Brand authenticity: How customers uncover your brand truths
September 5, 2020|
13 min. read
The most powerful moments in stories are when characters discover the solution to their problems by looking inward.
These moments are compelling because the audience expects external, rather than internal, hurdles.
This principle holds true for brands. Success is possible only with a genuine dedication to self-reflection and a commitment to values.
The result of such a positive effort is brand authenticity, which is a major key to success.
This guide will walk you through the unique ways to create authenticity in a manner that fits your goals and vision.
What is brand authenticity?
Brand authenticity happens if a target audience decides that a brand is true to its ideals, honest with its customers and fully transparent. An authentic brand makes real connections with customers through genuine communication, extensive reliability and selfless caring.
“Authenticity requires vulnerability, transparency and integrity.” – Janet Louise Stephenson
So, why is brand authenticity important?
Research has shown time and time again that a company’s truthfulness and sincerity influences its overall brand image. That is to say, the more authentic a brand, the better it is seen by audiences.
This translates to favorability, giving honest and genuine brands a better chance at making sales over competitors.
As you can see, brand authenticity comes with many positive rewards. Let’s get you on the path to success. Here are five ways to build your own brand authenticity.
Be your true brand self: 5 tips to boost brand authenticity
1. Sincerity is only possible if we stick to our ideals
To progress towards authenticity, you must assume that everyone in your target market is a skeptic.
Now, when we approach our branding with a skeptical audience in mind, it becomes clear that the way to win their trust is through sincerity.
Keep in mind that sincerity is black and white. It’s sincere or insincere. There is no alternative, and there is no faking it. Trust me, skepticism isn’t quelled by catchy taglines or prisoner-of-the-moment statements.
It takes a continued commitment to sincerity in order to win your target market and gain true authenticity.
All this being said, what is the best way we can show sincerity? The answer lies in how well we stick to our ideals.
What are brand ideals?
Brand ideals are the ultimate purpose of a brand that goes deeper than the products they offer. Brand ideals give a brand its philosophical meaning and shows how it wants to better its community and the rest of the world.
How do we build our brand ideals?
In order to come up with brand ideals, we need to pinpoint our purpose. In what way does our brand have a higher calling? What are some of its meaningful goals that go beyond profits? How does it practice brand differentiation?
Whatever we settle on, it needs to be clear. Anyone who knows of our brand should also know what it stands for. For example, Honda isn’t just trying to sell cars; they’re selling family safety. Gerber isn’t just a baby food company; it’s a brand committed to keeping babies healthy.
Now that you have a better understanding of brand ideals, let’s take a look at one example that demonstrates a brand sticking to their ideals:
The Herbivore Clothing Company is committed to animal-free products and other accessories which promote a cruelty-free lifestyle.
They go above and beyond to stick to their ideals (and demonstrate sincerity) by offering a list of all the vegan establishments in their surrounding area to customers.
At no cost to the customer, and with no ulterior motive, The Herbivore Clothing Company shows true brand authenticity by caring for animals.
If they announced a partnership with Burger King in order to better promote their newest vegan sandwich, their perceived sincerity would be gone for good.
Even if they apologized, it would be too little too late.
Sincerity can’t be faked, and ideals are only as good as the brand behind them.
2. An honest brand is an authentic brand (so be honest)
“The greatest homage we can pay to truth, is to use it.” – James Russell Lowell
I’m willing to bet that you can name quite a few brands who have been dishonest, in one way or another.
Some of these brands might even still be around, but it’s equally likely that their dishonest moment isn’t forgotten.
It sounds like a no-brainer, yet so many make the mistake of lying or withholding information to their target audience anyway.
Nobody needs a step-by-step guide explaining how to be honest. So instead, I’m going to break down the ways to increase your honesty while avoiding dishonest behaviors.
Don’t backtrack on a promise or make a false claim
As obvious as it seems, brands get caught doing this all the time. In an episode of the iconic show ‘Seinfeld’, Kramer invests in a non-fat yogurt store.
Customers flock to the location, only to find they’re gaining weight from it. As it turns out, the yogurt was misrepresented as non-fat.
As funny as this episode was, there are real-life examples that make it impossible for brands to claim they’re honest or delivering what they promise.
Also keep in mind that your honesty separates you from the competition. Consider three similar brands that sell a pain-reducing pill. It takes four hours for relief from all three pills.
Now, imagine that two of these brands claimed their pill was an ‘instant-relief’ pain pill, while the third took an honest approach.
Initially, the ‘instant-relief’ brands may come out on top, until customers realize the dishonesty. At that point, they’ll see the third brand as superior.
Be as available as you can
It’s disappointing when you’re unable to ask a company a question (or receive an answer). If something goes wrong with a product, it’s reassuring when the company presents itself and is available to help, rather than making it impossible to get into contact.
Be willing to answer inquiries with confidence (and of course, honesty). The reality of the situation is, if you hide from questions, you’ve got something to hide – at least in the minds of your audience.
One popular way to do this is through social media. In fact, customers are asking more and more questions on social media platforms, and they’re expecting valid responses. Make sure you’re accessible and helpful on all major social media sites.
Be as transparent as possible
If you’ve ever taken a multivitamin or other, you’re well aware of the practices different companies take in listing ingredients. Some list every ingredient and its amount; others throw specific elements into a ‘proprietary blend’.
These blends are then given a sneaky nickname to make them sound fancy, when really they’re a way for the company to hide ingredients.
No matter how flawed the truth is, brand transparency trumps secrecy. A great example of this is Taco Bell’s meat. They didn’t cover up anything when it came to their ingredients. They instead admitted that it was only 88% meat. The popular fast food restaurant then listed what went into the other 12%.
Now, clearly they would have preferred if they could have said it was 100% meat, but being transparent and admitting flaws boosted their brand more than a coverup would have.
3. Find unique ways to heighten communication
Technological advances have made it possible to build intimate relationships with customers. There are many different ways to communicate now, and customers expect it.
Here are a few different methods to get your communication on track.
Hit the right pitch so that your communication doesn’t sound like a pitch
Humans are social creatures by nature – we love to communicate! Furthermore, we enjoy laidback, obligation-free communication.
What people don’t like is communication that feels ominous, where at any moment the voice on the other end of the phone is about to attempt a sale.
Even the most unobservant reader will pick up on the fact that your tone sounds like a marketing pitch. It’s up to you to present a conversational feel to messages.
What’s the best way to accomplish this? The most important thing to remember is that communication is all about showing an understanding. We need to show to our customers that we understand them.
Next, we need to let them know that we’re on the same level when speaking to them. Truly listen, truly understand and look for ways to allow customers to engage. Show them it’s allowed and encouraged to speak up about what types of things are valuable to them.
The most successful brands go out of their way to communicate personally with their customers, even if they don’t build an elaborate brand persona. They even go as far as understanding local issues, even if they’re not a local brand.
Imagine you’re in the need for a new automobile. You enter a car lot, looking specifically for a vehicle which meets the highest safety standards.
A car salesperson approaches and asks what you’re looking for. You tell them a black or green mid-size sedan with great safety features.
They lead you to a red sedan. Apart from the color being wrong, you also notice it doesn’t have the safety features you were looking for. Puzzled, you ask the salesperson why they chose this car for you.
They tell you that it’s their most popular sedan and that it’s extremely fast.
This example illustrates the importance of personalization in communication. There is no blanket way to talk to people. Even if most people love a fast car, not everyone does.
Make conversations meaningful
We know how important it is to communicate in the right tone and personalize our contact. With these important factors in mind, we can focus on making all conversations meaningful.
So how do we go about doing this? First, picture how you would like a conversation to go if you were a customer. You’d likely want more than a standardized response, such as, “So and so brand thanks you for your continued service”.
Imagine how much more engaged you would be if they asked thoughtful questions. Think of how it would make you feel if a brand had a genuine conversation with you.
Determine ways to improve current customer conversations and make adjustments. Chances are your customers will feel more connected to you.
4. First know, next appreciate, your customer
Most brands seem to understand half of this equation – they know their customer. However, only the successful brands both know and appreciate customers.
That’s not to say that one is more important than the other, but it’s clear that authenticity can’t be reached without both. Let’s make sure you have a detailed understanding and appreciation of customers.
Know your customers
When I say that it’s important to know your customer, this is different from knowing your target market, though the two overlap.
Think of it this way: you want to know who your customer is and what they’re about. Basically, you need to understand them.
Now, in order to truly understand customers, you have to remember this: they’re always changing. Therefore, their needs are changing as well. If you adapt to these new changes, you’ll be authentic in the eyes of customers.
Appreciate your customers
It’s pretty simple, as a customer, to sense when a brand appreciates you and when they don’t. Also, it doesn’t take much for a lifelong sense of appreciation to sour.
As such, it’s vital to show genuine appreciation for customers. Here are some key ways to accomplish this:
1. Focus your projects around customers
It’s easy to feel appreciated as a customer if it seems like everything a business does is designed for your benefit. Make customers the center of your focus and ensure they understand they are extremely important to you.
2. Show you care with actions, not ads
Brands get caught up in telling their customers how much they care in marketing campaigns and advertisements that they sometimes forget the most important part – following through. Therefore, think of heartfelt ways to appeal to customers and work to accomplish them.
A popular fast-food restaurant once ran a promotion that stated they’ll comp an order if their employee doesn’t greet you properly.
On paper, this seemed like a reasonable enough idea. They were making sure their customers were treated kindly upon each visit. This seemed like good PR for the brand.
However, many restaurants didn’t seem to understand the importance of follow-through, as customers were argued with and/or denied their free order when they made a claim.
Having to fight a brand for a promise they made doesn’t make customers feel appreciated. Make sure your brand actually cares, rather than just promotes that they do.
5. Stay consistently reliable
“Creativity isn’t worth a thing if it isn’t served with an equal amount of reliability.” – Anton Peck
One of the paths to authenticity is paved in reliability. How well do you come through when counted on?
This doesn’t mean that a service or product you provide needs to work without error all the time. Instead, it’s how you behave in situations where customers’ need you. It is meeting the levels of expectation customers have.
In order to meet this expectation, we have to put our ear to the ground and learn what our customers want. The more informed we are, the more accurate (and reliable) our decisions will be.
Here are some unique ways to be reliable.
1. Remember that mistakes are fixable
Many of the most successful brands make serious mistakes that put their brand authenticity in jeopardy. The actions they take in response is what makes them succeed or fail.
If a brand stands for making the world a safer place, then releases a product that is unintentionally dangerous, customers will feel it’s not adhering to brand consistency and isn’t reliable.
The brand will have to prove that this mistake isn’t representative of their overall body of work. Otherwise, it will appear like they don’t care about safety, and thus, are not reliable.
2. Plan for uncertainty and change
“When nothing is sure, everything is possible.” – Margaret Drabble
Imagine for a moment that you’re a national brand of brick-and-mortar retail stores in the 1990s. Your company prides itself on offering returns on every product in the store – all that’s required is a receipt and a few questions asked.
Now, regardless of how good that makes customers think of your brand, fast-forward a few years to the Amazon era. The e-commerce giant offers returns with no questions asked.
Certainly, an update to your services is the only way to keep up.
This type of change and uncertainty is a common occurrence, and the only way to be seen as reliable is to evolve when necessary.
One example that stands out is Dropbox, a cloud-based storage service that managed to increase the effectiveness of its service year-by-year.
No matter what obstacles they have to overcome, they pull through by committing to change and improvements.
One thing that comes to mind was the hackings that slammed Dropbox’s servers. It had been improving its security slowly but surely, and that was part of its promise.
Because of their response and efforts to build their security even further, it showed they were authentic.
Reflecting on your own brand: Is it authentic?
Creating true brand authenticity takes considerable effort, inner-reflection and commitment. An authentic brand has put in the work to stand for something great and stick to their ideals.
It’s not easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s complicated. Just be true to your values and respectful at all times. The best brands exist to help the customer, and what better way to help them than through a genuine relationship.
Check out our complete branding guide to learn more.