Let’s Get Real – The Power Of Brand Authenticity

Posted: January 15, 2013

Issued by Y&R “Authenticity is the benchmark against which all brands are now judged.”  John Grant – The New Marketing Manifesto

With an abundance of brands to choose from, and a wealth of information available from both the companies that manufacture them and the people who buy them, honesty and authenticity are emerging as the values that matter most, in a new era of branding.

Why authenticity matters
Y&R’s Brand Asset Valuator (BAV) research tells us that consumer trust has declined across all industries. In fact the number of brands that people say they trust halved between 2001 and 2010. Given the economic instability and banking bailouts that marked this decade, this comes as no surprise, and in response people are being drawn to brands that feel authentic, honest and true.

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From the rise in farmers markets (“tomatoes that actually smell like tomatoes”) to Ben & Jerry’s (“home-made”) ice cream, the love of genuine is all around us. In human terms, people are simply more attracted to brands with an interesting and original story to tell. They would rather spend time with brands that hold engaging conversations, act with integrity, and follow through on what they promise.

It also seems authentic brands are more attractive in the long-term, as according to BAV, Brand Trust is the key indicator of future brand growth potential.

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Okay, so how do I get some?
Unfortunately Brand Authenticity is not as straightforward as simply adding “authentic” to your list of brand values. What’s more, masquerading as something you’re not will only breed cynicism in today’s brand savvy consumer, and rejection will be swift and (thanks to social media) all too un-sweet.

Authenticity can be drawn from a number of sources, an original recipe or one-of-a-kind craftsmanship. But there is one single defining attribute of authentic brands regardless of process or place – a strong sense of purpose. Steve Jobs and Bill Bowerman didn’t start their companies with a view to building an authentic brand. Their vision and passion to change the world in some small way (for the better) is what created Apple and Nike as two of the most successful, authentic brands in the world today.

In fact most start-ups are authentic. But as they grow, more people get involved, marketing takes over and the founder’s vision is easily lost. This is because marketers “think”, whilst founders “do”. What’s the point of having a brand purpose if it stays written as a mantra on a boardroom wall or hidden in the confines of a corporate identity document? A strong sense of purpose is only real if it translates as brand behaviour, something customers can feel through direct personal experience.

Maker Marketing
Nike has successfully stayed true to its core brand purpose (and retained its authenticity) by keeping the spirit of legendary track coach and cofounder Bill Bowerman alive and well. According to CEO Mark Parker: “If you talk to designers around here, they’ll say they’ve got Bill sitting on their shoulder, speaking up for the athlete” . From product design to communications, Nike’s success is evidenced by doing rather than thinking. When the brand decided to move into skateboarding, Parker ensured the team “lived and breathed skate” – they developed a customized shoe, brought in maverick graphic artists to tell their stories and used the shoe as a canvas. I call this Maker Marketing.

Maker Marketing is doing marketing. It means knowing your brands reason for being and making sure you deliver this truth at every point in the customer journey. Vida e caffé is a local Maker Marketing success story. Founder Brad Armitage says: “we wanted to build a place that we would like to visit to have a coffee… good quality coffee in a special environment.”  And they have certainly delivered. Not only on the delicious Portuguese Estrela blend, but most notably the uplifting service. Furthermore a customer loyalty programme that sees a 5% return on spend  and a great in–house magazine reinforces this unwavering sense of purpose, ensuring the authentic ‘life and coffee’ brand experience is consistently delivered from Sea Point to Soho.

Fig1&2: John Gerzema, BrandAsset® Consulting: USA 2001, 2009 Full Year All Adults.

[1] http://www.fastcompany.com/59489/who-do-you-love

[1] http://connecteddale.wordpress.com/category/companies/vida-e-caffe/

[1] http://www.entrepreneurmag.co.za/advice/success-stories/snapshots/vida-e-caffe-grant-dutton/