People are drawn to brands that feel authentic and true. From the rise in organic produce to homemade cupcakes, the love for all things genuine permeates society. However, is the idea of an “authentic brand” contradictory? Doesn’t the act of branding an object or organisation build a façade? In today’s postmodern era, what is authentic is highly subjective, but technological advancements (think 24-hour news and social media) are pushing organisations to be real with their customers. The transparency afforded by the Internet has resulted in a digital generation that values authenticity above many other brand attributes.
In addition to making great products, pursuing excellence, offering best-of-class service and solving difficult problems, brands can boost their success by enhancing their atmosphere of authenticity. Here’s how:
1. Be purpose-driven
Authenticity can be distilled from a number of sources, but one defining attribute of authentic brands is a strong sense of purpose. In this aspect, most start-ups are authentic. Yet, as they grow, what the founders envisioned at the beginning may be lost in the clutter of day-to-day processes. It is not enough for a brand’s vision and mission to be documented in a corporate identity guide; they have to translate to a brand’s behaviour. Rediscover that purpose-driven passion and act on it. Customers will feel the difference through their interactions with the brand.
2. Craft a compelling story
People are naturally drawn to brands that have interesting and original stories to tell. Even when a brand is global, authenticity is local. Storytelling can highlight that spark of authenticity by framing the tradition and founding spirit of a brand in a narrative that engages readers on an emotional level.
3. Gain staff support
An authentic brand is built from the inside out. Employees are often an important point of contact between customers and a brand, and it is crucial for them to understand and be committed to the brand’s values. To garner staff support, management should lead by example and foster a culture that encourages employees to be genuine brand ambassadors.
4. Walk the talk
There has been a string of cases in recent years of corporations drawing flak for not practising what they preached. BP’s mismanagement of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill despite their claims to sustainability serves as a warning for brands that do not align their actions with their words. Nowadays, putting up a pretence will lead to rejection from a tech-savvy public who has access to global flows of information. Instead, be real and be honest. The importance of sincerity cannot be overstated – a brand must keep every promise it makes and make only promises it can keep.
5. And walk it consistently
Rome wasn’t built in a day; similarly, a reputation for authenticity has to be earned over time. A customer’s experience with a brand can span multiple touchpoints, and it is largely the continuity across these small moments that add up to an authentic brand. Does the organisation have a cohesive identity at all points of interaction? Do customers know what to expect from the organisation? Can they trust its words in all situations? It is easy for brands to keep a one-time promise, but only those that deliver their promises consistently are truly genuine.
Authentic brands are more than the functional benefits they offer; they are an inclusive experience for stakeholders. Customers and cultural influences are increasingly being included as co-authors in the enriching of a brand’s authenticity. For instance, interactive campaigns help brands connect with their customers. The more global society becomes, the more consumers seem to value the local and authentic. In a nutshell, people prefer engaging brands that act with purpose, tell interesting stories and unfailingly deliver what they promise. As brand authenticity becomes a progressively important attribute, organisations will have to make every effort to be real with their stakeholders in order to succeed in today’s competitive environment.
By Oriana Cheung