Authenticity in Branding & Marketing: What’s Your Brand’s Promise?

The recently released 2017 Cohn & Wolfe Authentic Brands study is the result of an ambitious undertaking. Cohn & Wolfe surveyed over 15,000 consumers across a wide variety of markets in search of a deeper understanding of their perception of 1,400 popular brands. Culminating in the “Authentic 100” – the top 100 U.S. brands ranked according to consumer perception of authenticity – the study “examines the role of authenticity in business, the attributes associated with an authentic brand and the impact of authenticity on consumer… attitudes and behaviors.”

It’s no surprise that authenticity is an attribute that is highly valued by today’s consumers. In our social media-saturated society, consumers have more opportunities than ever before to interact with brands on a “personal” level and they demand that engagement in exchange for their loyalty to certain brands and products. Let’s take a look at how consumers perceive authenticity and what that means for today’s brand builders.

What is Authenticity in Branding?

Authenticity, as many branding and marketing professionals know, is the key to building a “trusted brand” relationship with consumers. In turn, that trust creates an ongoing relationship – the holy grail of brand loyalty – which ensures that consumers return to a particular brand again and again, purchasing familiar products, embracing new ones, and sharing their enthusiasm for the brand with their network. If authenticity is the key, how can brand builders embrace it?

A quick look at the dictionary definition of “Authentic” is in order:

Definition of Authentic

1 :worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact

2 :not false or imitation :real, actual

3 :true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character

Each of the numbered definitions offers a distinct lesson to marketers. First comes fact. In the era of “fake news” and a crisis of trust in corporations, politicians, and institutions, consumers are prioritizing truthfulness and transparency. For authenticity to create trust, it must be built on a foundation of truth.

Additionally, the consumers who are most likely to become brand loyalists place great value on having “the real thing” rather than an imitation or a fake. In order to compete with the explosion of generic brands, which are especially popular with the Millennial market, marketers must lean into the cultural cache that comes with authenticity.

Finally, the strongest path to authenticity (in my opinion) is to be “true to one’s own character.” In other words, consistency between messaging and delivery is the key to authenticity. Once a brand has established what its purpose is, what it stands for, and what it delivers to consumers, it cannot abandon those principles without betraying its authenticity as a brand. (For two examples of how major brands have succeeded at this despite adversity, check out our previous blog on building consumer trust.)

What is Your Brand’s Promise?

The branding and design experts at Blue Zenith recently explored authenticity in branding, writing that “a surprising number of companies attempt to create an artificial image and incorporate it into their advertising campaign. This often stems from a misconception about your company’s role in your industry or your local market.” The first step towards delivering an authentic brand experience is finding clarity around your brand identity and character so that you can consistently fulfill it.

How can a brand remain true to its character? One powerful way to keep authenticity at the forefront is to consider a brand’s promise – what a company promises consumers through their brand image and marketing. What does your brand deliver to consumers? Some examples might be “to make lives easier through innovative technology,” “to make it simple to keep a clean and healthy home,” or “to deliver you to your destination in style.” Once you’ve identified the promise that your brand is making to consumers, you need to live up to it in your product development, marketing, and customer engagement.

Authenticity, then, is the result of a brand being internally consistent in product/service delivery, customer policies, and external messaging. Where some brands go astray is in prioritizing internal expectations over customer expectations, creating a dissonance that reveals inauthenticity. Blue Zenith notes that “Authenticity doesn’t require that you remove any filter between your business and your customers, but it does require that you not lie or attempt to cover up your weaknesses. Instead, focus on what your business does well, and build your brand around the strengths that make you superior to your competitors.”

Successful Brand Authenticity

In the coming weeks, we’ll be looking even deeper into how to successfully create brand authenticity by looking at the 10 most authentic brands from Cohn & Wolfe’s recent study. We’ll examine their perceived authenticity through the lens of brand promise and how each company delivers on that promise in unique ways. Stay tuned for more insight into actionable ways to build authentic, consistent brands in today’s competitive marketplace!

To check out the next installment in our series on the Top 10 Authentic Brands, click here.

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