For most of us, it won’t take much scrolling through your LinkedIn feed to find an article, post, or company message speaking to the value of brand authenticity.
But for many companies and internal teams, brand authenticity is a grey area that raises more questions than answers. Is it a unique product, a distinct service offering, or does it come down to customer service and team development?
In this article, we’ll delve into the strategies and techniques that companies can use to cultivate brand authenticity, and some of the challenges that they can expect to face along the way. To get there, we’ll explore the importance of brand authenticity and why it’s crucial for businesses to build authentic, meaningful relationships with all stakeholders.
What is Brand Authenticity?
Brand authenticity is more than just a marketing buzzword or a box-ticking exercise for large companies; it’s the indispensable quality of being genuine and transparent in a brand’s messaging, visuals, and (above all) actions.
Authentic brands are consistent in their actions, transparent with their policies and communications (both internally and externally) and cut through the noise to create an emotional connection with their customers.
Authentic brands don’t say – they do. They are action-led companies that are consistent with their messages, understand their consumers and act with integrity and accountability.
The Importance of Brand Authenticity in 2023
Brand authenticity has always been important, but in 2023, authenticity can be the difference between loyalty, indifference, and (in some cases) animosity.
Today, consumers are more discerning than ever about the products and services that they purchase or use. With more choice and more exposure to communication and branding than ever before, consumers want to know that they can trust the brands that they choose.
Authenticity is about being true to a vision, consistent messaging and unapologetically being true to who you are as a brand. It means delivering on promises, showing that you genuinely care about your customers, and even admitting when you fall short.
Humility is in short supply, which means that brands willing to face their mistakes and misgivings have the potential to lose loyal customers and win new ones in one fell swoop.
How to Build Brand Authenticity in 2023
Building brand authenticity isn’t a one-and-done exercise. Just like any aspect of building a business, brands must accept that building an authentic brand requires ongoing care and maintenance.
Whether you’re just getting started, or you’re revisiting your mission and your strategy for authenticity, here are some of the main ways to build your brand authenticity.
Transition from words to actions
Authenticity is a continuous process, with a moving target. For brands to demonstrate consistency in their values and beliefs, they must back up their words with actions to earn the trust of their customers.
To build a strong and authentic brand, it’s not enough to state your values and beliefs; you must also act on them. Today, customers are incredibly savvy and discerning, which means that they can quickly spot inconsistencies between words and actions, and they’re not afraid to call you out on them.
For brands to create a loyal, trusting audience they must live their values and include them in everything that they do – not just in their marketing materials or PR exercises.
Intrinsic motivation for change
When a brand embraces a new purpose or brand vision, it should be driven by intrinsic motivation. Purpose must reflect the values of the brand and align the needs of the stakeholders – staff, customers, shareholders, and community.
Intrinsic motivation is an internal drive to pursue a goal or company mission that aligns with the values, beliefs, and interest of the brand. When a brand is driven by an intrinsic desire, the organisation is more likely to be authentic and reflect the core beliefs, rather than simply trying to appease what they think their customers want to hear.
Authenticity cannot be achieved through grandstanding or public relations exercises; it must be led by a clear sense of direction that aligns with core values and beliefs.
Be yourself, everyone else is already taken
Oscar Wilde’s famous quote holds an important lesson for brands looking to build an authentic and consistent brand message. In today’s crowded marketplace, it’s tempting to fall into the trap of branding by déjà vu or trying to imitate leaders in your market. However, this approach can lead to a diluted message that lacks authenticity and fails to land with customers.
Tech giant Apple is a prime example of owning your space in the market. At a time when Windows and IBM were pushing for faster computers, better microchips, and faster processing speeds, Apple prioritised design and user experience over technical specifications. Rather than trying to imitate market leader or follow trends, Apple was able to develop its own distinct style and messaging that resonated with a different type of customer.
Remember, there is no shame in taking inspiration from other brands; however, it’s important that your messaging supports your unique brand identity and resonates with your target audience.
Own shortcomings or misgivings with transparency
Transparency is an indispensable tool in building authenticity. Authentic brands must be willing to own their failures and shortcomings and be candid with customers. No brand is perfect and customers are OK with that. However, what they will not tolerate is a lack of transparency or attempts to cover up mistakes through deception.
One important example of a brand owning up to their mistakes and using it to reinforce their brand’s authenticity is Patagonia. Back in 2011, the outdoor market leader discovered that some of their cotton was not actually 100% organic. Instead of trying to cover it up, Patagonia admitted to their mistake and worked with suppliers to understand where things went wrong and improve their practices. By embracing their shortcomings, Patagonia was able to retain and build their values as an ethical and sustainable brand.
Brands that are willing to own their failures and be candid with customers are bound to lose customers along the way; however, they are also more likely to earn their trust and long-term loyalty.
Avoid Faux Pas
Avoid greenwashing, virtue signalling and grandstanding. Building an authentic brand needs to start from within.
Popular fashion retailer H&M was caught out back in 2019 when they launched a new sustainable fashion line called “Conscious,” which was marketed as being made from organic cotton and recycled materials. For a company that has been accused of adding to the fast fashion pollution problem, the “Conscious” fashion line aimed to reposition the brand’s place in the fast fashion economy.
However, an investigation by the Norwegian Consumer Authority found that H&M was not actually recycled or organic and the company had engaged in greenwashing to boost their image and market appeal.
Pushing a branding image on your existing customers and taking hard stances may seem like a quick win for cutting through the noise and getting your messaging out there in a hurry, but it can also result in the opposite of your intended effect.
Remember, building an authentic brand takes time, so don’t rush it and get your already loyal customers offside.
Brand Authenticity Honour Roll
Building authenticity is hard. But here are some companies that nailed the brief and excelled their brands and messaging through consistent, purposeful action.
Goodman Group – making space for greatness. Their clients include some of the world’s leading organisations and they have put their purpose into practice in everything they do, always being totally authentic in their communication, delivery, customer, and staff experience.
TOMS Shoes – Since their inception into the market in 2006, TOMS have been committed to their Buy-One-Give-One Model. For each pair of shoes that are sold by the company, the program pledges to donate a pair of shoes to a child in need.
Patagonia – Outdoor and lifestyle brand Patagonia made waves in 2022 when founder Yvon Chouinard announced that all of the company’s profits would be donated to fight the Earth’s climate devastation. The company pledged to use “every dollar received to fight the environmental crisis, protect nature and biodiversity, and support thriving communities, as quickly as possible”.
Dove – While not as philanthropical as Patagonia and TOMS in their approach, Dove is a prime example of brand authenticity. Their ground-breaking ‘Real Beauty’ campaign back in 2004 showcases a clear vision and mission to align their marketing efforts with building trust and changing public perception. Today, Dove’s branding continues to reinforce those same values to a new generation.
Why Building Brand Authenticity Is Essential in 2023
Today, customers have more choice than ever before, which means that standing out and creating a unique and memorable brand identity is more important than ever before. Customers are increasingly savvy, and they expect brands to be transparent, consistent, and ethical.
Building an image of authenticity out of necessity or contrived values is a recipe for disaster. Creating an authentic brand requires a commitment to stay true to your unique identity, demonstrating your commitment, as well as owning up to any shortcomings or misgivings that may happen along the way.