Striking a different chord

Authenticity is the name of the differentiation game. Struggling to raise yours? Three strategies for standing out in crowded and competitive markets may surprise you.

By Marc Thaler, Creative Director

An image depicting a pink guitar with the word "authenticity" spelled out along the guitar strings. Additional guitars are visible against a backdrop of blue and pink hues.hues

It’s really tough to rise above the rest—and near impossible to remain there—when you’re wading in the sea of sameness. 

Take it from Kenny Chesney. 

Shortly after Y2K, Chesney was already a successful music act (with a greatest hits album to his name). But to hear him tell it recently on the “Sunday Sitdown,” a featured segment for NBC’s Sunday TODAY, something didn’t sit well with the country superstar. 

“I was trying to be another version of what was popular at the time instead of really being myself,” he said. 

You don’t have to pack NFL stadiums for concerts (or even care for country music) to understand the challenge Chesney faced—and to his credit, recognized.  

Marketers struggle with it, too.  

In a word: differentiation.  

By its very definition, the sea of sameness is forever at odds with differentiation—the unique “thing” that sets your brand apart from your competition. The value only your business provides (or, at the very least, does better than any other). 

Maybe differentiation comes in the form of a product or a service. Or, in Chesney’s case, it means tapping into the range of human emotions that deeply resonates with his loyal fanbase, No Shoes Nation.  

Sure, Chesney is known for his country-coastal lifestyle. But diehards will tell you his storytelling through music, frankly, strikes a different chord. 

“Once I started to really get genuine and authentic about what I did, that’s when it all changed,” he said of the period around 2001. “What a concept.” 

Authenticity isn’t limited to an industry—which is great. However, demonstrating it is easier said than done, according to recent market research. 

Gitnux reports that almost 80 percent of brands think their content is authentic. But did you know only 37 percent of consumers agree

Talk about a disconnect. 

The question is, if you’re wading in these waters, how can you differentiate by upping the authenticity of your content? 

Some options for you to consider: 

Become an “acoustic” brand

Fitting term for a post framed by a musician’s epiphany, right? Gartner uses “acoustic” to characterize brands making a concerted effort to position themselves in the market without infusing AI into their business and products. 

Over the next three years, in fact, Gartner predicts 1 in 5 brands will adopt this mindset to address consumer “trust and confidence issues” caused by the prevalence of AI in marketing. 

“Brands that embrace acoustic positioning can differentiate themselves and potentially target premium or safety-focused markets,” Gartner reports. 

Embrace (and incorporate) content authenticity tools

Heard of the Content Authenticity Initiative? 

“We are a community of media and tech companies, NGOs, academics, and others working to promote adoption of an open industry standard for content authenticity and provenance,” the group declares at the top of its website

Titans of industry are part of this initiative “promoting transparency around the use of AI.” 

The same Gartner report predicting a shift to acoustic branding notes something else: 60 percent of CMOs will have their teams take necessary measures in the next two years to counteract the lack of “responsible-use guidelines for GenAI.”

Reexamine what it means to differentiate

Determining whether to use AI or how to go about adopting it responsibly are just two modern methods for achieving differentiation through authenticity. 

There’s a tech-free tactic, too. And it’s best summed up by a lyric in “Born,” the first track on Chesney’s new album of the same name. 

“Are we makin’ it harder than it has to be?” he sings. 

Sometimes delivering the same message—but with a different tone—is enough to do the job. Teaching rather than preaching can go a long way. The (play)list goes on. 

Bottom line: revolutionizing the landscape isn’t the only way to stand out in an authentic nature. 

That should be music to everyone’s ears. 


Ben Sampson

Carolina Vargas

strategy, brand

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