Are you for real? The value of authenticity in marketing


It’s fashionable to be yourself.  At least, that’s what we like to think. From mental health to cellulite, we live in an age where we want to see our celebrities without their make-up on. To know that, just like us, they have days where they don’t want to get out of bed. From influencers to brands, authenticity is the name of the game in 2019. But what does that mean and how do you get it right?

At the start of the year we discussed the biggest trends in marketing this year and customer service was proving to be the most competitive battleground for sales. With the rise in review platforms, and the transparency that they bring, the synergy between what a brand says and what a brand does has never been more important.

Equally, just a couple of weeks ago we were discussing the importance of nurturing a community of brand advocates and leveraging their invested interest into sales. All of that hinges on an emotional or ideological buy-in.

So first of all, what exactly is brand authenticity?

The Journal of Consumer Psychology classes it as the following:

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.

That boils down to integrity, honesty, transparency and responsibility.

Why is brand authenticity important?

In the initial instance, these all seem like pretty great things for a business to be. While manipulated consumer surveys and the use of choice information from research no doubt continues, this is no longer a Mad Men era. The connected world has meant that if you’re not doing what you say you’re doing, sooner or later it will come out in a barrage of rapidly spreading, highly damaging, largely embarrassing social media posts.

Being authentic and honest is not just about good business. The alternative can lead to decidedly bad press. For example, when United Airlines publicly responded to a passenger being dragged off one of its planes earlier this year, the corporation came out with multiple conflicting messages within 24 hours. The result was not only confusion, but also public distrust.

However, on a positive note, authenticity, responsibility and showing that you stand for something that matters to consumers can make a real commercial difference both in the short and long term. Your brand’s integrity is likely to have a proactive impact on who consumers choose to buy from and who they are loyal to. People no longer buy from X because that’s what they’ve always done. People make conscious choices about brand loyalty:

Research by consumer authority Mintel has shown that as many as 56% of Americans will stop buying from brands that they believe are unethical, tying in with the growing success of green marketing campaigns across a number of industries. Additionally, in a global survey, 91% of consumers reported they were likely to switch to a brand that supports a good cause, given similar price and quality. Whether they actually will do as they say is another matter.

The bottom line is that it’s all about trust. If we feel like a person, influencer or brand is being genuine, we’re more likely to like them, talk about them and buy from them, because, we trust them.

Plus, it’s nice to be nice, so there’s that.

It’s got to be genuine

The really important thing about authenticity is that it has to be, well, authentic. People like businesses that are doing good things. But no one likes to see a business that’s shamelessly capitalising on a cause. You’ve got to actually be properly aligned with it.

Famously, you might recall Pepsi’s faux pas with Kendall Jenner. It saw her defeating police brutality with a can of Pepsi. It was seen as a corporation cashing in on the climate of political protest, in particular the Black Lives Matter movement, in a reductive and tone deaf manner.

Mastercard’s 2018 Fifa World Cup campaign met with a similarly embarrassing thumbs down. They proposed to donate 10,000 meals to starving in developing countries for every goal scored by Messi or Neymar Jr in the tournament. Social media erupted in a blaze of fury. It pointed out that the enormous company should donate the meals regardless of which players scored. Which, in the end, they did. But without the goodwill they had hoped for.

In essence, the public did not buy the authenticity of the message. And apparently didn’t think that starving children were an appropriate marketing tool.

So who’s doing brand authenticity well?

With all those warnings then, who’s getting it right?

Discuss this topic and outdoor clothing brand, Patagonia, is always top of the list. Honesty has always been at the heart of their business, and in particular a focus on environmental causes and human rights. This has formed the basis of many of their clever, insightful, intelligent, educational, and sometimes controversial campaigns. But it’s also backed up by what they do.

They invest in renewable energy. Amongst other things, they donate 1% of their profits to grassroots environmental groups. Patagonia promotes fair labour practices across the supply chain. And they operate internal programmes such as their drive less scheme, which encourages employees to car-pool when going to work.

The basic premise of authenticity isn’t difficult. However, the execution of it can throw up pitfalls that even really big brands have fallen foul of. The bottom line is that authenticity isn’t just a marketing issue. Neither is it just about the advert your broadcast or the Tweets you post. It’s an important pillar that runs through all parts of your business. it drives reputation as well as revenue, and it needs to be considered at the heart of strategy.