Stop, Collaborate, and Listen…Authenticity Is Key!

Yo, VIP, let’s kick it!

In my last few columns I’ve harped on a few common themes; chasing digital fads, the broken process of playing telephone, the importance of cross-functional synergies, and audience, audience, audience. While these themes ring true throughout this piece, I feel the need to highlight authenticity.

Beyond the topic of disclosing endorsements and the general discourse on “native advertising,” authenticity is the result of real communication; not only between brands and their audience, but between brands and publishers. Banner blindness aside, people can smell an ad a mile away – usually because the brand comes into a space without taking time to seamlessly integrate itself into it, or without customizing its message against the audience’s core values and endemic content to gain authenticity. Generally this happens because the goal of checking boxes to prove that current industry kicks have been met serves as the standard of success. And while these “standards” are usually met, the deeper goal of building brand affinity and real consideration through authenticity requires us to start with effective communication between brands and those who can deliver an audience…on the audience’s terms.

Recently Oreo broke a million “real-time marketing” and “newsroom” conversations. Within this ever-flowing intercourse we find ourselves touching on social, mobile, and even on the time-sucking request for proposal (RFP) quagmire.

Let me take this current media darling and break its success down to three simple words we all know and understand. Content is king. Now, let me throw in a qualifier; authentic content is king. Yeah, but what about the newsroom and Twitter and Facebook and native advertising and likes and…

Focus…we’ll get there.

Well, for Oreo, the basic truth is that it leveraged its position in strategic spaces to deliver the right content, to the right audience, in the right context and tone, at the right time. And with the intention of putting a point on “leveraging its position in strategic spaces”; it was there! It didn’t just show up. It didn’t force a general message down an audience’s throat and it didn’t come to the party empty-handed. It was an active participant in a space, building credibility in order to be in the right place, to make a mark, at the right time. And the community lifted it because it was “one of them.”

Authenticity is key. No one likes finding out a Vanilla Ice is actually a Robert Matthew Van Winkle…and who invited him to the party in the first place? Last I remember, Robert Matthew was showing us how to install a sprinkler system in Palm Beach, not “waxing chumps like a candle.”

Don’t sell your product, share your brand values.

“But Manuel, what does this have to do with any of the above? I know my brand’s core values inside and out. And, they should be expressed clearly in the RFP. Where’s our disconnect?”

Easy – you (or someone) are not listening to the audience. I like to think of the Internet as a living, breathing human. You may know everything there is to know about yourself, but if you want to make it around the bases, you better spend the time getting to know the person at the other end of the table.

The publisher is your keymaker. They know their audience. They know where they are, how they speak, what they consume, and what they’re looking for. Brands must build relationships with these doormakers.

At the core of all of this is understanding that different audiences consume content in different ways. Women are more social than men. Men want to know how a brand helps them beat the system. While women want information on how a brand will make their lives easier and benefit the well-being of their family, men want to know about features. Women want to be part of a community discussion that’s led by people they trust. And beyond men and women, kids, teens, jocks, gamers, fashionistas, moms, dads – they all come to be informed or entertained in different ways.

So, how do you, as a brand, manage your way through all the noise and clutter to make your name matter? You build direct long-term relationships with publishers to leverage your position in strategic spaces to deliver the right content, to the right audience, in the right context and tone, at the right time. Again and again.

Ok, but what about social? Well, the right distribution of content to sites, with strong communities and direct traffic, delivers your message to influencers who will share and champion your brand because it espouses their values and exists to serve them.

And give. Give users beautiful images to pin, access to brag, insights to share. Reward them for their consideration. It’s not difficult. Look at the pinnable banner.

Ultimately you want to create partnerships with publishers who can execute native, bespoke solutions against active influencer sites, at scale, in order to engage audiences through the right content, in the right context, at the right time.

So, while Robert Matthew may know more about Motocross and travertine than he does about “the streets,” he did get one thing right: “Stop, collaborate, and listen.”


  1. Stop running to the latest trends because you read it somewhere.
  2. Stop the “like” addiction. Likes do not equal real ambassadors.
  3. Stop forcing a general message down an audience’s throat. Align your core values with those of the audience you’re in front of. Understand how they consume content and give them what they want.


  1. Collaborate with publishers to produce content that matters to their audience.
  2. Collaborate with publishers to gain real access to influencer groups and build meaningful relationships with these users.
  3. Establish long-standing partnerships to refine programs and voice to carry audiences through the relationship. Deep, long-standing collaborations can avail “real-time marketing” and “newsroom”-type opportunities. Additionally, these collaborations can create the ability for publishers to act as media partners and as your content creators.
  4. Ultimately, brands and publishers need to come to the table if you plan to get this right. There’s no argument, period. Brands know their brand. Publishers know their audience. All else is machine.


  1. Listen to your publisher. They have your audience’s interest in mind.
  2. Listen to your audience. Espouse your ambassadors. Give them what they want, not what you think they need.
  3. Engage in a conversation. Allow your brand’s core values to serve as the center for this exchange. Focus on the people, their lifestyle, and their activities. The product will follow.

Listen, I understand the challenges of the hyper-dynamic digital space, but as a creative I’m more excited for the opportunities to create synergistic partnerships between publishers and properties that leverage access, experience, and expertise to develop meaningful experiences for people to develop real brand affinities.

Now, go! Hammer time.

Stop Sign image on home page via Shutterstock.

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