Case Studies in Authentic Branding: UPS, AAA, Lego, & M&Ms

We recently explored the 2017 Cohn & Wolfe Authentic Brands study, which surveyed over 15,000 consumers to examine their perception of 1,400 popular brands. The “Authentic 100” was the result: a list of the top 100 U.S. brands ranked according to consumer perception of authenticity. Now, we’ll look deeper into how to successfully create brand authenticity through the example of the 10 most authentic brands from Cohn & Wolfe’s recent research.

We’ll examine their perceived authenticity through the lens of a brand’s “promise”what a company promises consumers through their brand image and marketing – and how each company delivers on that promise in their own way. These case studies provide powerful takeaways from the most trusted brands in the U.S. and insight into actionable methods for building authentic, consistent brands in today’s competitive marketplace.

The Top 10 Authentic Brands

What is brand authenticity? It’s the result of a brand being internally consistent in product/service delivery, customer policies, and external messaging. When a brand consistently lives up to the promise it makes to consumers, they develop trust in that brand, leading to a perception of authenticity and care. By being true to the character of a brand, marketers, product developers, and brand-builders can create authenticity and provide value to new and dedicated customers alike. Let’s take a look at the top brands whose consistency has earned them this honor.

The Promise of Reliability

Sometimes consistency is all a brand needs to thrive, especially when the brand’s fundamental promise is to deliver results without wavering. The ability to “deliver” is quite literal in the case of UPS, which landed the #10 spot for brand authenticity. The UPS brand today is summed up by the slogan “We (heart) Logistics” – a promise that your packages will be reliably shipped and delivered, and that UPS can be your partner in logistical matters. Their simple, effective slogan demonstrates rationality and reliability without any bells and whistles, which is exactly what consumers get when they use UPS. This branding approach clearly resonates with consumers who value the brand’s straightforward authenticity.

Another major brand valued for reliability, AAA, clocks in at #9 on the list. AAA is the third longest enduring brand in the Top 10 (behind Hershey’s and Crayola) and has been demonstrating reliability since 1902. The nonprofit brand promises to assist the nation’s drivers and consistently follows through with roadside assistance, safety information, and even lobbying for safer roads and lower gas prices. AAA’s nonprofit status surely adds to its authenticity among consumers, who also value the reliability that is central to the brand’s public image. AAA epitomizes the mutually fulfilling relationship between feelings of safety and authenticity.

The Promise of Variety

The next examples from the Top 10 Authentic Brands prove that consistency and innovation can coexist. Indeed, brands that successfully stay true to their initial promise while expanding their product offerings are some of the most treasured by consumers. The intersection of nostalgia and newness has been fertile ground for these brands:

We’ve previously explored Lego’s successful evolution over its long history of providing innovative ways to play and create. The heart of Lego’s promise is to produce the building blocks of imaginative play, which has enabled the brand to outlast countless toy trends and win a place in the hearts of customers worldwide. Over more than 8 decades, Lego has expanded from simple building blocks to crossover-branded playsets, video games, and even movies. Their reputation earns them the #6 spot on the lists and rests on the ability to stay faithful to the brand’s promise while delivering a dazzling variety of products across many different platforms.

Another brand known for its vast array of product offerings is the candy company M&Ms, which lands at #5. Beginning with the original candy we all know and love in 1941, the brand has diversified to include flavors such as dark chocolate, pumpkin spice, pretzel, dulce de leche, coconut and cherry. While many consumers prefer the “traditional” candy they grew up with, they are excited to try new M&Ms flavors because they trust the brand to deliver a delicious experience every time. M&Ms’ reputation for authenticity effectively leverages the nostalgia of consumer’s childhood memories to fulfill the brand’s promise of candy that “melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”

A Brand Promise, Fulfilled

These four brands have more than perceived authenticity in common. They each make a clear promise to consumers and then consistently deliver. UPS wears its straightforward simplicity on its sleeve. AAA connotes safety and reliability no matter where you are. Lego offers an imaginative universe waiting to be unboxed. Candy aficionados trust that beneath each vibrantly colored shell, the delicious M&Ms chocolate will be there.

Today’s brand builders would be wise to follow the example of these authentic brands. Through a common commitment to staying true to the character that they advertise to the world, they consistently meet or exceed expectations and earn the perception of authenticity from loyal consumers. By never losing sight of what makes them unique, they develop a trusted reputation that keeps us coming back for more.

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