5 Ideas to Create an Authentic Brand
With hundreds of thousands of products in the world, standing out as a brand is becoming more and more of a challenge. One very important factor in standing out is brand authenticity. Furthermore, as millennials take over as the biggest spending generation, this becomes more true, as authenticity is one of the most dominant millennial brand preferences.
What is Brand Authenticity?
Brand authenticity was defined by the Journal of Brand Management in 2017 as “the extent to which a brand is considered unique, legitimate, truthful to its claims, and lacking falsity.” Authenticity builds the customer-brand relationship by creating an emotional connection and making the brand more relatable. This has been shown to provide more favorable outcomes, with one study showing that perceived authenticity “positively influences consumers’ behavioral intentions.” The presence of emotion can increase brand memorability and make consumers more likely to buy from the brand again.
Another major advantage of brand authenticity is its ability to build trust. When consumers feel as though a brand is transparent with their values and motives, it allows them to develop more trust in the brand. Trustworthiness is a distinguishing characteristic for brands and should be prioritized, as millennials and Generation Z are continuously losing trust in businesses.
Therefore, an authentic brand is a brand whose customers consider to be truthful to its claims. These brands have the advantage of creating an emotional connection with their customers, which in turn leads to more repurchasing and higher levels of advocacy.
Why Authenticity is Important in 2019: The Age of Millennials
In 2019, millennials will continue to boast a buying power of around $200 billion. Brands who believe they don’t have to cater to these consumers will flounder--millennials but are not spending their savings carelessly or without research. Millennials are socially aware consumers that look for more in the brands they purchase from than just good prices or the presence of an item they need. They look for relevance, peer recommendations, and morality within brands.
An overwhelming 90% of millennials say authenticity is important when deciding which brands they support. Yet, this year’s Deloitte Millennial Survey reveals that only 48% of millennials and members of Generation Z believe businesses behave ethically and 62% believe leaders/businesses have no ambition beyond making money. This shows that brand authenticity is a competitive advantage. Furthermore, millennials rely heavily on and are greatly influenced by peer recommendations, meaning that the value of creating positive word of mouth through authenticity can’t be undervalued.
Brands must build and maintain authenticity to avoid being disregarded by young and powerful consumers. Millennials want to see brands with clearly articulated intentions and goals as a company, their stances on relevant societal issues, and what their products or services have to offer--and they want brands to be true to their word.
Ways to Develop an Authentic Brand
Find Your Mission and Stand By It
One of the best ways to create and maintain brand authenticity is to be a mission-focused company. Being mission-focused entails having a clear mission statement that is used to guide a business and keep it in line with its collective values and purpose. In a report from American Express last year, 76% of millennials surveyed stated that a successful business needs to be guided by a genuine purpose and 62% wanted to invoke positive change in the world. Millennials want to feel good about the brands they’re purchasing from, and having a strong purpose at the forefront of a brand’s identity makes it stand out more to these young consumers.
An example of a brand who excels at being mission-focused is the charitable shoe company TOMS. The brand’s “One for One” program promises that every time someone purchases a TOMS product, the brand will match that purchase with a donation or a charitable service. Whether the match is a pair of shoes, improved access to clean water, assistance facilitating safer births, or medical services that give blind people the ability to see again, TOMS ensures that a customer’s purchase helps someone else in need. This program lets consumers contribute to those who are less fortunate through choosing a product carefully. The process of buying a pair of TOMS shoes is no different than that of another brand, yet customers know that their TOMS purchase is also going to help improve the life of another human being. TOMS tops the ranks as a brand committed to positive change and charitable business.
Project Clear Brand Values
A brand value, a value that the brand holds as important to their company, can contribute significantly to a millennial’s decision to purchase from a company or not. Brand values, which could range anywhere from creativity to transparency to morality, define what a brand stands for and what qualities they want their consumers to associate them with. Clear brand values allow consumers to identify themselves with a brand and feel more connected to it. Douglas Atkin, author of The Culting of Brands: turn your customers into true believers, notes that “the more that people understand one another and what values they have or what goal they share, the closer you get to a true community.” The feeling of connection to a brand creates more brand loyalty, more repeat purchases, and more customer advocacy.
Last year, Nike decided to not only state their brand values, but act in accordance with them. Nike’s mission statement states that as a brand, it values sustainability, making a positive impact in the world, and expanding human potential. Nike took their brand values a step further by showcasing American football star Colin Kaepernick as their new brand ambassador--an athlete surrounded by political and social controversy. Kaepernick is famous for kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racial prejudice in America and has not been signed to an NFL team since he opted out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers in 2017. Nike took the opportunity to display their support of racial equality by hiring Kaepernick to be a face of its brand alongside the tagline “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” In terms of brand authenticity, walking the walk is just as important as talking the talk in terms of sharing your company’s values.
Emphasize Brand and Consumer Storytelling
Storytelling is essential to developing brand authenticity, as it humanizes a brand and gives it a personality amongst a sea of robotic, fact-stating companies. A brand that defines and characterizes itself through stories becomes a more personal brand--a quality millennials crave-- and differentiates itself from competitors. Famous entrepreneur Richard Branson explains "storytelling is a great way to get your views across, highlight how you and your company are different than your competitors, and also to work out new ideas."
Airbnb, the hospitality service focused primarily on homestays, harnesses the power of storytelling exceptionally well. Their entire business is based on consumer stories and customers opening up their homes for others to enjoy. Instead of Airbnb telling consumers about their business, they let customers tell each other, creating a greater sense of trust and transparency. Both hosts and guests are encouraged to share their experiences on Airbnb’s website, which even features a “Travel Stories” page that showcase stories from the Airbnb community. In that way, they are letting customers tell the Airbnb story, a perfect way to create an authentic brand.
While storytelling is one way to put a brand’s focus on the consumer, there are various other methods to improve a brand’s degree of customer-centricity. Being customer-centric mainly relies on a brand’s understanding of their customers and their needs/wants and their strategies to satisfy these needs. The American Marketing Association identify the seven pillars of customer centricity as “experience, loyalty, communications, assortment, promotions, price, and feedback” and emphasize that paying attention to customer insights in these areas can boost customer loyalty. Seeking feedback and enabling two-way communication between a brand and its consumers is especially crucial to both customer centricity and the improvement of a brand’s products/services. In short, being customer-centric shows your consumers that your brand cares about them and boosts authenticity because it shows you listen to and take the time to know the preferences of your consumers.
Amazon is perhaps the biggest and best example of customer centricity as they allow customers to write and read countless product reviews. The company constantly seeks feedback from their customers to improve its platform and its products, making customer satisfaction and accessibility a top priority. Founder Jeff Bezos believes in focusing on the long-term rather than celebrating short-term successes and promised in 1997 to “focus relentlessly” on customers.
Don’t Be Afraid to Be Emotive
Part of developing brand authenticity comes from the ability to express emotion and empathy as a brand. A Stackla report from last year reveals that 86% of consumers say authenticity is important when deciding what brands they like and support, and brands must show emotion to be considered authentic. Consumers want to feel like they are doing business with real people when they purchase an item--they want to spend their money on brands that care about the same issues as them and can relate to their feelings. While use of the “emotional appeal” in advertising can be misleading or exaggerated, genuine emotion and passion in branding can be far more useful in building authenticity than just catering to consumers’ sense of rationality.
Skin and hair care brand Dove has no difficulty expressing emotion in their branding. Dove’s mission is to make beauty a source of confidence rather than anxiety, pledging to never use models in their advertising and instead celebrate real, natural beauty. Through campaigns like the “Be Real Body Image Pledge” and the Dove Self-Esteem Project, Dove seeks to empower women and tackle real emotional obstacles in women’s lives.
Customers can sniff out inauthentic brands and millennials won’t tolerate them. Brands that can define themselves, articulate their values, and connect with their target consumers will develop authenticity that attracts consumers and increases customer loyalty, but these efforts must be genuine. If not, brands can actually decrease their popularity and the amount of trust consumers place in them. Take Pepsi, for example, and their advertisement featuring Kendall Jenner in 2017. The ad shows Jenner handing a can of Pepsi to a policeman amid civil rights protests in attempt to solve racial tensions. The spot was a total flop and Pepsi and Jenner were widely criticized for trying to make light of the Black Lives Matter Movement for racial justice in America. Pepsi’s insincere attempt to take on a social issue backfired because it was inauthentic and was not truly a statement that aligned with Pepsi’s motives.
In order to build an authentic brand, businesses must consider who they are as well as who their customers are. When a brand defines itself, it’s easier for customers to align themselves with that brand and form a relationship. Moreover, brand authenticity is a must-have for millennial consumers, and as they continue to gain purchasing power, brands must develop this trait to stay afloat.
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