Truthiness, post-fact & fake news:
The value of Brand Authenticity
In an era where debates are framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from actual facts, consumers are experiencing levels of distrust in businesses, brands and organisations higher than ever. Coupled with the fact that attitudes such as truthiness (judging something on how it feels) and post-fact (forming an opinion whilst ignoring facts) are becoming increasingly mainstream, and with fake news also on the rise, it is more important than ever for organisations to prove that they are authentic and deserve their stakeholders’ trust.
In this guide, we walk you through all you need to know about brand authenticity and share what communicators can do to ensure that their brands are seen as transparent and authentic. Read on to find out more!
Brand Authenticity: What is it and why does it matter?
Brand authenticity is defined as the extent to which a brand is faithful toward itself, true to its consumers and other stakeholders as well as motivated by responsibility. According to Cohn & Wolfe’s Authentic Brands study, the five global brands that consumers perceive to be the most authentic are Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google and PayPal. In Germany, some of the most trusted brands include Volkswagen, Edeka, Frosch and Weihenstephan.
In this day and age, brand authenticity can have a drastic impact on a company’s bottom line: statistics show that 91% of customers value honesty in the companies from which they buy products and services and 63% of customers choose authentic brands over those that aren’t as transparent.
Interestingly, while many companies think that they’ve nailed brand authenticity, consumers beg to differ. More specifically, 92% of marketers believe that most or all of the content they create is deemed authentic by consumers but a majority of consumers say that only 50% of brands and organisations create authentic content.
Brand transparency versus brand authenticity
What’s the difference between brand transparency and brand authenticity? In a nutshell, transparency refers to how much a company shares with its audience whereas authenticity refers to how truthful and consistent it’s being in the process.
Think of transparency as a small subset of authenticity — brands need to be transparent in order to be authentic but there are other factors involved as well. Check out marketing expert Pam Moore‘s insightful podcast episode on the difference between brand authenticity and brand transparency.
Key components of authentic brands
According to the Perceived Brand Authenticity (PBA) scale published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, brand authenticity is made up of these key components: continuity, credibility, integrity and symbolism.
Firstly, continuity refers to a brand that’s faithful to itself and a brand that can withstand the test of time. Next, credibility refers to brands that are honest and follow through on their promises to their stakeholders. With integrity, a brand should have a set of principles that it abides by and carry out projects or initiatives to give back to society. Finally, symbolism is present when a brand reflects important values that people care about and add meaning to people’s lives.
Benefits & risks of brand authenticity
Brand authenticity brings many benefits to the table, but it also comes about with a certain degree of risk.
The first benefit of brand authenticity is that it allows companies to cut through the noise. When companies are authentic in all they say and do, this helps them draw and attract customers. Authentic brands don’t have to rely heavily on outbound marketing and shoving their ads or marketing messages down their customers’ throats. As they’re creating value for their customers, these naturally seek them out.
On top of that, companies who are authentic also benefit by being able to form stronger connections with their customers. As authentic brands reflect important values that consumers care about and since their values and principles resonate with their stakeholders’, this, for example, makes it easier for them to appeal to their customers’ emotions and win them over for life.
On the flip side, consumers are growing increasingly savvy and they’re quick to scrutinise brands and condemn companies that they feel are being deceitful or inconsistent.
Take the example of Unilever which owns many personal care brands, including Dove and Axe. While Dove was initially praised for its ‘Dove Campaign for Real Beauty’, consumers quickly pointed out that ads from Axe directly contradicted the messages in Dove’s campaign and lambasted Unilever as being hypocritical and not genuine.
But it doesn’t even need to be a self-inflicted issue – such as in the case of Pepsi’s 2017 ad with Kendall Jenner. Even if a brand is fully authentic, certain risk levels pertain since the rise of fake news might directly harm marketing or branding efforts. As many large brands advertise through third-party and automated platforms, they lose control over where the ads appear. Therefore, brand ads may pop up next to fake news or other fraudulent content that possibly conflicts with the brands’ values.
Brand authenticity: Can you fake it?
Here’s the million-dollar question: Is it possible to fake brand authenticity? Our take is that it’s not. With consumers being so discerning and ready to spot any inconsistencies in a brand’s messaging, brands who are trying to fake their authenticity will get caught out – sooner or later.
Vern Oakley, CEO of Tribe Pictures and author of Leadership in Focus: Bringing Out Your Best on Camera, concurs. As he puts it, certain individuals or actors may be able to fake it in the public sphere – but most people don’t have the training or the disposition to fake it. There’s also the possibility that your employees will give you away: If a company doesn’t walk the talk, people are bound to talk and word will eventually get out.
Authenticity and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
CSR has been around for a long time now but as consumers are now placing a bigger emphasis on authenticity, they’re also increasingly holding corporations accountable for effecting social change. In fact, statistics show that 90% of the consumers would purchase a product because a company supports an issue they care about and that 75% will refuse to buy from a company if they learn it supports an issue contrary to their beliefs.
For organisations who would like to grow their CSR strategy, here are a few areas that you may choose to focus on:
- Environment: What can you do to reduce your carbon footprint and slow down climate change?
- Philanthropy: What important causes and organisations can you donate to? How can you give back to society?
- Labour: How can you tweak your supply chain to ensure that all your products and services are produced ethically?
- Volunteering: How can you mobilise your employee base to volunteer with relevant organisations?
B2B brands and campaigns that demonstrate authenticity
If you want to make brand authenticity a key strategy for your company, then it makes sense to learn from the best of the best. Here are three B2B brands who are nailing it when it comes to authenticity:
Kapost is a content platform that’s “obsessed with the customer experience”. The company successfully humanises its brand and demonstrates authenticity via its blog posts, such as “How to Launch an eBook All Wrong – Plus How to Do it Right”. The blog post that centres around Kapost’s failure shows that the brand is humble, honest and doesn’t pretend to be perfect.
MarketingProfs’ voice is engaging, human and goes a long way in demonstrating authenticity. The company also goes the extra mile to interact with its audience and create a conversation. One way it does this is by offering an interactive assessment – “Discover Your Marketing Spirit Animal” – that seeks to understand each of its customers and their personality type.
Like MarketingProfs, Slack utilises a conversational and engaging tone to build rapport with its customers. The company also uses User Generated Content (UGC) to put the focus on its customers, rather than constantly talking about itself. For instance, Slack set up a standalone Twitter account (@SlackLoveTweets) to retweet messages from users who talk about how much they love the company’s product:
— Maher Sinjary (@mahersinjary) May 16, 2019
Creating brand authenticity: Best practice
How do you go about creating brand authenticity? Here are a few best practices to keep in mind:
Build relationships – Consistency is central to the idea of brand authenticity, which is to say: you can’t build brand authenticity overnight. Bearing this in mind, come up with an action plan that you can use to build relationships over the next six months to a year. Over time, your consumers will grow to trust you and put their faith in you and that’s when the magic happens.
Understand your target audiences – An in-depth understanding of your target audiences’ pain points is essential – as is communicating in a (direct) way that will resonate. Use the Ubermetrics monitoring tool to get access to all relevant insights.
Get the entire team’s buy-in – If you want to convey brand authenticity, your entire team has to live and breathe the same principles and values — simple as that. Here, you’ll have to make sure everyone is aligned and on the same page and the best way to do that is to sit down and have regular conversations with your team.
Open up the floor to your audience – The worst thing you can do as a brand? Keep plugging yourself, talking about yourself and not giving your customers a chance to speak. As Michael Boychuk, a former executive creative director of Amazon, says: “You can say whatever you want, however you want to say it, but if you’re not interacting with people authentically, advertising is nothing.”
Use storytelling techniques – We all love stories which is why storytelling is essential within the context of brand authenticity. Such stories will aide in humanising your brand which, in turn, will build trust with stakeholders.
Work with user-generated content – At the end of the day, authentic brands understand that it’s important to create a two-way conversation and shine a light on their customers. To do this, invest in user-generated content (UGC); this is viewed as the most authentic form of content by consumers globally, with consumers being 2.4x more likely to say UGC is more authentic than brand-created content.
A final word on brand authenticity
Consumers and other stakeholders are becoming increasingly sophisticated and – aside from looking at price and convenience – they also want to spend their money on brands that are honest and authentic. Want to win your customers’ trust and get them to stay loyal to your organisation for life? Making brand authenticity a key part of your strategy will help you do just that.