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27 November 2017

What does authenticity mean to consumers—and how can it protect your brand?

The concept of authenticity was created in ancient times to assess the genuineness — and in turn the value — of art and antiquities. But its meaning and use have evolved dramatically in the last three decades, for two important reasons.

The first is marketing.

The second, sadly, is counterfeiting.

.Authenticity as brand identity

As millennials have grown into a leading market influence, brands in nearly every consumer-facing industry have been pressured to demonstrate that their brand, and in turn their products, are worthy of time and attention.

Authenticity is one key metric for deciding which brands make the cut. In fact, a survey of 12,000 consumers by global PR agency Cohn & Wolfe found that

  • 63% of consumers would buy from a company they consider to be authentic, over and above competitors.
  • Authentic characteristics such as communicating honestly about products and services (91%) and environmental impact and sustainability measures (87%) are more important to global consumers than product utility (61%), brand appeal (60%) and popularity (39%).

Brands speaking to consumers about an authentic brand identity will typically emphasize an enduring commitment to a unique vision or mission, and increasingly, to being respectful, fair and transparent with customers.

Iconic examples of marketing authenticity are Levi's® jeans, with the word "Original" on their label patch, and Vans®, the shoe and apparel manufacturer that got its start in the emerging Southern California skateboard scene in 1966 and later trademarked the name AuthenticTM for its enduring line of lace-up deck shoes.

The key point for this discussion is that an assertion of brand authenticity focuses less on the intrinsic genuineness of individual products, and more on the values or heritage of the brand that designs and manufactures those products.

Authenticity as product identity

A separate but related concept is authenticity as a component of product identity — that is, proof that a particular product is truly manufactured and backed by the brand on its label or packaging. 

Modern counterfeiters make their money selling what we call "deceptive fakes" — items manufactured and marketed to pass as genuine branded products. Their goal is to lure in consumers searching for trusted brand names, particularly while shopping online.

Efforts to stop the supply of fakes have limited success: the counterfeiters are simply too numerous, and online tools make it discouragingly easy to locate and lure in consumers who believe the copied products are genuine branded goods..  

Innovative brands are harnessing the concept of product identity to help consumers recognize when a product with their brand name is authentic, as in this case from luxury shoe designer Giuseppe Zanotti Design of Italy:  

"Giuseppe Zanotti Design has always been a symbol of Italian craftsmanship—synonymous with a keen attention to detail, a conscious selection of materials and products with impeccable design.
To guarantee the authenticity of our products, we have begun working with Certilogo® Technology, the leading brand-authentication system...."

Product authentication is the process of verifying a product's unique identity— its origin or parentage. In dictionary terms, it's "a process for determining whether a particular product is genuine or real when evaluated by a specific set of standards.”

Proving product identity can be surprisingly difficult without a technological support. In fact, just as in ancient times, determining product authenticity often boils down to a judgment call made by individuals using intuitive and informal processes, with no full-proof way to confirm that their determination is correct.

Which is precisely why an estimated 1 in 4 consumers shopping for an authentic branded product today will unintentionally purchase a counterfeit.

Authenticity for brand protection

So what happens to "brand authenticity" when the counterfeiters arrive?

Traditional approaches to protecting brands treat a brand as a name and/or logo to be trademarked (with or without the word 'authentic') and placed on products to prove authenticity (i.e., parentage). Today that's no real help, because counterfeiters manufacture convincing duplicates of products and their brand marks.

More effective solutions appear when we expand our concept of "the brand". 

Rather than being a name or a mark, a modern global brand is a broad network of stakeholders that spans everyone from raw materials suppliers and logistics partners to retailers and—critically—the end consumer.

Viewed this way, we can see that "protecting brand value" means protecting the value a brand creates for its network, and in particular for its consumers.

Giving consumers technological support to quickly and reliably authenticate products ensures that a brand will be judged on the unique value, vision, and heritage of the products it produces—and not by consumers who inadvertently purchase a fake.

That's critical, since no matter how we define authenticity — as proof of parentage or as a component of brand identity — the equity a brand derives from authenticity is based on the perception or judgment of the end consumer.

By protecting consumers, innovative brands are protecting their futures, as well. 

The Certilogo Authenticator is the first cloud-based authentication service created for use by consumers, brands and everyone with a stake in protecting brand equity. Its safe, scalable interface is accessible in 10 languages at certilogo.com or by downloading the Certilogo Authenticator app for iOS and Android

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