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  • Writer's pictureIan Morris

Brand Authenticity – Why It’s A Must

Agenl wings representing authentic and honest

Building an authentic brand has become part and parcel of 21st-century business. But what does that mean and what does it look like? Read on to find out why it’s all about keeping it real…

Think about why you chose your circle of friends. Perhaps they make you laugh or make you think. Inspire you. Maybe they have similar interests or beliefs. One thing’s for sure, they’re the people that won’t let you down. The ones you can trust.

Well these days, these are precisely the kind of traits we’re looking for, not just in our buddies, but in our brands, too. More and more people are choosing companies that stand out for their sound values and strong moral compass. Reliable companies that tick the ‘genuine’ and ‘honest’ boxes.

Welcome to the world of brand authenticity – a kind of Holy Grail for businesses, promising a double whammy of consumer confidence and long-term loyalty. And it’s not something you can ignore. A social media study showed 90 per cent of consumers believe authenticity is important when they’re deciding which brands to go for.

Brand Authenticity – Why It’s Essential

The demand for meaningful brands that resonate has skyrocketed over the last decade. Millennials and Gen Z, in particular, want companies to have the same values as they do. They’re honing in on the brands that champion sustainability and social issues, the ones that use ‘real’ people in their advertising, and those who regularly show they care – not about hefty profits but about their staff, their customers and the world in general.

There simply has to be an emotional connection or, as the Dragons would say, they’re out.

Nowhere To Hide

There’s another factor to consider, though – the unstoppable force that is social media. Facebook and Twitter users will expose a brand’s shortcomings quicker than you can say people power. So it stands to reason that authenticity has become a non-negotiable for businesses.

But building an inspiring brand that walks the walk AND talks the talk isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s like building a Jenga tower – it needs time and patience, and you’ve got to start at the bottom.

Here’s how to do it…

Step 1 – Define your company culture.

Or to put it another way, get a giant spotlight and shine it on every corner of your organisation. Then craft a culture that will make your brand sing. Think about the whole picture – the values, goals and attitudes that you want to flow from chief exec right down to the office intern. For this to work, it’s crucial to get your people onboard. They’re your ambassadors, the ones who live and breathe your brand, so they need to be part of the process. Work together from the start and you’ll create a culture that everyone’s signed up to from the off.

Who does it well? Google. It recently ranked top when it comes to culture, with one employee saying: “The constant drive to be better, to improve. Google does this for its employees, philanthropy, products, etc. I’m humbled by the conversations happening every minute with eerily intelligent people about the betterment of everything.” Enough said.

Step 2 – Draw up a list of values and stick to it.

For this one, you need to ask yourself some pretty soul-searching questions about your business, like who you are and what you stand for. Think about what matters to your target audience. There are all sorts of ways to get a clear idea of their ethics and beliefs, like social listening and online user testing. And once you’ve got the inside track, align your values as closely as possible. Keep it real, though – there’s no point in listing pie-in-the-sky ideals that you have no hope of hitting. Remember, being authentic means being genuine and demonstrating your values at every opportunity.

Who does it well? Buffer. The social media management company sets out its values on its website and talks about the thought process behind each of them. One is ‘Default to Transparency’. True to their word, they have a page on their website where they lay bare everything from employee salaries and their pricing strategy, to their diversity profile and charity contributions.

Step 3 – Put these values at the heart of your branding.

So you’ve set out your stall and now you need to wear your heart on your sleeve and show your customers what you’re all about. Your marketing needs to explain what your brand stands for and how you’re living up to it. Remember, consistency is key. Everything from your adverts to your interactions on social media needs to have a consistent brand personality. An important part of that is a seamless tone of voice, so your audience knows exactly who it’s dealing with at all times. A disjointed personality will damage your authenticity immeasurably.

Who does it well? Toilet paper company, Who Gives A Crap. As well as supplying environmentally-friendly loo roll, the Australian-owned firm donates 50% of profits to help build toilets for communities in need globally. Their marketing gets the balance just right, delivering serious sustainability messages with a good dose of potty humour.

Step 4 – Let your customers see the real you, warts and all.

To be authentic, you need to show you’re not hiding anything. Let your customers in – tell your brand story, show what you’re trying to achieve and how you’re hoping to do it. If some of it is a work in progress, tell them that – people will commend you for your ambition and aspirations, plus you won’t have to backtrack if you decide to take your brand in a new direction a few years down the line. And, crucially, you need to own your mistakes. We all mess up – no-one’s perfect – but it’s how you deal with the fallout that matters.

Who does it well? KFC. The fast-food giant took a hammering on social when it ran out of chicken and had to temporarily close hundreds of its UK restaurants. But a brave apology helped turn things around. It took out a full-page newspaper ad showing a bucket of chicken with a reworked logo – ‘FCK’. An explanation and a promise it wouldn’t happen again helped them swerve a brand disaster.

Step 5 – Go back and make changes when you need to.

Things change fast. Technology, people’s behaviour and attitudes – it’s all constantly evolving. Perception of your brand will change, too, so you need to keep an eye on your culture, values and marketing to make sure it’s still relevant to your target audience. The best way to do that? Keep the communication lines open on social media. Instead of simply responding to complaints, talk to your customers – get their take on things. Then respond appropriately – adapt and change, like an actual person would.

Who does it well? Starbucks. The coffee chain is a pro at customer service on social media with its prompt, friendly replies and witty conversation. And, to show they take their customers’ views seriously, they’ve even set up an ideas website for people to share any flashes of inspiration they have for the brand.

And Finally, When Authenticity Goes Wrong…

The key to authenticity all boils down to one simple principle – be genuine. Otherwise you’ll get a black mark against your name that is very hard to erase. Just ask PepsiCo and Volkswagen, two big brands that can speak from experience. PepsiCo was accused of misleading customers on the ingredients used in its Naked Juices. Meanwhile, the German car giant was caught cheating emission tests on some of its diesel cars in a bid to boost the vehicles’ eco credentials. Both are big companies with deep pockets so they were able to weather the storm, but it’s a long way back when your brand’s authenticity takes a knock. And, whereas you’re likely to forgive those friends we mentioned at the start, you’re unlikely to show quite the same forgiveness if a brand lets you down.

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