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The Increasing Importance of Brand Authenticity

April 2023
  • The process for a brand to be perceived as authentic always starts with building a definable brand with a clear mission, vision, and values, and continues to be built through continuity over time, gaining credibility, and displaying integrity.
  • The majority of consumers feel that brands are not doing as good a job as they might think in being authentic.
  • Brands have the opportunity to differentiate themselves by demonstrating how they are taking steps to be more authentic and staying true to their core brand identity.
  • Brand authenticity is not an end point, but rather a continually evolving process that builds consumer trust, turns that trust into advocacy, and ultimately drives more business to your brand.

INTRODUCTION

The landscape for brands is constantly evolving, especially when it comes to how consumers perceive brands and what they are seeking out from their relationships with brands. One of the most recent changes in this landscape is seeking more authenticity from brands. In many ways brand authenticity is exactly what it sounds like – a brand is perceived as “real” when consumers believe it is genuine about its products or services, promises made to their customers, and being true to their brand values. But what does that mean in practice? In this Direct Hit, we explore what it really means for a brand to be authentic, why it is increasingly important for brands be authentic, and what brands are doing to achieve this status. 

 

WADING INTO THE DEEP END: BRAND AUTHENTICITY

While the term might feel self-explanatory, there is an inherent difficulty in defining when exactly a brand has achieved the perception of ‘authentic’. This is because there is no definable moment when your brand is suddenly perceived as such – it is a process that builds momentum over time by doing the right things. While this process may not always be neat and linear, there are some crucial elements that remain consistent across the board.

1. Building a definable brand
For a brand to be authentic, that brand must exist in a distinguishable way. This means having a salient point of view and strategy that aligns your brand’s personality in a cohesive, consistent direction. The ultimate purpose of a business is to generate revenue – the ultimate purpose of a brand is to give your business a unique, identifiable personality that builds lasting relationships between your business and customers. Without an easily recognizable purpose, or ‘why’ for a brand, there is nothing to be authentic about.

2. Continuity
Once your brand has a purpose or point of view, you need to reinforce that brand over time. As mentioned previously, the landscape for brands is in perpetual motion. What consumers like, what’s trending, the economic and political landscape: it’s constantly changing. And while your brand should always be adapting to its environment, the brand itself needs continuity in its core purpose and point of view to be considered authentic.

3. Credibility
As an extension of continuity, building credibility stems from consistency over time. By being true to your brand’s vision, mission, and values repeatedly, consumers will take notice and begin to give credit to your brand for demonstrating consistent commitment to its stated purpose. This is not to say your brand should be static; the most credible brands find new ways of expressing their point of view in dynamic and meaningful ways. It’s the ability to be dynamic in the expression of your core tenets over time that builds belief in and credibility for your brand.

4. Integrity
Perhaps the biggest piece of the authenticity puzzle for brands is in finding ways to show integrity to consumers. Brand integrity, in part, is about honesty and transparency, but more critically it’s about doing the right things in the right ways to support your brand’s principles in the greater world. It’s about asking the questions of what your brand thinks is right and how it can bring those beliefs to life for consumers in ways that aren’t solely focused on increasing your bottom line. Like with individuals, the brands that are the most authentic are the ones that remain steady in their beliefs and act on them for the greater good.

While brand authenticity might be difficult to define in the abstract, there are still ways to define and measure when a brand has succeeded in being perceived authentic. One measurement tool used for brands across many different industries is BERA’s Purpose score, which aggregates data from consumers across the country to help summarize when brands’ actions align with consumer feelings. With the proper measurement of this critical element of brand positioning, marketers can differentiate their brands through purpose, outsmart their competition, and drive tangible business value. 

Figure 1: Table showcasing the BERA’s assessment score of six major brands (Image courtesy of BERA)

WHY BRANDS SHOULD CARE ABOUT BEING AUTHENTIC

A study from the Gustavson Brand Trust Index in 2020 showed that the average brand trust scores for all brands surveyed is at an all-time low. It’s making consumers more conscious about who they purchase from; 64% of today’s customers are belief-driven buyers who think that brands can be a powerful force of change. This consumer mindset, while relatively new, does not appear to be going anywhere as the number of choices for consumers continues to grow in terms of what brands consumers choose to support. 

Now you would think that if consumers considered this to be important, brands would be doing everything to align with this ideal. However, a new survey indicates that brands are not doing as good a job as they might think. In fact, 57% of consumers could not name a brand taking care of the environment or couldn’t think of a brand promoting diversity and inclusion, and 54% couldn’t name a brand giving back to the community.

While potentially concerning for brands, this has two major implications. The first is that there are opportunities to differentiate in a positive way by taking steps to be more authentic, since consumers clearly care about how authentic a brand is, and over half can’t name a brand that is making a positive impact on society. The second is that it’s not enough to be authentic; you must demonstrate how exactly you are impacting society and staying true to your core brand identity and values. For example, 59% of consumers say user-generated content is the most authentic type of content. Not surprisingly, this is because it shows consumers that you really care about their experiences with your brand. Making that information more accessible and promoted reflects positively on a brand within its community. By encouraging customers to create more of their own content around your brand and giving them tools and platforms to easily share that content with their networks, your brand has a higher chance of being perceived as more authentic for new and old customers alike.  

 

BRANDS THAT ARE AUTHENTIC & HOW THEY BECAME SO

While talking about brand authenticity in the abstract can be an important first step in understanding why brand authenticity is so important to moving a brand forward, it can also be helpful to see some examples of brands that are clearly authentic to their core identities and communities. Here we discuss two examples of brands that consumers agree are authentic, and then discuss what they have in common that sets them apart.

1. Allbirds: The Australian sneaker company that managed to challenge industry titans and thrive in a highly competitive industry. If you know anything about Allbirds, you know that they care about two things: their customers’ experiences and protecting the environment. From their first piece of marketing (linked here), consumers already knew exactly who the brand was, why it was started, and what their intentions were. That core brand has never changed, despite becoming valued at $1.7B within just four years of launch. Their commitment to sustainability is the whole reason the brand was started, but what they did grow over time was their focus on shining a light on their consumers’ experiences (see Figure 2). They started by encouraging their customers to promote their honest opinions about the brand online, and offering direct compensation if those opinions lead to sales. Doing this not only showed their customers that they value their opinions, but that they also value the effort and willingness to share those opinions and found a way to incentivize the sharing of those opinions in the most direct way possible.

Figure 2: How Allbirds became so connected to their community (image courtesy of Optimonk)

 2. Patagonia: There is perhaps no major brand that is more purpose-driven than Patagonia, both in their brands identity and how they show up in front of consumers. They started as a brand that was openly environmentally conscious, and over time fully leaned into that purpose, even changing their mission statement to “Patagonia is in business to save our home planet”. Patagonia is not afraid of putting their money where their values are, including suing the United States Government in 2017 for announcing the reduction of protected land in several national monuments. Just last year, the owner and founder, Yvon Chouinard, announced that he was leaving the entirety of his ownership to a trust to ensure that all of Patagonia’s profits go towards fighting climate change indefinitely. In fact, nearly all their marketing efforts are to showcase this commitment to the world; they rarely market their own brand or products, and when they do, it is almost always tied back to environmental causes they support and how they are tangibly doing so.  

CONCLUSION

Brand authenticity should not only be viewed as an end goal, but rather as an ongoing process that must be managed and maintained. As shown through examples such as Patagonia and Allbirds, brand authenticity starts with how you define your brand and what it stands for, how you communicate that purpose and commitment to the world, and in what tangible ways you take action to address that purpose. When done correctly, being perceived as authentic will ultimately drive more business to your brand. Not only is it important to consumers, but as you continue to build on that brand and its purpose, you build consumer trust. That trust eventually turns into advocacy, and greater advocacy leads to more consumer trust, a cycle that is built and maintained by staying true to your brand, and consistently reinforcing its purpose and its value. Is it easy to be an authentic brand? Not necessarily. Is it worth it? Without a doubt. 

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