authenticity in branding

Learning From Our Mistakes – Why We Chose Authenticity

I recently learned a little bit about acting. During the training something that was said really struck a chord with me. The point was that acting today is different to what it was in the past. The key to that difference lies in authenticity. Although many classic films are great, to a younger audience most old films feel theatrical or even overacted. What was considered good back then, is not good now. Today we watch films on HD screens, so every subtle facial movement is noticed and this creates intimacy. As a result we expect real emotion and vulnerability in the characters. When it feels genuine, we suspend our disbelief and become absorbed.

But that really got me thinking about authenticity in general, because our expectations of authenticity have changed in recent times.

For example not too long ago our Instagram was a perfectly filtered and edited version of our life, but now it’s ok to be a little more raw and real.

When creating a set of brand values, many of our customers will say they want to be authentic. But authenticity has become a bit of a buzzword that has lost its meaning. We expect to find the word “authentic” emblazoned on a £3 t-shirt from Primark.

Lots of high-profile branding agencies roll their eyes when the client says they want something “authentic” because it’s such a common request, it’s become a bit of a cliché. I get that, but I also think it’s a cynical view.

Authenticity is one of the most important qualities you can have. In fact, it’s a human need. When you think about it, we need people we can be ourselves around. That’s why there are times we just need our parents or our best friends. And it works both ways. We expect those we love to be real with us. Authenticity and truth are linked and as human beings we need truth to be happy. When we’re lied to, we feel angry or upset, but when someone is honest and real with us, we feel drawn to them.

Right now, we live in a time when traditional advertising is far less trusted than it once was. But the internet has provided us with greater transparency. If a company says “we are the best” we can check to see if their Trustpilot, TrustATrader or Google reviews back up their claim. On top of that, social media means we can interact with our favourite brands making marketing more of a two-way conversation than a broadcast message like it was back in the golden days of advertising.

And that desire for authenticity has filtered right down to small business. A few years back small business owners would tend to talk about themselves in the third person on their website because they felt it was the done thing to try to appear bigger. But now the independent producers and the artisan suppliers are the most authentic of all and people love them for it. The tables have turned and as a result, corporations are desperately trying to sound smaller in a bid to relate to their audiences.

Before relaunching as mansellmade we had fallen into the trap of that old school mentality. We called ourselves 100 Agency. We built our business around the premise that we would make agency standard work available to smaller businesses. Whilst we weren’t trying to call ourselves an agency in a deceptive way and our claim was true, it forced us to try to provide such a huge array of services it was overwhelming for a two-person company.

Although it sounds like semantics, the name proved problematic in other ways. When people perceive you as an “agency”, recruiters call, students want internships and everyone wants to sell you their wares. When potential clients called expecting a large agency it often created a barrier of mistrust when they realised we were a smaller company.

So in 2021 we decided to focus on our key area of expertise, branding. As a result we dropped the name and quickly settled on the name mansellmade. I must admit, there’s a certain satisfaction in putting your name to something.

Although our website had fairly decent search engine rankings which brought us a steady stream of enquiries early on, in the past we had completely neglected visual platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and Behance which are desperately important when you are a primarily visual business who don’t sell physical products or even have a physical presence. Although we had amassed considerable expertise in the field of branding, we had never written a blog or shared any of that knowledge.

We had expected our website to do all the work for us and frankly, in our case word of mouth and a website alone was not enough. These realisations seem obvious, and they should be to someone who has spent nearly 20 years working in marketing and advertising, but it was only when work slowed down during the pandemic that these things became more abundantly clear.

So for us mansellmade isn’t just a new name, it’s a new philosophy. We’re upfront about who we are and who we’re not. We’re now a focused, two-person design practice and the product we sell is “tailor made brand identities.” We’re not an agency. We create content and share our work. We continue to learn and we try to generously share our knowledge with others. We want to be approachable not elitist.

So far we have found that being ourselves has meant we can speak more freely and we have a point of view. What matters to us now is to simply be good at what we do and strive to be masters of our craft.

As this post is about authenticity, I may as well be upfront about where we’re at right now. We’ve spent the last few weeks hard at work producing content, we’re about to launch our new Instagram page. We’re formatting similar posts for Pinterest. We’ve posted our work to Behance and its already receiving good feedback which is heartening. This is the first blog post and I write it before the mansellmade website has gone live.

Although we now have many years of experience behind us, starting again is good for us. It will help us to empathise with our clients who are starting a brand new business and if it works out, we’ll have some valuable experience to share.

Our plan at this point is to bring you along for the journey.

Let’s see if it works.