Vision Critical, an industry leader in capturing customer insights to give businesses a competitive edge, recently released The Authenticity Handbook. This study dives deep into brand authenticity with some captivating, real-world examples that showcase how effective authentic brand storytelling can be––and how disastrous it can be when it isn’t.
The idea of authenticity itself has changed in the way that it relates to brand image and consumer loyalty. It used to refer to largely intangible qualities like brand personality, brand heritage, and brand voice. Today, however, the surging market for “deceptive” counterfeits — that is, counterfeits sold to consumers as original branded goods — means product authenticity is a question for consumers, as well. When you consider that products are a brand’s most important consumer touchpoint, making it easy to distinguish when a brand logo is real or fake is a no-brainer for any brand with a commitment to transparency.
There are many important lessons to be learned from this report, with some intriguing insights into the connection between authenticity and transparency. Here’s a brief overview:
The King of Beers No More
The report begins by outlining how Budweiser, though still one of the biggest beer makers and distributors in the world, has seen a steady decline in both sales and public opinion in recent years. In 1988, 1 of every 4 beers drank was a Budweiser. Today, it’s 1 in 12. That’s a steep decline!
However, the reason Budweiser has seen sales decreases for each of the past twenty-five years isn’t because of competitive giants like Miller or Coors. They face a smaller, more elusive adversary.
Or rather, thousands of them.
Craft breweries are popping up across the world in rustic farmhouses, industrial buildings, and renovated warehouses that are bringing people in droves. What makes these breweries so successful really speaks to the difference of values between millennials and baby boomers. According to the report, “boomers tend to trust brands with a long history and heritage, and that resolve conflicts quickly [think: Budweiser]. Millennials are more drawn to brands that have a sense of personality and support worthy causes [think: local craft breweries].”
5 Steps to Embrace Authenticity
The benefits of brand authenticity are seemingly endless: customer loyalty, advocates for your brand, content that resonates with consumers, empowered employees, and more. But it can be a tricky concept to pull off well, and even harder to fake.
The report outlines four simple, actionable steps all companies can take that will have a powerful, lasting impact on their brands.
1. Speak to Human Experience
Millennials, who will soon hold more purchasing power than baby boomers, can see right through the fake and they won’t stand for it. In fact, “even though companies can be large enterprises with hundreds or thousands of employees, customers expect them to have a single coherent personality and to relate to them on a human scale, not a corporate one.”
Humanizing your messaging is critical to communicating with consumers in a meaningful, authentic way.
2. Share What Your Company Believes In
It’s important to speak openly about your company’s mission, core values, and vision for the future. Hiding these behind closed doors alienate your company from the outside world and leave customers trying to fill in the gaps themselves, which is what you don’t want.
Companies that have done this really well have hit incredible success: Patagonia, Google, Nordstrom, and Nike, just to name a few.
3. Be Honest
The report highlights an example of the power of honesty: in 2014, McDonald’s launched an online campaign called “Our Food. Your Questions.” Essentially, they were opening the door for consumers to ask whatever questions they had about McDonald’s food and they answered honestly about things like their ingredients, sourcing, process, and more.
Even when they admitted what was unhealthy (their french fries have 17 ingredients!), they enjoyed a boost in public perception for their honesty and transparency.
On the other hand, Volkswagen got caught installing software on diesel engines that cheated emissions tests and have still not totally recovered from it. Honesty is crucial.
4. Engage with Your Customers
The importance of understanding your customers’ concerns and aspirations, and listening to what your customers are telling you, can’t be understated.
From the Budweiser example: in 2015 they aired a Super Bowl commercial to push back at the smaller breweries by poking fun at craft beer breweries and drinkers. The commercial got a ton of backlash on social media, which shows just how badly a small misstep can go wrong. For companies of this size, the stakes are high.
5. Take Your Authenticity to the Product Level
Here’s one the handbook doesn’t mention, but should: Even the most genuine personality and customer service from your brand can't make up for a lack of trust when it comes to the products you distribute.
Now that we live in a world fraught with counterfeits that can tarnish your brand reputation, it’s absolutely crucial to be transparent with consumers about the risk of fake products. Even better, take a page from Armani, Versace, and Moschino and extend your brand’s commitment to authenticity all the way to the product level with item-level security tags. Consumers use the tags to verify for themselves that a product on sale in stores or online is authentic, using any smartphone, tablet or desktop.
The takeway: Authenticity is an essential element for any brand, and that includes authentic products. If your goal is a meaningful and lasting relationship with consumers, it’s no longer enough to be authentic in manner alone.