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Authentic Consumer Connections Defined and Explained

Mike Rotella, Senior Marketing Specialist

Key Points

  • Authentic consumer connections are genuine consumer-to-brand relationships built on understanding consumer needs and delivering solutions early and throughout the customer journey.
  • Authentic connections are unique and characterized by problem-solving, peak brand trust, and direct relationships, and are unconstrained by traditional marketing models.
  • In the era of reception marketing, meeting empowered consumers’ needs authentically requires deep insights and investment in the necessary infrastructure.

What is an authentic consumer connection?


Authentic consumer connection

A genuine relationship between a consumer and a brand based on the brand’s effort to truly understand the consumer and consistently deliver the value that the consumer seeks.

An authentic connection isn’t just the consumer-brand bond. It’s also:

  • A consumer moment — Each consumer-brand engagement where the consumer’s pain point is fully understood and solved
  • A consumer state — A consumer-brand relationship marked by a willingness to seek out the brand, repeat business, positive sentiment, and peak trust
  • A brand goal — A long-term outcome where consumer and brand values are aligned that draws consumers closely to the brand and boosts ROI across the board

Authentic connections are different because they’re earned, but not by interrupting people with some approximation of what marketers think consumers want. Instead, brands build an asset infrastructure made up of unique customer touchpoints, designed and optimized to deliver exactly what consumers want, based on consumer search insights. 

In this way, authentic consumer connections — a moment, a state, and an end goal for brands — are garnered, and stand to revolutionize brand-consumer relationships.

Authentic connections aren’t garnered by interrupting consumers or convincing them to opt into marketing communications. They aren’t based on the number of engagements, either. Instead, authentic connections thrive on resonance built over time through consistent, aligned engagements with consumers.

In any industry or competitive landscape, authentic consumer connections are the secret weapon in the attention battle. To achieve authentic connections, a receptive approach to marketing is in order.

Key characteristics of an authentic connection

There are many characteristics of authentic consumer connections, some of which differ from the typical customer relationship.

Stage agnostic

Authentic connections do not conform to the tired marketing funnel model, where the focus is on asking consumers for value and forcing transactions way before consumers are ready. Instead, we cultivate authenticity by offering value to consumers early and throughout their journey, especially at non-transactional moments.

Direct relationship

Authentic connections are based on a direct relationship between the brand and consumer. What we mean by “direct” is that the brand has owned digital properties that reach the consumer without any intermediaries. This includes touchpoints like blog posts, landing pages, and other owned assets. These are ready and waiting for consumers to access on their terms and timelines.

Problem and solution-based

Authentic connections are built when brands truly grasp what the consumer wants or needs (the problem) and deliver the best possible content or other resource in response (the solution). Search intent-derived consumer insights reveal the problem and point us to the solution.

Transcends brand trust

At the heart of an authentic connection is a level of brand trust that transcends traditional metrics. Here, we mean that a brand has offered so much value, resources, and support that consumers feel bonded to the brand like an indispensable friend. They not only trust you enough to believe your promises and buy your offering, they also feel understood, that you’ve got their back, and that your values are their values.

Why pursue authentic consumer connections?

The current problem of marketing is that the digital experiences brands offer their audiences are lackluster. They signal to consumers that the brands really do not understand them. Consumers are savvy and are immune to marketing that wastes precious minutes from their day instead of offering value.

That’s why banner blindness is a thing. It’s why we zone out during commercials or pay brands (see YouTube Premium) just to block out advertising noise. It’s why hitting the dreaded email unsubscribe button or texting ‘STOP’ is so tempting. 

Authentic connections, under a reception marketing approach, can stem the tide of advertisement apathy and fractured marketing because they require really investing in knowing your audience and serving up what they actually want from you. 

Without authentic connections, brands struggle to stand out to consumers and marketing budgets remain unoptimized and inefficient. The majority of brands face this reality today.

True fans

Ultimately, what brands need to invest in is creating “true fans” — another angle on how we define authentic consumer connections.

In 2008, Kevin Kelly, famed tech writer and founding executive editor of Wired magazine published “1000 True Fans,” an influential article that has become iconic in the venture startup space.

In the article, Kelly discussed the concept that digital creators could launch successful careers with just 1,000 true fans. At first, that doesn’t sound helpful for big brands. But Kelly’s somewhat dated definition of a “true fan” offers the essence of real-life authentic connections and the level of connection brands must seek.

Kelly defines true fans:

“A true fan is defined as a fan that will buy anything you produce. These diehard fans will drive 200 miles to see you sing; they will buy the hardback and paperback and Audible versions of your book; they will purchase your next figurine sight unseen; they will pay for the ‘best-of’ DVD version of your free YouTube channel; they will come to your chef’s table once a month.” 

True fans takeaways

There’s a bit to unpack in that definition. True fans mirror authentic consumer connections in the following ways:

  1. Value alignment — True fans reach a close alignment with the brand or seller, feeling seen, understood, and identifying with the entity on a deep level.
  2. Believes what the brand says — True fans accept all the promises and claims of the brand and are willing to believe in its solutions far more than similar competitors.
  3. Feels better off with the brand in their lives — True fans see the brand as a key element and indispensable part of their lives. They feel more themselves when engaged with the brand and sense a big opportunity cost to leave it behind.
  4. Will seek a brand out again and again — True fans will follow the brand wherever it goes. They consistently seek it out, and maintain a relationship of loyalty and continued interest.
  5. Strong willingness to buy — By the time one becomes a true fan, it’s a no-brainer for them to invest in a brand’s offering, even if its price point is high or requires some hoop-jumping.

Obviously, no major brand can thrive on 1,000 true fans alone. Kevin Kelly was describing the quantity and quality of consumers small makers and artists need to have a sustainable career.

Forget the 1,000 part. 

The idea is to foster this kind of authentic connection across your entire consumer base, and to turn potential customers into true fans instead of just nameless “buyers” who have no relationship with the brand. 

In an era marketed by savvier, empowered consumers, brands that want to achieve authentic connections must rethink their customer relationship paradigm.

OAO and authentic consumer connections

Owned asset optimization is a unifying strategy of the reception marketing era. Its centered around creating authentic connections early and across the entire buyer’s journey and aligns your marketing efforts to actually deliver what your audience wants.

Over time, brands that invest in an OAO strategy begin delivering what consumers want, creating the brand trust, equity, and resonance needed to build strong, sustainable relationships.

With the owned asset infrastructure empowered by consumer search data, you can achieve much more than simple loyalty, instead creating an audience of true fans.

To get up to speed on how OAO works, see our OAO foundational guide:

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Owned Asset Optimization (OAO) | The Foundational Guide

May 1, 2023 Read Article
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