We’ve been exploring the 2017 Cohn & Wolfe Authentic Brands study, which surveyed over 15,000 consumers to examine their perception of 1,400 popular brands. The result, the “Authentic 100”, is a list of the top 100 U.S. brands ranked according to consumer perception of authenticity. What can these brands reveal about successfully creating brand authenticity?
Let’s continue to examine the precedent set by the 10 most authentic brands. They provide powerful examples of how the most trusted brands in the U.S. have built a reputation for authenticity, consistency in today’s saturated marketplace.
The Top 10 Authentic Brands
Brand authenticity is the result of being internally consistent in product/service delivery, customer policies, and external messaging. By “staying true” to the character of a brand and the “promise” it makes to its customers, marketers, product developers, and brand-builders create authenticity and provide value to new and returning customers alike. Let’s take a deeper look at more of the top brands whose consistency has earned them this honor.
The Promise of Wholesomeness
Some of the youngest brands in the Top 10, Newman’s Own and Burt’s Bees originated in the early 1980’s, well before today’s emphasis on sustainability, corporate responsibility, and organic ingredients. They were ahead of their time in anticipating these market trends, but arrived at them authentically through a commitment to homemade products. At #8 and #3 respectively, Newman’s Own and Burt’s Bees represent the promise of wholesomeness.
It all starts with a name. Newman’s Own was famously founded by actor Paul Newman and a business partner after their homemade salad dressing gained a following among their friends. While expanding to include a more diverse product line, the brand stayed true to its home-grown roots by donating all proceeds to charity (making it the most philanthropic brand in the Top 10). “Newman’s Own” is smart branding – the name calls attention to its unique, homemade recipes while personalizing the brand with the face of a well-loved public figure. What better way to evoke authenticity than by emphasizing the personal?
Burt’s Bees does this as well, although Burt himself wasn’t famous when the brand first launched at a craft fair in Maine. By playing up its local, homemade character, the brand creates the perception of authenticity even though its products are no longer made at home. With a full line of organic home and body products, Burt’s Bees has emphasized the wholesomeness of nature to great effect, becoming a favorite line at Whole Foods and beyond.
The Promise of Nostalgia
We hinted at this promise in a previous article in which we delved into the continued success of brands like M&Ms & Lego. These brands “effectively leverage the nostalgia of consumer’s childhood memories to fulfill the brand’s promise” – playing on consumer’s long-standing relationship with the brand to evoke feelings of warmth and comfort. Crayola and Hershey’s, the two oldest brands in the Top 10, have effectively created that nostalgia through multiple generations and maintained their authenticity through consistency in their products and marketing.
Crayola, which lands at #4, has been careful when updating their product formula over the company’s century-plus lifetime. They know that consumers have an expectation about the look, feel, and even smell of their creative products, and have honored those expectations while continually expanding their product offerings. This mix of innovation and tradition is likewise a feature of Hershey’s (#7) longstanding success. These products, meant to be shared with children by caring adults in their lives, keep nostalgia alive in an authentic, consistent way that has earned them multiples generations worth of brand enthusiasts.
The Promise of Convenience
Amazon and PayPal top the list at #1 and #2, respectively. These are “Millennial” brands, tentpoles of today’s innovative, internet-based economy. While young, they’ve demonstrated consistency of service and earned loyal followers who consider them authentic due to the promise that they fulfill.
For PayPal, this has meant being the most trusted name in online payment processing since its origin as part of eBay in 1998. Its acquisition of Venmo, a person-to-person payment platform, brought the brand even closer to home.
For Amazon, which tops the list, authenticity may be largely a result of familiarity. After all, it’s one of the biggest, most-discussed brands in the U.S., and one that has at times been criticized for crowding out local retailers. This says something very interesting about perceived authenticity: a brand that replaced mom-and-pop stores can still be seen as authentic because it doesn’t shy away from its true nature – a vast platform offering an unlimited number of products that can be trusted to deliver on time. Amazon has confirmed its authenticity and fought back against charges of megalomania by owning up to its mistakes and providing excellent customer service.
The Promise of Authenticity
The companies that make up Cohn & Wolfe’s Top 10 Authentic Brands are more different than they are alike, although various themes jump out when given close consideration. What they have in common is their consistency – the key to authenticity – and a commitment to honoring the promise that they make to consumers. Today’s brand builders should take note, identify their own brand promise, and aspire to honor it and earn their own reputation for authenticity.