What Does Authenticity Really Mean?
The word ‘authenticity’ has become a major buzzword among marketers.
Authenticity has been touted to be a key for success in the 21st century, and brands are defining their missions and creating their processes around the concept of authenticity.
While it might appear to be another marketing buzzword that will disappear in a few years, there is good reason behind its popularity, and there is a high likelihood that it is here to stay.
In today’s highly connected digital world, customers don’t simply buy from brands because they have good products.
They also want brands to stand for something and to be authentic.
According to a survey carried out by PR agency Cohn & Wolfe, 89% of customers expect authenticity from brands.
So, authenticity is here to stay, but question is, what exactly is it?
WHAT IS AUTHENTICITY?
Based on the definition by the Journal of Consumer Psychology, brand authenticity is”
“the extent to which consumers expect a brand to be faithful towards itself, true to its customers, motivated by caring and responsibility, and able to support consumers in being true to themselves.”
According to the above definition, brand authenticity consists of four key components:
- Brand continuity – the brand being faithful to itself and its core values)
- Credibility – being true to customers
- Integrity – motivated by responsibility and caring, not just profits
- Symbolism – it should support customers in their quest to be true to themselves
In other words, brands that are authentic are true to their customers, they stand for what their customers stand for, and they help customers to be true to themselves.
Yet another definition of brand authenticity has been suggested by Geoff Beattie, Global Practice Leader of Corporate Affairs at Cohn & Wolfe.
According to Beattie, an authentic brand is one that has morals and values and sticks with them at all times, while at the same time being honest and transparent about its practices, including its flaws.
Authentic brands are reliable, respectable and real. They are not pretentious. They do not thrive on falsehoods.
They don’t claim to be something they are not or pretend to stand for something that they don’t. They walk their talk, and consumers know what to expect with these brands.
As a result, customers become more invested in the success of these brands.
They are loyal to the brand and will buy products from these brands even when there are less expensive alternatives.
This is why authentic brands to be very profitable.
A good example of an authentic brand is Patagonia, an American clothing company that markets and sells outdoor clothing.
Ever since it was founded in 1973, Patagonia has made a pledge to create the highest quality outdoor clothing in the market, cause no unnecessary damage to the environment, and use business to inspire solutions to the environmental crisis.
Of course, any company can make such a bold claim.
Authentic brands, however, go beyond making a pledge. They follow through with the pledge and embrace transparency to show that they are actually acting on their pledge.
This is exactly what Patagonia has always done.
The company has taken several bold steps in its quest to champion for environmental conservation.
Patagonia has made investments in renewable energy (which does not fall within their core business).
They have implemented chemical and environmental impact programs to help reduce the impact of their global supply chain on the environment. They donate 1% of their profits to grassroots environmental programs.
They have a “drive less” program that gives employees financial incentives to car-pool to and from work, thus saving reducing carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuels. They promote fair labor practices across their global supply chain. They also champion for various environmental causes.
Perhaps two of their most significant campaigns championing for environmental conservation are the “Worn Wear” program, which encourages customers to repair and recycle their used garments so that they last longer, as well as their “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign, whose aim was to encourage customers to think about the effect of wanton consumerism on the environment, and to encourage them to only buy stuff they need.
WHY IS AUTHENTICITY IMPORTANT?
In the past, businesses were ready to go to whatever lengths it took to make a sale.
They swore they had the best product in the world, they exaggerated the features of their products, and generally made some very grand promises, even if they were in no position to fulfill these promises.
In the last few decades, however, consumer behavior has evolved.
Consumers have become savvier, and they are no longer moved by traditional marketing techniques.
The shopping habits of millennials and generation Z are different from those of their predecessors.
They don’t just want to buy from brands with the best products or the lowest prices, they also want to buy from brands that stand for something bigger than profits.
According to a survey by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), authenticity is the second most important thing millennials consider when deciding whether to support a brand, with loyalty discounts coming first.
For brands, embracing authenticity boils down to giving consumers a reason to care about your brand. The modern consumer believes that he cares for more than himself.
Before making a purchase, he wants to believe that his purchase will make a positive difference somewhere.
He believes that his hard-earned dollars should only be spent if they help support something he believes in.
And he wants the brands he supports to support what he believes in.
He will give support to brands that show enthusiasm, integrity, honesty, and support for a cause, and he can easily spot a brand that is only pretending.
In the age of this modern consumer, being seen as inauthentic can be very damaging to a brand.
Apart from helping you keep up with evolving consumer behavior, being authentic will help you:
Break Above the Noise
There is so much competition in the modern world.
Everyone is constantly fighting for consumers’ attention. Everywhere you turn, someone is trying to sell you something.
According to digital marketing experts, the average person sees between 4000 to 10,000 ads.
Every. Single. Day.
You might be wondering why you never seem to notice so many ads.
Well, 4,000 ads per day is a lot of information, too much for the brain to actually absorb and digest.
With so many ads vying for our attention, our brains have learnt to ignore majority of ads, a phenomenon known as banner blindness.
Basically, we see a lot of advertisements without actually taking note of them, because our brains are purposefully ignoring them.
In addition, people have come up with ways of consciously shutting off ads, using tools such as anti-spam filters for their emails and ad blockers for their browsers.
If you follow the traditional way of simply sending out a message about how good your products are or how cheap they are, there is a high chance that majority of people will miss the message, either because of banner blindness, or because they are blocking advertisements.
The key to breaking above the noise and clutter of all these ads is to be authentic.
If you can show people that your brand cares about something more than profits, if you support the same causes as your customers, if you are honest about your brand’s flaws, then your customers will turn to brand evangelists, marketing your brand to their friends through word-of-mouth and allowing you to bypass the roadblocks I discussed above.
Make a Stronger Connection
Like I mentioned earlier, the modern consumer wants to feel that they care, that their purchases are helping make a change.
Authentic brands use genuine messages and ideas that resonate powerfully with their customers, which results in a stronger emotional connection between your brand and customers.
Considering that 95% of buying decisions are made based on emotions, creating a stronger emotional connection with your customers will have a positive impact on your books.
Every marketer knows that the key to gaining a competitive advantage is to differentiate themselves from the competition.
However, most brands try to differentiate themselves from the competition by solely focusing on the characteristics of their products and services.
Authentic brands know this is not the best approach.
Authentic brands create differentiation through their core purpose. Instead of focusing on what they do, they focus on WHY they do it.
Even when their products are almost similar to their competitors’ products, focus on their core purpose makes them very distinct from their competitors.
It also creates an avenue for customers to identify with the company, leading to increased brand loyalty.
Solidify Your Brand Authority
Authentic brands don’t try to please everyone. They know that is both phony and impossible.
Instead, they put all their focus on what they do best.
They decide what they stand for, and then identify a unique value that allows them to pursue what they stand for and nothing else.
For instance, Vans is focused on the skating and BMX sub-culture, and everything they do is focused on this subculture. Vans even helped construct skate parks in various cities.
When a brand is so focused on a niche, they eventually become the authority on the niche, and anyone who thinks about the niche automatically associates it with your brand.
This creates an unshakeable confidence and trust in your brand and turns you into an industry leader. Naturally, this will convert into profits.
Enhance Customer Trust and Loyalty
Authentic brands not only make bold promises to their customers, they also deliver on these promises, allowing them to cultivate trust and loyalty within their customers – two things that are becoming increasingly difficult for brands to achieve in the modern world.
Customers know what kind of experience to expect whenever they interact with the brand, and they know they will always get this kind of experience.
In addition, most authentic brands allow their customers to get a glimpse into how they operate behind the scenes, which helps foster even more trust.
HOW TO BUILD AN AUTHENTIC BRAND
Building an authentic brand might seem easy, but it is not. It involves being honest and transparent with your customers.
It involves showing your customers that your brand has a human side and that it cares about its customers.
It involves accepting that your brand is not perfect, and showing customers that the brand is constantly working on improving itself and its customers’ lives.
All this is not easy to achieve, but it can be done. Below are a few tips to help you on the path to building an authentic brand.
This is the most important thing to keep in mind while on your quest to build an authentic brand.
On the face of it, it seems like something very simple, but if you ponder on it for a moment, you might ask yourself what exactly it means to be real.
Being real means going back to the basics and identifying the core elements of your brand story. Who exactly are you? What does your brand stand for? What are its core values, ethics, and beliefs? What is the purpose of your brand? What drives your brand?
Once you identify the core elements of your brand story, the next thing you need to do is to push those ideals into every aspect of your business.
Everything you do as a brand should reflect these core elements.
This is what it means to be real.
It is impossible to achieve authenticity if you are inconsistent. Inconsistency leads to suspicion and mistrust, since customers do not know what to expect from you.
If you want to be seen as authentic, your essential message should remain the same, despite the marketing channel you are using to pass the message or the marketing campaign you are running.
Think about a brand like Red Bull, which markets its beverages as the fuel that powers those who want to achieve the extraordinary.
Everything Red Bull has done, every marketing campaign it has launched, and every sporting event it has sponsored has one message – Red Bull gives you the wings to achieve the extraordinary.
This is what consistency means.
Always providing consumers with the same image and message about your brand.
Show Rather Than Tell
Any brand can make a pompous claim or promise; the difference comes when it’s time to deliver on the promise. If you want your brand to be perceived as authentic, you have to walk the talk.
Consumers are not stupid. They can see through all the innovative marketing campaigns you launch online and the banter you post on your social media pages. You have to follow your message with action.
Let’s take a look at Patagonia once more.
The clothing brand claim that they will cause no unnecessary harm to the environment, and that they will use the business to champion for environmental conservation, but they don’t stop there.
They actually put their money where their mouth is by investing in various campaigns and programs that help conserve the environment.
Furthermore, they are transparent, showing customers what goes on behind-the-scenes in everything they do.
Similarly, if you want your brand to be seen as authentic, not only should deliver on your promises, you should also embrace transparency. You should be able to prove all the claims you make, and allow customers to see you doing what you claim to stand for.
Engage Your Customers
Your brand image extends beyond the message you put about your company. Your brand image is also influenced by the things other people say about you.
Therefore, part of being authentic is inviting your customers into a conversation with you. Instead of just talking at them, you have a discussion about what their opinion of your brand.
By holding conversations with them, listening to what they have to say, and adapting your products and services, voice and marketing strategies to match the feedback you receive from them, the more authentic you will appear. It shows them that you actually care about them.
Hold Yourself Accountable
One of the biggest mistakes many brands make is to try and appear to be perfect. This is being disillusioned, because no business is perfect. Perfection is a mirage.
Your customers know this, and trying to sell the image of perfection will only make your brand seem phony. In truth, every business will make a mistake here and there.
If you want to be seen as authentic, you should be ready to hold yourself accountable. If your brand makes a mistake, own up to it, apologize to your customers, and let them know what you are doing to remedy the situation.
You should be the first to bring the mistake to light. If the mistake is reported by someone else, they might cause irreparable damage to your brand image.
By remaining humble and apologizing about your mistakes, you are showing that your brand is human – after all, every human makes a mistake.
Domino’s Pizza is a good example of what it means to hold yourself accountable. Sometime back, Domino’s Pizza CEO noticed that their reviews were not very great.
Instead of trying to sweep this under the carpet, they decided to be honest about their failings. They acknowledged that the reviews claiming that their pizza was nowhere near perfect were correct.
They gathered more feedback from customers and embarked on a process of redesigning their whole pizza-making process from scratch, documenting the entire process and inviting customers to try out their new pizza for free. After doing this, their sales and profits doubled, and the brand was perceived to be more authentic.
Don’t Forget Your Positive Side
While authenticity requires you to be honest and to own up to your mistakes, this does not mean you should forget about the positive side of your brand.
You should not try to manipulate your reviews or try to hide the negative reviews about your brand, but you should direct more focus on highlighting the positive things customers are saying about your brand.
Showing testimonials from real people talking about their positive experience with your brand can be a great way to ramp up your authenticity.
Use Your Authentic Brand Voice
Your brand voice should be authentic to your target audience.
For instance, if your business sells trucks to middle aged dads, you will have a very different voice to someone selling fashion items to rich twenty-something year old women.
If you attempt talking to the young women the same way you would talk to middle aged men, your brand will quickly be seen as inauthentic.
Therefore, you should always use a brand voice that corresponds to your niche and your target audience.
If you haven’t developed a brand voice, you need to go back to the drawing board and think about what your brand represents, what your customers expect, and what your niche entails, and then come up with a brand voice that will help tie your brand to the needs and preferences of your target audience.
Once you have identified a brand voice, make sure all your communications reflect this brand voice.
Tell A Story
Storytelling is something that has been gaining lots of traction in the marketing world in recent times. It has even been touted to be the future of marketing, and many brands are engaging in storytelling.
However, most brands focus their story on the corporate entity, something that customers find hard to relate to.
If you want to achieve authenticity through storytelling, you should focus on stories that show the human side of your brand.
In your story, show where your brand came from, where it is going, what it is doing to get there, and how it has impacted the lives of its customers during that journey.
Telling a story gives you another chance to be real, to show in human perspective the core values, ethics, beliefs, and goals of your brand.
In today’s world where every consumer is connected and savvy, the only way to break above the noise, differentiate yourself from the competition and make a strong connection with your customers is to be authentic.
You need to determine the values that drive your brand and ensure that your brand message is aligned with these values.
While creating an authentic brand is not easy, the tips shared above will help you on the path to building an authentic brand.
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