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  • Mark Hallander

Why brand authenticity is important

Marketers find themselves in a period of digital opportunity. An opportunity that has, however, led to an increase in digital media spend - and consumers are growing tired of ads. The negative trend calls for truly authentic communication, but how do you create it?

#authenticity #branding #trust

Overexposure and decreasing attention

The average consumer is exposed to all in between 4.000-10.000 different brands a day. Out of those, only a handful makes an actual impression on us.


The below model has been developed by the media agency, Mindshare, and it shows that the level of irritation that consumers associate with ads has increased remarkably since 2010 (the red graph). As if this wasn’t enough, the ads' ability to catch our attention is seeing a similar negative development, as only 6% of ads today catch our attention (the blue graph).

Source: Mindshare, Advertising Agency Analysis 2019


I believe that the overexposure (combined with the fact that agencies are compromising with the quality of ads in digital execution) has led to a declining rate of attention towards the ads, as consumers grow increasingly tired of watching them.


Trust is scarce

Adding to the complexity, consumers don’t trust brands like they used to. The 2020 edition of Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer shows a global decline in trust in both companies, political institutions and the media.


The below graph shows the development of trust in brands headquartered in different markets. The negative numbers indicate the change from 2019 to 2020, while the colours show distrust (orange), neutral (grey) and trust (blue) in the brands. While approximately 40% of country brands are trusted, there's generally a decline in trust in brands globally.

Source: Edelman Trust Barometer 2020

The opportunity of authenticity

With these ominous developments in the industry, marketers are forced to rediscover what is, in fact, unique about their brands. This leads us to the opportunity that brand authenticity represents, but what exactly does it mean?

According to The Journal of Consumer Psychology it is “The extent to which consumers perceive a brand to be faithful toward itself, true to its consumers, motivated by caring and responsibility, and able to support consumers in being true to themselves.”


Four main components of this definition are:

  1. Continuity: The brand is faithful toward itself

  2. Credibility: The brand is true to its customer

  3. Integrity: The brand is motivated by caring and responsibility

  4. Symbolism: The brand supports consumers in being true to themselves

Connecting with consumers

With the frightening low levels of trust in brands at this state in time, focusing on authenticity might not be a bad investment, as it’s ultimately a way to connect the brand to customers. It’s a way to show that you see customers for who they truly are: People who appreciate a genuine relationship with the brand with which they do business.


Here are three points of research to support it.


1. Authenticity is a demand

Starting off, being authentic is not extraordinary, it’s expected. According to research by the agency Bonfire Marketing, 91% of customers want brands they follow to be authentic in their social media posts. Think about it: We have a whole new generation of consumers, who have gotten accustomed to seeking out information. This goes for marketing too, which means that the demand to deliver has gotten even higher.

2. Authenticity is valued higher than innovation

In determining how important authenticity then is when compared to other attributes, an international survey by Cohn & Wolfe found that 87% of global consumers felt that it was important for brands to “act with integrity at all times,” ranking authenticity above innovation (72%) and product uniqueness (71%) when asked what they valued most in a brand.


3. Authentic communication creates brand attraction and ambassadors

Another study, conducted by the Boston Consulting Group, found that customers identified authenticity as one of the top qualities that would attract them to a brand. However, it goes further than just attraction. The Authentic Brand Index, a study put together by brand consultants Principals and Brand Navigator, found a correlation between a company’s authenticity and the likelihood that customers become advocates for that brand.


Those are some areas of opportunity, but what exactly does this mean for the bottom line?

Authenticity‘s impact on organizational performance

Although the industry is missing solid data when it comes to authenticity's concrete impact on the bottom line (as is the case for most long-term branding investments), it is suggested that it drives higher ROI, consumer loyalty, increase profit margins, more organic reach and increase customer spending – especially when looking towards a younger segment of millennials, who have gotten accustomed to information and demand transparency.


When it comes to advertising, believability makes all the difference and including real users of the brand in marketing communication has created great results for networking app Bumble and beauty brand Dove.

Real Beauty

We cannot talk about authenticity without mentioning Dove. When Dove began its Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004, it transformed itself from merely a soap company to a company with a vision. Their new mission statement was that “beauty should be a source of confidence and not anxiety”. Dove has not only received numerous accolades for their campaigns, but within a decade of the start of their Campaign for Real Beauty, Dove has seen sales jump from $2.5 billion to over $4 billion. A number that speaks for itself.


Arguably one of the most famous Dove films, Real Beauty Sketches explores the gap between how other people perceive us in comparison with our own perception of ourselves. Each woman is the subject of two portraits drawn by FBI-trained forensic artist Gil Zamora: One based on their own description, and the other using a stranger’s observations. The results are surprising.


The Real Beauty Campaign is a full 10 years old, but its message, that everyday women are beautiful in their non-perfect shapes, is still just as powerful. And this one example - out of the many from the campaign - is truly authentic in its execution.


How to work with authenticity

This brings us to my final point in trying to achieve authentic communication yourself. Starting off, you should put some emphasis on what it is that makes your brand (and the way you communicate it) authentic in the eyes of the consumer. What does your brand believe and why is it relevant to consumers?


Try to answer these questions:

  • Is your brand perpetuating value or is it important to what people care about?

  • Is your brand faithful to itself? And to your consumers?

  • And if so, does it remain clear and consistent even if consumer demand changes?


These are just some of the questions to keep in mind if you want to pursue a more authentic brand experience.


Further readings

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you like to read more on this topic, check out The strengths of communicating your flaws, where I look into how we can use our flaws to create trust and distinctiveness for the brand.


You might also like my post on Brand Bravery that discusses how to encourage creativity in marketing.

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