Marketers talk a lot these days about authenticity. Brands invest millions in campaigns intended to connect authentically with their customers. They're attempting to demonstrate to customers that the brand and the customer care about the same things.
But authenticity is a bit tricky to define, and many brands struggle to understand why something so nebulous ought to be a priority for their business. They ask, why does authenticity matter?
Why authenticity matters to your brand
Authenticity is defined as being genuine. Authenticity is about being real, being who you say you are. When you're authentic, who you are on the inside is the same as who you reveal to the outside world. When you're authentic, you're being honest about what makes you tick and the purpose that drives you.
Why does being authentic matter? Because we live in an age of skepticism. The average Millennial or GenXer has been the target of advertising since birth. We live in an advertising saturated world, yet surveys show that most consumers simply tune out advertising and don't respond to it. Think about it: last time you made a large purchase, did you do it because of an ad, or did you do your own research and make the decision based on your own findings?
What this reveals is that consumers today are doing more research than ever before about the products they choose to buy. And they're not just looking at product claims, they're looking closely at whether the values that a brand espouses are ones they themselves care about. In short, they care about purpose. But they won't believe in your company's purpose unless your business practices align with the purpose you claim to care about.
Who cares about purpose?
Who cares about purpose? Your customers do. And so do your employees. A five year study by marketing giant Edelman found that when price and quality were equal, the number one thing consumers cared about was - you guessed it - purpose. Consumers are looking for brands that they can believe in, that they can recommend to others, and that they can support with their own dollars.
Purpose and authenticity matter to your employees as well: a recent study by Deloitte found that 81% of respondents who reported working for a company with a strong sense of purpose were confident their company would grow within the coming year. Survey respondents also reported being 18% more likely to believe their company's priority was on making a positive impact on clients, and 30% less likely to believe their company's top priority was meeting short term financial goals.
Already, we can assume that authenticity might present some challenges for brands. If your brand is one that is primarily profit motivated, doesn't care about people and lacks purpose, authenticity isn't going to be particularly helpful unless you're attempting to connect with those who have a similar mindset.
How to Communicate Purpose With Authenticity
Authenticity is to some degree in the eyes of the beholder. Attempts to connect on a basis of something that's ultimately subjective can fall flat if they don't ring true. But there are some fairly reliable - perhaps even scientific - strategies for conveying purpose with authenticity.
"A company behaves in certain ways to its customers and that behavior defines the brand. Great companies are ones where 'what they say' and 'what they do' is a perfect match. Which allows us to say that what a brand is, is nothing more than your customers experience in your culture." explains Andrew Sykes, CEO of Habits at Work, "Then, your habits are your destiny and who you become."
Be Transparent - Transparency is like authenticity in that it's about doing business in a way that aligns with who you say you are. If you're a company that has based its business on healthy food and fresh ingredients, you must deal with quality in a transparent way. If you claim to care about the environment, you must put your money where your mouth is. Transparency is about putting your business practices in alignment with your purpose.
Get In Touch With Your Roots - Over time, many companies become overly focused on short term financial results and this can cause them to lose touch with the thing that got them into business in the first place. Think about your brand's origin story - why did you start in business? Was there a passion or purpose that drove your brand then, or a story that connected strongly with customers? Many famous American brands have an equally famous origin story. For instance, the Levi's brand was started by an immigrant who made tough pants for prospectors during the California gold rush. It's an origin story that still evokes a sense of ruggedness that characterizes the brand today. Your roots may hold the answer to the questions, "why are we here and why should customers care?"
Connect Through Stories - Consumers, employees and other stakeholders may be tuning out ads, but that doesn't mean they aren't listening to your brand's stories. It's all about how you tell those stories. Stories that add value, answer a need or connect with your customer's interests (their purpose) are still relevant, even in the age of skepticism. People are looking to make connections with brands whose purpose is aligned with what their customers value. Persuasive storytelling helps develop empathy - a sense of shared feeling - that demonstrates those shared values.
Customers care about your company's purpose when it aligns with what they hold to be important. They believe in your purpose when your business practices align with the purpose you claim to care about. That's where authenticity comes in. Authenticity is at the core of communicating your brand's purpose. To be authentic, you have to be who you say you are.