Authenticity matters. Consumers can tell when your brand voice is genuine and truly reflects what you stand for. While at one time, offering a good or a service was enough, in today’s experiential economy you need to deliver a unique brand experience to differentiate yourself. Think of brands like Apple, Starbucks, Red Bull, Nordstrom, Nike – just hearing the names evokes an image of who they are and what they stand for.
The combination of technology and increased transparency has led to more savvy consumers who have higher expectations and expect a genuine and consistent customer experience. Authenticity is critically important because it applies to every aspect of your brand: your product, communications, ethics, and brand image, the outward projection of who you are and what you offer. Small and large companies alike realize the need to build branding strategy in an authentic manner, but how? On a macro level, there are three main steps to creating an authentic brand:
1. Know what you stand for.
Have a point of view. Believe in it. Defend it. Share it. Develop a clear and concise mission statement that defines what you stand for as a brand and what customers can expect from you, and then strive to uphold it in everything you do. Consider this your North Star. What are your core values, goals, and brand promises? In today’s uber-connected world of multi-platform touchpoints, consumers expect you to stand for something and be consistent across every interaction they have. Virgin America is a great example – their mission to “make flying good again” resonates in everything they do all the way down to the genuinely funny pre-flight safety music video complete with tech-connected nuns and a robot rap. As a brand, Virgin is modern, fun, innovative, sexy even…the antithesis of other existing airlines at the time of their launch in 2007. Virgin customers are some of the most loyal frequent flyers out there.
2. Learn who your customers are – and what matters to them.
The first step in truly connecting with your target audience is to understand them – truly understand them. How do they spend their time? What do they want out of life? What do they value? What matters to them? Learn as much as you possibly can about them. Consider this foundational customer research. Traditional wisdom is to study their opinions on matters relating to your product or category. However, creating an authentic connection between your brand and a potential customer is no different than any other type of relationship – it can’t be one dimensional. If you strive to understand their lifestyle and values using a more holistic approach, you can build a more genuine connection. Think of brands like Whole Foods and Lululemon. By offering consistently on-brand products, service and even lifestyle-focused events they tell customers, “we get you.” What other store doubles as a yoga studio on Saturday morning? At Lululemon, their mantra is to understand the lifestyle of both customers and employees. Retail employees who are known as “educators,” are encouraged to post one, five and ten year goals. The company recruits the most sought after yoga teachers, runners, and triathletes as “ambassadors” outfitting them and featuring them in store signage as part of their “community.” All of which contribute to why Lululemon loyalists are said to have “cult-like intensity” for the brand.
3. Focus on what matters (to you and to them).
Consumers tell us time and again that they want to be loyal to brands that uphold their values and provide clear and meaningful benefits. Once you establish who you are and what you stand for, and have a solid understanding of who your customers are and what they care about, connect the dots. Tailor your communications to focus on the things that matter most and omit all other extraneous details because they only dilute your message. We often notice in research that the way consumers describe themselves in psychographic batteries and focus groups overlays almost exactly with how they personify the brands they love. In other words, if they say a certain car is edgy, innovative, ahead of its time, and adventurous – chances are they define themselves that way too. True brand loyalty alleviates cognitive dissonance. When you and a brand stand for the same things, your relationship with the brand helps you move closer to your ideal self. Brands like Apple, REI, BMW, and Kashi do this well. This is part of the reason that customized offerings are so appealing. Not only are they unique, but they match and reflect the user’s self-image.
Remember, consumer opinion matters more today than ever before because of the interconnectedness of consumers and instantaneousness of sharing opinions. Think about how much more effective glowing online reviews and word-of-mouth buzz are than any marketing you could do – and they’re free! Align with your customers and give them reason to want to pass that along.
"Authenticity is the benchmark against which all brands are now judged.”
author of The New Marketing Manifesto