Some authenticity advice from the Avett Brothers

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Hearts, stars, and dollar signs

I’m passionate about helping organizations develop more authentic, meaningful, and productive relationships with the communities around them. Last week, I suggested a few ideas for how to begin thinking about a less self-centered approach to community strategy that might help.

The evening after I wrote the post, I was taking a run around the neighborhood, listening to some tunes, when a song from the recent Avett Brothers live album came on. At the end of the song, someone in the audience must have screamed out “we love you” or something along those lines. The recording captures one of the two brothers (Seth, I think?) responding. Here’s what he said:

“We love you too. Sincerely. We’ve said it before. It’s real difficult to sound sincere on a microphone, but we love y’all too in a very big way.”

It’s real difficult to sound sincere on a microphone.

Man, isn’t that the truth.

In a few years, the Avett Brothers have gone from having a small fan base following them around here in my home state of North Carolina to selling out arenas around the world. In those words, you could almost sense the struggle. How do you broadcast a personal message to thousands of people while still remaining (and sounding) sincere.

Answer? It is real difficult.

In my mind, using traditional mass-marketing techniques like advertising, PR, direct mail, and email marketing are akin to stepping up to the microphone. They are all ways to broadcast a message rather than making a personal connection.

That’s not to say it is impossible to communicate authentically using mass marketing techniques—some brands actually manage to use them very well. But very few communicators have the gift.

In my experience, the organizations that communicate authentically using mass marketing have often (like the Avett Brothers) built a base of personal, meaningful relationships with individuals in their core brand community first. The support and, yes, love shared between you and these individuals is what provides the confidence and energy to communicate authentically even when you can’t do it personally.

Ask yourself: does my organization have any meaningful, authentic relationships with people in our brand community? If not, it’s unlikely that the organization will ever communicate in an authentic way while standing at the microphone.

But if you invest the time and energy to develop personal relationships based on trust and mutual exchange of value—even if with only a few people at first—you’ll begin to see a sustainable community grow.  From this foundation, you’ll stand a much better chance of eventually being able to express your brand authentically at a much larger, less personal scale.

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Chris Grams is the Head of Marketing at Tidelift and author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World. Twitter LinkedIn Email: chris(at)

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