Really it all boils down to honesty – in everything that a brand says and does. Consumers are quite sophisticated and informed. They can see through think veils of inauthentic storytelling, dishonest product or service claims, efforts at pulling wool over their eyes when things go bad and outright lies.
”Brand Authenticity happens when a brand’s products or service, it’s core values, it’s brand promise and it’s messaging all align. The Journal of Consumer Psychology defines it as “The extent to which consumers perceive a brand to be faithful toward itself, true to its consumers, motivated by caring and responsibility, and able to support consumers in being true to themselves.”
A brand can be considered authentic when “A brand that has values and morals and stands by them no matter what while honestly divulging its practices (flaws and all). In fact, the thing people most wanted was open and honest communications about products and services. And that finding was consistent around the world.” says Geoff Beattie, Cohn Global Practice Leader of Corporate Affairs.
The authentic chain goes like this:
Brand Core Values -> Brand Promise -> Brand Messaging -> Brand Product or Service Experience
So authenticity really begins from the brand core values and how they filter down to the experience the customer has with a brand – at every touch point.
Zappos is a brand that has remained true to its brand values and mission for over 15 years. By publishing their core values online and writing a lot of articles about them, Zappos set themselves up for a commitment to those values. They had no choice but to make good on those promises. Every brand should do this. Most brands keep their core values hidden. Either they do not have any values nailed down or they are not fully committed to the values they do have. They are afraid of making them public since they are not confident they can stick to the values.
Here are the 10 core values that Zappos stood by:
1. Deliver WOW Through Service
2. Embrace and Drive Change
3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
5. Pursue Growth and Learning
6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
8. Do More With Less
9. Be Passionate and Determined
10. Be Humble
If you look at any of Zappos’s touchpoints, you will see one or more of these core values reflected and delivered. This is what makes Zappos so authentic.
There are dozens of such brands that are authentic. Too many to list here.
How do you create brand authenticity?
Start with creating a set of core values that you can believe in and those that you want to be committed to. All your core values do not have to be values that your target audience also believes in.
Then work on your brand promise. Create a promise that you would like to get if you were a customer of your product or service. How would you like to be treated as a customer? What kind of experience would you like to have? What would you accept as authentic?
Create a brand strategy that uses your core values and promises as milestones on the path to greatness. Position your brand using these milestones. Then create a messaging strategy that communicates your positioning to your audience.
Be bold and unafraid to make your core values public. In fact, it is good to make them public so you can make yourself accountable for upholding the values.
Let Feminist Apparel be a cautionary tale: Brands don’t have the capacity for ideology beyond capitalism. There’s no such thing as a feminist company, and there never has been. – Says Amanda Mull in a Racked article about how the CEO of a brand called Feminist Apparel fired everyone in the company when they discovered he was sexual abuser and asked him to resign from the company he founded.
The story of Feminist Apparel shows how bad a brand’s authenticity can be tainted by events or actions of stake holders that violate the values or the promise of the brand.