Among the potential benefits of a long-standing, successful business is brand authenticity. Having a strong reputation for quality and original products, customer service and the overall mission can help a business earn this authentic label, along with significant customer recognition and loyalty.
Take this 2017 study by the communications and public relations firm Cohn & Wolfe. It polled more than 15,000 customers in 15 different markets across the globe, rating more than 1,400 brands based on “reliability, respectfulness and reality,” according to Tanya Dua’s story for Business Insider. The top five brands in the United States: Amazon, PayPal, Burt’s Bees, Crayola and M&M’s. The global top five: Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google, PayPal.
The study reported that in the U.S., 62 percent of customers said they would “purchase or be interested in purchasing from a brand that they viewed as authentic,” Dua writes.
Lynn Fisher of Cohn & Wolfe is featured in the story, noting that there’s more to brand authenticity than longevity:
“Typically, people equate authenticity with heritage, believing that having an established, values-driven reputation is enough to prove yourself in the eyes of consumers. It’s not. While many of the brands topping our United States index this year have an established history, they also continuously demonstrate a commitment to innovation.”
Here’s a look at how business leaders can prioritize brand authenticity:
The importance of honesty
With all that executives deal with on a daily basis, authenticity may not naturally rise to the top of the priority list. And yet it can be considered a crucial part of making a long-lasting connection with consumers. As Adam Fridman puts it in a story for Inc.com, “Authenticity is about being real, being who you say you are.”
“When you’re authentic, who you are on the inside is the same as who you reveal to the outside world,” he says. “When you’re authentic, you’re being honest about what makes you tick and the purpose that drives you.”
Be ‘true to the brand’
Business leaders can always seek new ways to share a company’s message. The ever-expanding social media landscape may be the best example of an avenue that businesses emphasize for branding. The actual message should stay in line with the company’s principles. Writing for Forbes, Ashley Deibert explains that businesses that aim to reinvent themselves can “stray far from the core values — and therefore alienate customers even more.”
“There are many ways to boost brand love and connect with consumers emotionally without sacrificing core brand values,” she writes. “Brands that operate one way offline but have a completely different online persona can come off as having a ‘multiple personality disorder’ that sends audiences straight to the complaint boards. For example, don’t portray yourself as a luxury brand if your product is actually a value play. Stay in your lane, be the best in your sector, and know your customer and their expectations.”
Branding is naturally an area of emphasis for a business’ marketing and communications teams. The CEO’s role in delivering the message is vital, and those that are regarded as accessible can boost their companies’ perception. In a story for Forbes, Douglas Simon reported on a study by his marketing firm, which showed that 74 percent of journalists said “having an accessible CEO makes a brand seem more authentic.”
But not all CEOs are natural communicators, Simon points out, writing that many executive candidates “often come from either the finance or product development side.” CEOs that have experience with communication and are willing to be accessible can have an advantage.
“Gone are the days when CEOs could shelter themselves from the public,” Simon writes. “If they do, it’s going to make their brand seem less authentic. It’s also probably going to have a negative effect on the stock price. Your brand already exists — whether you have leadership engage or not. The question then becomes whether you are going to create your brand or let others do it for you.”
Values and purpose
Brand authenticity can directly connect to how consumers decide to make a purchase. For some, this goes beyond price comparisons and online reviews. In Fridman’s Inc.com piece, he writes that advertisements can largely be ignored by many consumers. They rely more on their own research: “And they’re not just looking at product claims, they’re looking closely at whether the values that a brand espouses are ones they themselves care about.”
“In short, they care about purpose,” he writes. “But they won’t believe in your company’s purpose unless your business practices align with the purpose you claim to care about.”
Employees care about this as well, Fridman explains. He references a Deloitte study that showed “81 percent of respondents who reported working for a company with a strong sense of purpose were confident their company would grow within the coming year.”
Executives will undoubtedly be well-versed in the business’ SWOT analysis — the deep-dive into strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats — as it is a fundamental part of starting, maintaining and leading a business. It also can help to determine the strength of a brand. R. Kay Green includes this in a story for Business News Daily:
“With a SWOT analysis, you can create a detailed and honest assessment of where your brand soars and where it suffers. You can also find key avenues through which you might grow that brand and of course determine potential threats to your brand awareness and uniqueness.”
As business leaders and marketing teams share the message about their brand, it’s important to pay close attention to what customers are saying in return. There will be bad with the good. As we all know, online commenters can lash out in highly negative ways. Writing for Entrepreneur, Juliet Carnoy explains that feedback through social media is an important way of understanding the status of the brand.
“Social listening can help your brand learn how customers use your products post-purchase and what they like and dislike about their touch points with your brand,” she says. “Some 83 percent of consumers said in a survey that they like it when a company responds to them on social media. So, join the conversation and ‘like,’ ‘comment’ and ‘share’ positive submissions. Also, do your best to accommodate the negative consumers.”