INNOVATE

The Secret to Creating an Authentic Brand? Do This One Thing

Hint: It has nothing to do with how well you tell your story.

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BY Rohini Venkatraman - 12 Jan 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

In an era of social media and on-demand service, customers expect businesses to be more connected and transparent than ever before. Put another way, they're looking for, and want to support authenticity. A 2017 report by communications agency Cohn & Wolfe showed that 91 percent of consumers worldwide were willing to purchase from or invest in authentic brands. Over recent years, brands have demonstrated authenticity through their heritage, purpose, and commitment to quality.

While these qualities are still foundational to perceived authenticity, recent consumer surveys are finding that it's not enough. Now, customers are keying in to another quality that indicates authenticity--a commitment to innovation. Here's how to set foundations of authenticity, understand today's customers, and look ahead to the authenticity of tomorrow.

Use Heritage and Commitment to Quality to Build Your Authentic Foundation.

A 2014 report in The Journal of Business Research showed that consumers identify brand authenticity with three dimensions: heritage, sincerity, and commitment to quality. One way to demonstrate heritage is to stay true to your roots by designing and producing your offering at your original factory or headquarters. According to a 2014 study by Yale professors, people especially value products that come from a company's original factory. If this is not applicable to your business, don't stretch the truth--that only defeats your goal of authenticity.

Instead, use storytelling to build the story around how your product or service is designed, and why it takes the journey it does. When it comes to sincerity, think about the ways in which you might show the "soul" of your company. According to a recent New York Times opinion piece, sincerity shows you have soul (while "authenticity" is corporate-speak for brand reputation). Connecting with humans, then, is about sincerity. One way to show commitment to quality is to help consumers understand your metrics for success. What does it take for you to call a product done? What does your customer service experience look like?

Understand What Authenticity Means to Today's Consumers.

The 2017 Cohn & Wolfe report also found that 62 percent of Americans would purchase from a brand that is seen as authentic. However, as reported by the agency's Branding & Insights Group EVP Lynn Fisher to Business Insider, authenticity is not only about heritage and a values-driven reputation. She explains that consumer cynicism is rising. The agency found that only 20 percent of consumers believe that brands stay true to their purpose, and even less believe that brands are open and honest. These numbers were lower in 2017 than they were in 2016. So what does authenticity look like in 2018? According to consumers, it's a commitment to innovation.

Demonstrate a Commitment to Innovation.

In some ways, a brand's heritage, sincerity, and commitment to quality are now high stakes for consumers. In 2017, the top rated "authentic" brands were chosen not just because of their history, but because they "continually demonstrate a commitment to innovation." Amazon was at the top of this list, followed by PayPal and Burt's Bees.

Amazon demonstrates innovation in many ways. As founder and CEO Jeff Bezos reported to Fast Company, Amazon is committed to serving its customers with platforms that serve their needs as quickly as possible. Despite its size, the company continues to experiment and to nimbly evolve what it has to offer--and consumers recognize that.

While looking back and identifying your business's story and heritage is a great way to set an authentic foundation, don't forget to look ahead to your continued innovation as well. More and more, this is the key to establishing a truly authentic relationship with your customers.