Too many businesses are under the false impression that to attract customers all you need is great products or services. Whereas desirable offerings are crucial, they’re not the whole story: you also need to create brand authenticity.
Customers today have a huge amount of choice, and they overwhelmingly prefer familiar brands they feel are genuine.
What Is Brand Authenticity?
There are four key elements to brand authenticity:
- Continuity — You stay true to your mission in all situations.
- Credibility — Customers can count on you.
- Integrity — You care about your customers and act ethically.
- Symbolism — You help customers uphold their own values.
Underlying all the above is a commitment to the brand’s values. Defining your mission and values is one of the first things you do when establishing a new brand, but authentic brands go a step further: they demonstrate their commitment to values through their actions.
Why Is Brand Authenticity Increasingly Important?
Brand authenticity has always been important to some extent, but it’s becoming ever more critical.
The main reason is because of who consumers are today. One study found that whereas 85 percent of Gen X and 80% of Baby Boomers say that authenticity is important when choosing brands, 90% of Millennials cared about authenticity. The study considered anyone under 35 as a Millennial, meaning this number also encompasses Gen Z.
However, the importance of brand authenticity goes beyond simply it being what customers want. There are a few more reasons why brand authenticity is important.
Every aspect of branding is about standing out from competitors — and that extends to developing authenticity. The increasingly crowded marketplace has made this all the more critical.
Give Customers a Reason to Choose You
If your products or services are similar to those of your competitors, you need to give customers a reason to try yours and then to continue sticking with your brand. Rational reasons will only get you so far; adding emotions into the equation through authenticity will take you the rest of the way.
Create Relationships with Your Customers
Customers feel strongly attached to the brands they’re loyal to, but you need a two-way relationship to receive this kind of loyalty, which is only possible when customers perceive you as authentic. Today, customers expect to have real connections with their favorite brands.
Receive Word-of-Mouth Marketing
When customers feel particularly attracted to a brand, they’ll do some of the hard work for you through word-of-mouth marketing. Not only will you receive positive reviews that are critical for social proof, but this can also make your social media strategy much more successful.
What Makes a Brand Authentic?
A brand that is authentic meets the following criteria.
Some people think of honesty as being synonymous with authenticity, but honesty is actually just one aspect of brand authenticity. Specifically, brands that are honest always act with their mission in mind and are transparent about what they’re doing.
We talk about consistency all the time in branding, mostly in the sense that it leads to a clear brand image and ensures consumers know what you stand for. In brand authenticity, however, the meaning is slightly different.
Beyond helping others understand who you are, consistency is about being reliable, even when the industry is changing and trends come and go.
Finally, a brand is authentic when it provides real value to its customers and makes the world a better place for its target audience.
How to Check Your Brand Authenticity
Self-reflection is a good place to start when assessing your brand authenticity, but you need to bear in mind that you likely think more highly of your brand than someone impartial.
For this reason, it’s better to ask your customers. One option is to send a survey and ask respondents to rate you on a scale from one to seven (for strongly disagree, slightly disagree, disagree, neutral, slightly agree, agree, and strongly agree). You may like to include a space for some optional feedback about the reasons for their choices.
You could just ask customers to rate your overall brand authenticity. The benefit of this is it’s fast, but the downside is that individuals may each have their own definition of what it means to be authentic — one that maybe doesn’t match your own.
If you decide to create a longer survey, you’ll be able to ask respondents to rate their agreement to a couple of statements for each of the four elements that make up brand authenticity:
- Continuity — Ask about the strength of your history, the timelessness of your brand, and customers’ perceptions about your capability to survive changing trends.
- Credibility — Ask about how honest customers find your brand and whether they consider that you keep your promises.
- Integrity — Ask whether respondents feel that you are committed to your principles and customers.
- Symbolism — Ask about whether your brand has been effective at giving meaning to customers’ lives, helping them learn about themselves, and finding what is important in life.
Brand Authenticity Examples
Before moving on to consider the ways in which you can become more authentic, you’ll find it useful to look at some examples of brands that have been successful.
One of the most famous examples of brand authenticity has to be Dove. Efforts to become more authentic began in 2004 when the brand launched its Campaign for Real Beauty. This has now transitioned into the Dove Self-Esteem Project, but the goal is much the same: to show regular women in advertising, rather than models, and to embrace their natural beauty. The underlying mission of the campaign is to help women feel more positive about their bodies.
A brand that took a similar approach to Dove is Aerie — a sub-brand of American Eagle Outfitters that sells intimate wear. The brand launched a campaign to show real women in its clothing rather than models. In addition, the brand has formed a long-time partnership with the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).
There are four aspects to Patagonia’s mission statement: high-quality products, no unnecessary harm, protecting nature, and finding new ways to do things. Succeeding with all four may have been ambitious for some brands, but Patagonia has implemented a number of measures to show that it is authentic in its mission. To mention just a few examples, the company invests in renewable energy, makes its product more durable than those of its competitors, and encourages customers to buy less or buy used.
Since its early days as a startup, Buffer has committed to upholding several core values. The first of these is “default to transparency,“ which is exemplified throughout communications to customers. This has included sharing the names of investors and how they met the brand, making its code free and open-source, and publicizing salaries and diversity data for the company.
As Chobani shows, something as every day as yogurt can take the world by storm — just by shifting its focus to authenticity. The brand gained popularity not just for the great products but because of its focus on wellness: nutritional wellness (through using top ingredients), environmental wellness (through sustainability), and social wellness (through donations, grants, and volunteered time to charitable causes).
Tips for Building Brand Authenticity
Finally, we come to the hardest part: building authenticity for your own brand. There are no simple fixes here — you’ll need to show customers that you see them as individuals, that you chose your values for more than just marketing purposes, and that who you are today is the same as who you’ll be tomorrow. There are several ways to do this.
1. Present the Real You to the World
It’s impossible to be authentic unless you’re real. Most brands start out being their real selves, but it’s common to start becoming more what you think your audience wants you to be or giving in to market pressures.
For this reason, it’s worth periodically reassessing if you’re still on track. This means considering why you decided to start your business in the first place and checking that you’re still serving the same purpose. In addition, think about whether that’s coming across to your audience.
2. Tell Your Brand Stories
The easiest way to present the real you to the world is through stories. Plus, this can help your audience feel more connected to your brand.
It’s crucial that you avoid clichés in your stories, as these are an obvious ploy to increase sales. Customers want to know about what led you to the realization that there was a need for a brand like yours, the challenges you faced to find your foothold, and what you’ve managed to achieve so far. Stories can feature the founders, key players, or team as a whole.
It’s even better if you accompany your stories with real pictures. There’s no need for these to be professional-quality shots — in fact, genuine pictures from behind the scenes often perform better in places like social media. Whatever you do, never pair brand stories with stock photos, as this may lead to the impression that the story is a fabrication.
3. Listen to Your Customers
As we mentioned before, brand authenticity is about creating two-way relationships. Talking at your customers is no good — you need to have a conversation. Interact with your customers whenever possible to hear their opinions. Digital marketing makes this easier than ever, especially with social media.
4. Focus on Consistent Messaging
You should already be ensuring that you have consistent messaging for your branding as a whole, but it’s worth thinking about this in the context of authenticity as well. Beyond having a consistent voice, you need consistent messaging to reflect your values and ensure there’s no ambiguity that could erode trust.
Consistent messaging is relatively simple to achieve with written, visual, and video content. Where it becomes difficult tends to be in customer communication, as there may be several (or even many) people interacting with customers on behalf of your brand. If this is the case for you, regular check-ins and training for your team may be necessary.
5. Ensure Your Actions Match Your Words
A great message is still close to useless if your actions don’t reflect your words. Only make promises you know you can fulfill and keep customers informed about the progress toward your targets.
6. Apologize When You Slip Up
However hard you try, there are going to be times when you make mistakes. This could be as simple as falling short of customer expectations or something much bigger, such as if an employee goes rogue.
Instead of trying to hide, deflect, or justify the mistake, let customers know that you’re aware you slipped up and that you’ll take steps to ensure it never happens again.
You could offer to compensate those who were impacted or explain what you’ll be doing differently going forward.
7. Share Your Expert Knowledge
A tip particularly important for small businesses is to position yourself as the expert. For example, if you’re marketing your solution as a top choice because you understand the technology, the industry, or customer needs better than anyone else, you’ll need to show this is true.
Explain how your methods are different and create content that demonstrates a deep understanding of your niche — this is also great for your content strategy.
8. Try Honest Advertising
A tactic you may like to consider is honest advertising. This takes an opposite-to-normal approach to marketing: instead of presenting your offerings as the best solution, you’re honest about your shortcomings. It’s a great way to add humor to your marketing, embrace your true self, and stand out from the crowd.
Making time to ensure your strategy remains in line with your values and to better serve your customers is crucial for brand authenticity. A lack of bandwidth to focus on these often lead to a brand’s downfall.
Often, the solution is as simple as delegating more of the work that’s interfering with your efforts to improve your brand. There’s no need to hire another employee for this — you can outsource to a virtual assistant. A virtual assistant from MYVA360 can take over a wide variety of admin tasks and other activities that are wasting your time. Schedule a consultation to find out more and to receive a 10-percent discount.