Authenticity. It’s been one of the most frequently used buzz words in business during the last few years. But the problem with buzz words is that they come into fashion, get overused to the point of death, and then fall from favour.
UK consumers are notoriously cynical about the authenticity of businesses with just seven percent of us believing that brands are “open and honest”.
And yet authenticity is vital to the success of your business brand. People want to know they can trust what you say and what you sell. In fact, the two need to be deeply aligned.
How can you create trust though if people believe that most businesses simply pay lip service to being authentic?
It comes down to walking the talk.
Being authentic isn’t about telling people, it’s about building integrity and transparency into every aspect of your business until it becomes so hard-wired into its DNA that it’s beyond doubt, an integral and tangible part of the brand experience.
How Generation Z are shaping modern brands
Modern consumers are smart, tech savvy and willing to do their research. Social media and other platforms enable them to watch a business 24/7 and talk to other customers. There’s nowhere for today’s businesses to hide.
Shoppers are concerned about issues such as greenwashing, exploitation of workers or social responsibility. They want to know that they’re buying from businesses that are making the world a better place. They also know that their buying power can make or break brands.
Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) and Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) are driving demand. Generation Z, for example, may be among the youngest consumers but they already represent 40% of global shoppers and, for this age group, honesty and authenticity are non-negotiable.
They are shoppers with a conscience; shoppers who want to buy from brands that reflect their values and who won’t taint them by association. In one survey of 1,590 consumers, a whopping 90% said authenticity is important when deciding which brands to like and support.
But here’s a word of caution. In the same survey, 92% of marketers said that the content their brand creates resonates with consumers as authentic. In reality, only 51% of the consumers agreed!
This underscores the point that consumers are smart – it takes more than believing you’re authentic to be perceived as such.
How to build the trust factor in your business
Here are five qualities of authentic brands, based on our experience:
1. They have a clear purpose
In another recent survey of 5,000 consumers, 96% said that brand purpose is important to them. However, only 50% of respondents believe that brands have a clear purpose.
Consumers in this survey said that they want companies to show a clear commitment to “honesty, safety, social responsibility, authenticity, sustainability, and loyalty” as well as creating “products or services that accurately reflect the needs of people today, and treating employees equally well regardless of rank”.
In part, authenticity is about identifying the fundamental purpose of your business and then making every decision based on whether or not the outcome would serve that purpose. In addition, the purpose should be woven through your brand story, identity, behaviour and communications.
Think about questions such as:
- Who are you?
- What is your company’s vision?
- What do you stand for?
- What’s your company’s purpose?
Your answers should help you begin to identify what you want your business brand to stand for. With the right brand strategy, consumers will come to understand your brand within the context of that purpose.
2. They are transparent
Hopefully, your business has been built in a fair and ethical way, which means you have nothing to hide and every reason to share why you do certain things the way you do. Today’s consumers want to know this.
If you sell products, tell people about your supply chain, why you deal with the people you do or how you source your parts or ingredients. If you are striving to improve workers’ rights, reduce your carbon footprint or give back to your local community, let your customers know.
Equally, if there are things you’re trying to improve but it’s a work in progress, be upfront about the steps you’re taking. People understand that businesses don’t always get things right but they care that you’re trying and honest enough to own – and learn from – your mistakes. The good news is that consumers are more likely to forgive brands they see as purposeful.
3. They are consistent
We humans like familiarity. When we know what to expect from a brand, it builds the “know, like, trust” factor because we feel like we’re in a safe pair of hands. This is key to creating brand loyalty.
Consistency is at the root of this. Your marketing should communicate consistent messages that reflect your brand values at all stages of the customer journey. You want people to feel like everything they see and hear from your brand comes from a single entity that has a really clear sense of what it stands for in the world.
4. They deliver on their promises
Whatever you promise as a business, it’s essential that you follow through. In our digitally-connected world, a business that fails to deliver on its promises will always get caught out, be it with a terrible customer service experience, ethical problems in the supply chain or unhappy employees, as some examples.
When you fulfil a promise of any kind, it sends a clear message that your business does what it says it’s going to do. Again, this builds a sense of trust. People don’t like ambiguity or uncertainty, especially when they’re making a purchase.
5. They have conversations
In the past, business communications were fairly one-sided; they were about information, not conversation. But social media changed that.
Today’s consumers expect to be able to reach their favourite brands 24/7 from anywhere in the world. They want to share their opinions, talk to other people and give and receive immediate feedback.
Some brands resist this because they’re scared of being criticised in a public forum. In fact, this is one of the main reasons that six out of 10 small to medium businesses (SMEs) still don’t use social media marketing!
But criticism can be good. It’s a learning opportunity, an opportunity to take a bad situation and turn it on its head, to surprise people and show that your brand can own its mistakes and do better.
Authentic brands are prepared to ask and answer questions, share news, seek feedback, value opinions and nurture genuine relationships with their customers.
Is your brand faithful to itself and its customers?
This question goes to the core of authenticity and how you demonstrate it as a business brand.
Are you marketing messages consistent? Do they align with your business values or, indeed, the central purpose that drives your business?
How would your customers describe your brand? Would they look at a new marketing campaign, for example, and feel like it fits perfectly with your brand identity?
Are there things happening within your business that you wouldn’t want to become public knowledge? If so, why? This could be a red flag that there are internal workings within your business that need revising.
Authenticity isn’t a “one time and its done” thing. It’s a constant process of internal reflection, commitment, growth and responsibility. Get it right and it will increase brand awareness, help you stand out from competitors and skyrocket brand loyalty.
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