What Makes A Brand Authentic

Emmanuel ProbstNovember 8, 20188145 min

As marketers, we must sometimes take a step back from the objective features and benefits of our products that too often dictate our brand strategy. Today, I invite you to consider what makes your brand genuine, transparent and believable. We will also look at ways to tease out the authenticity of your brand.

Our Authentic Self 

Being authentic means being aware of and expressing our true nature, independently from external pressures from the society we live in, which influences us to think and act in certain ways. When we are authentic, we have a clearer direction in life and are less indecisive about our choices. Authentic products and brands need to align with the values of authentic people: they can be slightly imperfect, even quirky. But in any case, they need to be true to themselves. Here is a breakdown of eight different types of authenticity:

1. Authentic Products

Authentic products are mostly low-tech, crafty, imperfect, hand-made and/or quirky. The more high-tech and engineered products are, the least they come across as authentic. Don’t get me wrong, we love our smartphones, wi-fi, set top box, smart speaker, and they all contribute to our personality. They are just not authentic.

2. Natural Authenticity

We perceive as authentic what comes from the earth and remains unaltered by synthetic substances like fertilizers and pesticides. Examples of authentic products include Burt’s Bees (personal care), Celestial seasonings (teas) and Lush (cosmetics).

3. Original Authenticity

We deem as authentic products that are original in design and the first of its kind, in contrast with a ‘me too’ product or imitation. Levi’s 501 are the original jeans worn by workers searching for gold in America’s West in 1873. At first a functional product known for its enduring denim cloth and rivet reinforcements, Levi’s 501 became an iconic, aspirational product for subsequent generations.

4. Authenticity In Services

We perceive as authentic people that go above and beyond their employee handbook and corporate guidelines to show their customers they genuinely, personally care. I recently stayed at a Westin hotel in Scottsdale, AZ. In my room was a bottle of wine and a card with a hand written note by the restaurant manager, telling me how much she enjoyed our conversation. The cost to the hotel is slim to none; I didn’t even drink the bottle. It is the genuine attention that matters.

5. Authentic Experiences

Drinking an afternoon tea with scones, clotted cream and jam in the U.K is an authentic experience. So is eating s’mores at a campfire in the U.S. Authentic experiences stem from our history and culture and tap into our shared memories and longings.

6. Authenticity, Fake And Real

Sometimes, we seek fake authenticity that feels real. Did I lose you here? Consider that our world is filled with experiences that are deliberately staged to appear sensational. As consumers, we decide if what we see is authentic or not. For example, Las Vegas is a city filled with fake authentic experiences: Is that the real Eiffel Tower? How about The Statue of Liberty at the New York New York hotel? Or, as Alan famously asks in the movie ‘The Hangover’: ‘This isn’t the real Caesar Palace, is it? {…} Did Caesar really live here?’ No, no and no. Las Vegas is authentically inauthentic. The Las Vegas strip is made of a series of simulacra, which are bloated (and sometimes outrageous) representations of things that are real in other parts of the world.

7. Authenticity In Branding

Louis Vuitton epitomizes authenticity. The brand was created in 1854 by its eponymous founder, who invented flat-top trunks that people could easily stack when traveling. If LV has since extended its brands to plethora of leather goods and fashion items, it remains true to its roots: being a ‘Malletier’ or trunk-maker.

In contrast, Hollister is mostly made-up. The brand was officially established in 1922. The marketing was complete with carefully pixelated, sepia-toned pictures of good-looking guys & gals holding surf boards on the beach. It turns out, the brand was founded in 2000 by parent company Abercrombie & Fitch. Most recently, Hollister shifted its communication to ‘So Cal inspired clothes for guys and girls’, which is a lot more credible.

8. Authenticity In Advertising

Content created by your customers now holds the power in advertising. Survey data from 4500 active social media users in the U.S. and Europe found that only 6% of people trust traditional advertising, while over three-quarters prefer to look at user generated images than the ones they see in professional executions. What’s more, photos that feature “real people” are trusted seven times more than the pictures people see in traditional advertising. The simple reason is that User Generated Content has a lot more “street cred” than paid advertising.

How To Tease Out The Authenticity Of Your Brand

  • Go on a scavenger hunt. Search the basement and the attic for old sketches, notes, purchase orders, pictures, products that failed.
  • Pick one or two of these treasures and write a short narrative about the founder, a connection with the past, a unique tweak on an otherwise mundane product, a past product that failed miserably but led to your current success…Levi Strauss initially made clothes for gold miners, L.L. Bean started as an outfitter for fishing and hunting, KFC was founded by Colonel Sanders. You get the idea.
  • Make sure your story rings true. You can story-tell and romanticize your narrative, while still being authentic.

Authenticity is not about big budgets and scale. It is about teasing out the story that makes your brand unique and special. Authenticity is what makes small brands stand out from the noise, often at a reasonable cost. Now, It is your turn: find the clues, write the narrative and tell the world the authentic story of your brand.

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