” communication brands thought they were ingeniously cashing in on (a la @brandssayingbae.) The horizon of authentic communication is about much more than adopting trendy slang or knowing what “the kids” are into these days. The future of brands interacting with consumers (and maybe we shouldn’t even call them consumers anymore, but I’ll get to that later) must be truly, to the core, die-hard authentic or believe me – it will fail.


Want to know why? Because frankly, it’s time to cut the bullshit. The very cool, very smart kids of Generation Z are over brands copying and pasting Urban Dictionary terms onto Instagram and Twitter posts in hopes of tricking "the youths" into buying a product. In fact, older consumers have joined in on what is now a collective eyeroll toward this type of try-hard marketing. It's time to ditch "authenticity” with a wink and a nudge and probably a hashtag that reads "#OnFleek." It's time to get real.


Arguably, the first step to authenticity for branding is ridding of the term “consumers” altogether and instead considering the “audience.” It’s about knowing who your audience is, and knowing that they are such because you genuinely (and authentically, of course) share the same values, goals, and outlook on the world. It's also about knowing who your audience is not. Your message doesn’t matter to every single teen, athlete, fashion-lover, or whatever-consumer on the planet. And that's okay because what you're offering should have the ability to enrich your audience’s lifestyle in a unique and thoughtful way, which is way cooler anyhow.


So what now? Find the real, core reason your brand matters and allow that to inform everything you do. Don’t work with charities just because you have to. Communicate in a way that resonates with the brand and will matter to your audience. But don’t steal their lingo unless it’s already part of your vernacular. Cut out the sneaky strategy and find ways to genuinely connect. Just don’t be a poser, man. And for the love of god, do not use the word “bae.” 


Dree McCarrel