For brand authenticity, look inside

Please note that this post was originally published on May 26, 2010. As a result, any external links or videos used may no longer be functional.

Even before the recession, numerous gurus, books and websites explored the concept of brand authenticity. The theory behind this recent buzz-phrase is that cash-strapped consumers gravitate toward those brands which feel more “real.”

So, what is authenticity? Can it be created? And if so, is “faking it” a sustainable marketing strategy?

Don’t buy a book. The answers are simple.

Authenticity simply means being true to one’s own character or values in the face of external pressures. It means the brand stands for some greater purpose or ideal than making money.

In reality, most consumers believe most brands exist to earn profits, which makes any claims suspicious from the start. However, a few brands are perceived to be true to some inner value or tenet, some principle, which endures over time. This genuineness is attractive to those consumers who share the same value.

Whole Foods, for example, stands for:

  • selling organic foods
  • promoting nutrition
  • buying local
  • sustaining agriculture and seafood
  • recycling
  • saving energy
  • giving back to the community

Customers who are in sympathy with these causes reward Whole Foods with loyalty.

For Patagonia (see recent post), selling outdoor clothing seems to be practically an afterthought to environmentalism. “For us, a love of wild and beautiful places demands participation in the fight to save them.”

From day one, Ben & Jerry’s included social responsibility as part of its mission. Tom and Kate Chappell started Tom’s of Maine with the philosophy that its products would not harm the environment. Both brands have since been purchased by conglomerates, but neither has abandoned its values. If they did, they would lose customers.

Strong brands don’t have to stand for social issues. Harley-Davidson, for example, stands for independence. Its vision statement includes, “We fuel the passion for freedom in our customers to express their own individuality.”

Despite what some branding consultants say, standing for something is not something that can be faked. At least, not for long. (See “Authenticity can’t be faked … can it?“)

What does your brand stand for? To find out:

  • Look to the founder. Perhaps you will get lucky and find a Tom and Kate Chappell who started the brand based on a belief.
  • Examine your brand’s vision and mission statements. What need does the brand address? What problem does it solve? What is its lofty goal? Are these ideals the brand can stand for? (Unfortunately, most vision and mission statements are lengthy, poorly worded, and probably of little help.)
  • Ask yourself. What principles of doing business have never changed?
  • Ask your employees. What do they get excited about? What values do they share? What customer problem would they like to fix?
  • Ask your customers. What issues matter to them?

Hopefully, deep inside, you’ll unearth what is authentic about your brand. When you do, embrace it. Expand it. Own it. Be famous for it.

This entry was posted in brand essence, cause marketing, loyalty, strategy.

0 Responses to For brand authenticity, look inside

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  3. Tim Williams says:

    Useful and insightful post, Kirk. When it comes to brand development, I like to think of the balance between authenticity and aspiration.

    The strongest brands strike a balance between the two, don’t you think?

    • Kirk says:

      Indeed, Tim. Especially as an ideal is usually aspirational by definition, the brand and the consumer share the desire and the commitment to achieve it. I appreciate your comment.

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