Holden Caulfield abhorred the phony. Hollywood topped his list.

But in today’s world of high-stakes focus groups and uber pricey research, is marketing phony?

Recent consumer research indicates a strong YES. Communications pros always suspected this to be true. Humans tend to sense when something doesn’t seem authentic.

PR and marketing giant Edelman conducted a global research project as they wanted to truly pinpoint the importance of paid vs earned or peer media.

Turns out, we’re all a bit like our angst-ridden character. For if not, how can we explain the rise in peer-reviewed sites from the likes of Yelp! and Trip Advisor?

A positive thumbs up on a restaurant or pair of sneakers from a Facebook friend means vastly more to us than any billboard ad or TV commercial. We get  a sense of belonging and trust from those we know because we already share a common bond.

Word-of-mouth still reins supreme. We are far more likely to buy from a referral and more than that, we will stay longer with that product or service.

Edelman found out that more than price or convenience or even social responsibility – customers want to know if you love them. Did I say love? Yes, in fact I did.

In a more marketing manner of speaking, the research tells us people want to be part of a mission, and ultimately an advocate which sounds quite a bit like a relationship. And in the best of relationships, it’s a two-way street of give and take.

I’ll give two personal examples of how this is true for me:

  • Wreaths Across America: As a former Navy spouse, daughter, sister and aunt, I love the military and feel an incredible sense of personal connection to this wonderful nonprofit that lays wreaths on veteran graves each Christmas. So much so that I joined my friend’s Team Bear to help raise funds and get to express my gratitude to servicemembers by joining a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
  • REI: #OptOutside gets me excited. I love camping, hiking and floating Texas rivers AND I have never shopped on Black Friday. REI is all in on this campaign… on their site, they even host a way to find a new outdoors activity near you. I can always get behind enjoying the great outdoors and having fun. That’s immediately gratifying in a completely healthy way. And when I tweet about #OptOutside, they tweet back and remember me when the day comes to thank me for joining the movement.

In both cases, I invest time and money to support causes (which are businesses) I believe in. We fit. We like each other. Dare I say, we love each other.

And to the Holdens of the consumer space, you cannot fake those marketing messages. It must be real and true to work. Finding your right-fit audience is worth taking the time to nurture because they’ll be loyal for many, many years to come.

Erica Holloway is the founder and lead strategist for Galvanized Strategies.



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