Brand Authenticity: Why It Matters and How to Do It Right

Dec 03, 2020

The phrase “keep it real” has been in the cultural zeitgeist for some time now, usually applied to a person as a compliment. But as the consumer landscape evolves, the idea of keeping things real has crossed over into the business world — where it’s been dubbed brand authenticity — and has huge implications for the success of companies worldwide. But what exactly is brand authenticity, and why does it matter so much? And, perhaps more importantly, how can you successfully build an authentic brand? Let’s get into it.

What Is Brand Authenticity and Why Does It Matter?

The term brand authenticity sounds fairly self-explanatory, and, on a basic level, it is. Brand authenticity merely means being authentic in the way that a brand presents itself to the public. True authenticity requires a few different elements, including honesty, transparency, and integrity. In the words of the Journal of Consumer Psychology, brand authenticity is “the extent to which consumers perceive a brand to be faithful toward itself, true to its consumers, motivated by caring and responsibility, and able to support consumers in being true to themselves.”

In the past, brand authenticity wasn’t something that people talked or cared about. Business could say whatever was necessary in order to make a sale, regardless of its basis in truth (see: cigarettes advertised as “healthy”). With the rise of social media and digitally savvy consumers, this is no longer possible. Only 1% of millennials trust advertising from companies, and the news is flooded with stories of brands suffering when their misleading or unethical practices are inevitably exposed.

People don’t want to listen to ads anymore. Today’s consumer wants more than a good deal or a list of features. She wants to know who a brand is, what they stand for, and what it says about her when she becomes a customer. In fact, brand authenticity has surpassed price point as the most important factor when it comes to purchasing decisions, and 91% of consumers are more likely to buy from an authentic brand than a dishonest brand.

There’s no way around this new reality. Even if a brand stays off social media, the public will still talk about them on those platforms. Brands need to reconsider who they are and how they present themselves — and while this takes some effort, the payoff can be far greater than any traditional advertising campaigns. That’s because when you engage authentically with someone, rather than just selling them a product, you develop a lasting relationship with them: they become loyal customers and do your marketing for you through word of mouth. Consider that nearly 90% of consumers will reward a brand for its authenticity, whether by recommending it to others or pledging loyalty to them, or that the more authentic a brand is, the higher its share of high-value customers.

Brand authenticity is a baseline requirement these days. Doing it wrong can result in anger and mistrust (or even boycotts) among the public. Doing it right, however, sets you apart from the competition, organically boosts your marketing efforts, and earns you more and higher value customers.

How to Do Brand Authenticity Right

Trying to be authentic as an individual is fairly straightforward: just be yourself! But with a brand, cultivating authenticity takes a bit more effort. Here are five essential principles for building a truly authentic brand:

  • Know who you are. You can’t be authentically yourself if you don’t know who you are. The same thing is true of brands. In order to be authentic, brands must work from the inside out and from the top down. Founders and owners need to know exactly what a brand stands for, and then ensure that everyone on the team believes in this identity. If internal stakeholders perceive inauthenticity, it’ll come through — trust us.
  • Consistency is key. If your brand seems different every time a person encounters it, not only are they unlikely to remember you, they’ll also be less likely to believe you. Inconsistency in how a brand presents itself casts doubt on who they really are, undermining authenticity. By always being consistent — in message, tone, visual style, values, and so on — you’ll gain trust with the public and build an authentic identity.
  • Actions speak louder than words. When you want to cultivate brand authenticity, you can’t just say that you stand for certain values. You need to put your money where your mouth is (often literally) and actually act on those values. Consumers will expect as much. So if you’re going to post a quote about racial equality on social media, you need to also make sure you put in place practices or initiatives that further racial justice issues. A great example of this done right is Ben & Jerry’s, who back up their activist social posts with concrete policies that prove the authenticity of their message.
  • Be part of the conversation. Part of brand authenticity is engaging in two-way conversations, rather than just sending your brand’s message out into the world and then sitting back. Brands today can’t sequester themselves in an ivory tower — they have to respond meaningfully to consumers at their level. That means replying to comments on social media, becoming part of the conversation when your brand is in the news, responding to reviews, and more. For instance, when the eco-conscious brand Oatly came under fire for accepting funding from an investor who had also funded environmentally destructive pursuits, they hit it head-on with a straightforward, human, non-sugar-coated statement on social media.
  • Don’t always put your best foot forward. While it may seem counterintuitive, letting the public see your flaws and weaknesses can actually help build consumer trust. After all, what’s more inauthentic than perfection? Own and be proud of what you offer, but also own and be honest about what you can’t do and who you aren’t. Not only will this help bolster your authenticity by showing some humility, but it also offers a further differentiation point from the competition.

Brand authenticity is no longer a nice-to-have quality: it’s essential for a company’s ability to grow and thrive. Thankfully with a bit of effort, every brand has the ability to cultivate and tap into the power of brand authenticity. It may take some upfront effort, but the payoff will be a larger and more loyal customer base, more fulfilled and motivated employees, and a brand that transcends the product or service they offer.

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