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How authentic is your brand?
Every consumer has their own tastes, preferences and priorities, which ultimately plays a big part in how brands are perceived. This is particularly true when it comes to what people consider to be “authentic” brands, as these views are determined by lots of factors, from their familiarity with a company to the type of person who wants the goods and services it provides.
The issue has been highlighted in a new study by agency Firefish which found some notable differences across various demographics, for example

  • Technology brands are regarded as the most authentic by 18 to 24-year-olds
  • Women are much more likely than men to regard fashion brands like Topshop and Burberry as being authentic
  • Males and females have comparable views of some organisations such as the car brands Ferrari, Ford and Land Rover

So given the apparent lack of consistency regarding what people consider to be an authentic brand, is it possible to come up with a set of rules that any firm can use to hopefully be perceived in this way? Firefish makes 8 recommendations that brands might want to take on board;

  1. Be honest. Brands need to be true to themselves, genuine and make sure any stories they tell are grounded in truth.
  2. Show Integrity. Any narrative must reflect a company’s real-life situation so it can be believed and carry weight among its target audience.
  3. Be consistent. Brands can show they mean what they say and have a genuine set of values by setting out their stall and sticking to it.
  4. Be original. Don’t run the risk of embracing stereotypes, as this might be off-putting to some and make a company look out of step with the real world.
  5. Don’t stand still. If the operating environment is evolving, companies must change accordingly, which means they have to be prepared to step outside their established brand narrative when it becomes necessary.
  6. Be unique. Many firms have their own quirks and foibles, so they might benefit from embracing them rather than weeding them out, as it helps them stand out in the marketplace.
  7. Set the tone. Copying other brands won’t help firms be distinctive, so they must be prepared to be creative and lead the way when it comes to marketing to their target audience.
  8. Don’t be complacent. While long-established firms are right to be proud of a distinguished heritage, they won’t stay ahead of the pack by resting on their laurels. They must keep moving forward while maintaining the traditions that got them where they are in the first place.

Francesca Alberry, Research Director at Firefish acknowledged that some might view the need for a firm to be true to itself yet be willing to change as something of a contradiction. However, she stressed that the two can be reconciled, saying: “We are not saying don’t evolve or change. There’s room within authenticity to be flexible but you need to take the audience with you and make sure that if a brand is innovating, it is doing so in a way that is true to itself.”

So which brands are deemed to be the most authentic among consumers overall? Consumers were asked to rate how each brand measured up against Firefish’s criteria for authenticity and the top ten from the Firefish study were

  1. Heinz
  2. Disney
  3. Ferrari
  4. Google
  5. Cadbury
  6. Apple
  7. Volkswagen
  8. Microsoft
  9. Land Rover
  10. Amazon

The Top 10 shows an interesting cross-section of businesses. While tech firms are well represented, along with other companies that specialise in discretionary purchases, it’s interesting that a grocery brand comes out on top. It seems people clearly attach value to companies they come across in their day-to-day lives, perhaps because they depend on them so frequently. This is even more apparent further down the rankings with brands from 11-20 including Robinsons, IKEA, Coca-Cola, eBay, Birds Eye and Marks & Spencer.

But of course, one problem with wishing to be seen as authentic is the fact that it is such a broad term that means something different to everybody. So if the buzz word is so subjective, how can brands that aim to achieve authenticity put across a coherent message that resonates with the target market? Ms Alberry suggests using values and words that are “fixed in people’s minds in communications, rather than relying on the umbrella of authenticity, which in some ways is so subjective it becomes a bit meaningless.”

This is where the advice about being honest, original and showing integrity could come in handy. These are all traits we admire in individuals, so demonstrating these same qualities could be the key to ensuring a firm’s communications are authentic. Any organisation can claim it possesses these attributes, but showing it and acting upon it can make a much deeper impression on existing and prospective customers.

Demonstrating an understanding of the wider world and how people feel can also be hugely advantageous, again because it helps brand connect in a more human and personal way. Bob Cook, Director of Innovation at Firefish commented: “[Brands] have to understand what the culture is – of the times or geographically – in order to generate authenticity. The meaning of your story will change depending on the culture of the times and the mindset of the audience you’re appealing to.”

So, to conclude, don’t treat authenticity as a simple buzzword;

  • Think about what it really means and make sure your organisation adheres to this definition.
  • Is your brand story reflective of your real identity and is it conveyed in a strong and consistent manner?
  • Are your values cliched and stereotyped, or are you offering something different that resonates with the beliefs of your target audience?
  • If you change your core narrative, is it a natural development that means people still believe you mean what you say?

Get this right and your firm could be well-placed to establish itself as a trusted, credible and respected brand for many years to come.
Sources / Further Reading
How to be an authentic brand, Marketing Week