What makes a brand authentic? Turns out, it's more than just the product or service. Brand authenticity is hard to define, but you know it when you feel it. When you trust a brand and consistently choose it over others—knowing that this is the brand you want to do business with—that is the result of brand authenticity.
And it is built over time, with hard work and patience. It involves truly understanding your customers' values and delivering on them. Brand authenticity is what actually drives revenue, as customers are more emotional than logical.
That's why it was hardly surprising when brands like Amazon, Apple, Microsoft & Google led the pack in Cohn & Wolfe's Brand Authenticity survey. The PR firm released its list of the top 100 most authentic brands in 2017.
Source: Authentic 100
The report lists a few qualities that make a brand more authentic. Among these qualities are:
Delivering on promises
Treating customers with respect
Providing high quality
Protecting customer privacy
Acting with integrity
Being genuine and real
Together, these qualities form the 3 Rs for making a brand authentic: reliable, respectful and real. Brands that do all three are brands that customers prefer and trust. How can you adopt these qualities and make your brand more authentic? Here are our tips.
Be reliable – Provide great quality & keep your promises
Seems like a no-brainer, right? Unfortunately, there's an authenticity deficit in the global marketplace today. Not all brands keep the promises they make, not all communicate honestly, and not enough place the customer's interests above their own. Brands in the Top 100 list have maintained and improved the quality of their products over the years.
You might also notice that the top five all happen to be tech companies. Commenting on this phenomenon, PayPal comms SVP Franz Paasche said: "Tech brands combine the excitement of innovation with [making] the everyday living of life easier, and that gives you a trusted role in people's lives."
Even when Microsoft (#3 on the list) was weakened after the launch of its disastrous Vista operating system, they took to the ground to find out why it let their customers down and focused its efforts on trying to right the wrong.
Kathleen Hall, advertising and marketing VP of Microsoft, said: "We went back to our consumers and did a global study, visualizing what the brand meant to them. There was consistency worldwide: Microsoft means opportunity, access and connection, a combination of strength and possibility."
Ten years later, the company is still enjoying the fruits of that study. The idea is to take stock of what people need and expect from you, then deliver on your promises. What you do on the ground can sometimes speak more than your marketing dollars ever could.
Be respectful – Customer centricity is key to revenue growth
By far, the most important aspect of a brand's authenticity is its customer centricity. The report states: "To be perceived as authentic, brands can gain more by focusing on what consumers experience, versus what they have to learn. How a brand directly treats a consumer (69%) is more important than how a brand treats the planet (55%) or if a brand is clear about its beliefs (59%)."
It's crucial to treat your customers as the most pivotal part of your business. Let every strategy be aimed at benefiting the customers—it will benefit your business as well. You don't need a major PR push to show the world how big or caring a brand you are. What you need are genuine efforts to deliver the basics and help your customers.
And what you do shows. Amazon was one of the earliest e-commerce companies to get rid of shipping costs for good. It introduced options like a no-questions-asked return policy (which sounds commonplace today but was quite an achievement a decade ago). Today, programs like Amazon Prime and its third party sellers' program have become the linchpin in Amazon's growth strategy. Each strategy coming out of the e-commerce giant directly aims to improve the customer experience, and the results are in: Amazon tops the lists of both the most authentic brands and the most valuable brands.
Be real – Personalized communication helps customers feel emotionally connected
One thing visible in the results of the Cohn and Wolfe study was that these companies are all very different from one another. Though the top five companies were all tech, the top 100 companies varied widely, from chocolates to hotels to consumer electronics. Authenticity didn't come from the product type they were selling, but from the way they were selling it.
Winning brands take great pains to communicate with customers in ways that feel personal. They see themselves as a productive part of the customer's life, and each marketing message is personalized for them. They nail practices like cross-cultural marketing, localization, creating dedicated websites for different countries, and identifying as a local brand despite being a global brand.
How real you are determines how much your customers will trust you, and to establish that trust, you need to be honest in your words and actions. Michael Boychuk, executive creative director of Amazon, said: "You can say whatever you want, however you want to say it, but if you're not interacting with people authentically, advertising is nothing."
Be reliable, be respectful and be real. That's what gets customers to trust you and perceive you as an authentic brand. Revenue and profits are a by-product of customer centricity. Always remember that a good brand serves the customer. If you can take these ideas to heart, you'll build better brand authenticity than millions of marketing dollars ever could.