Brand authenticity is rare these days, and given customers' skepticism of businesses both large and small, no organization is safe from scrutiny. While everyone knows that companies are in business to make money, today's consumers demand that the brands they buy from embrace a larger purpose. That's why it's more important than ever that companies have something more genuine to offer their audience than the company motto "We're all about the Benjamins."
With a million ways to research products at their fingertips, consumers can easily find contradictions in your image if you're not careful. And considering 90 percent of Millennials value authenticity, according to a Stackla survey, when choosing between brands, the way you present your organization can determine your success.
According to the same survey, younger generations boast $200 billion in annual spending capacity, and they're not going to waste it on brands more interested in making a buck than upholding their supposed values. If it's clear you're offering false promises and empty rhetoric, they'll find another company that has their best interests in mind.
While this might seem self-explanatory, the importance of an authentic image can't be overstated. Maintaining a genuine brand is more complicated than telling yourself, "Honesty is the best policy." The following strategies can help ensure your brand identity resonates deeply with your customers, transforming them into loyal advocates for your organization.
1. Make sure your brand mission is everyone's mission.
Brand authenticity means more than following truth-in-advertising laws. It's a constant commitment to your company's calling, meaning every employee has to make the effort, from front-line workers to those in the C-suite.
For Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, president and CEO of Earth Friendly Products, maker of ECOS cleaning solutions, this means that she is not exempt from the green mission of her company at large. "As a leader who espouses environmental stewardship, you must walk the talk," she says. "It's not enough to set forth sustainability expectations for others. Those same principles (on everything from waste reduction to carbon neutrality) should guide your actions, day in and day out--professionally and personally."
Your company's goals may not involve sustainability, but this principle applies to any corporate value. Encourage your team to follow your lead. Everyone at your company should walk your mission statement's talk. Customers will notice whether your team is-or isn't-truly passionate about what your business is providing.
2. Share your company's compelling point of view through content.
An authentic brand goes beyond satisfying its customers' needs. Your portable phone charger may be useful, but once 10 other companies make one, why should anyone keep buying yours? That's where your brand point of view comes in. Create content that is relevant to your organization and interesting to the consumer, but that also communicates your brand's purpose. Your product isn't just about charging your customers' phones, it's about making sure they're never stranded on the side of the road with a phone out of juice and no way to reach their loved ones. Communicating the all-important "why" behind what you do will strengthen your customer's bond with your product.
And remember that your point of view should be an extension of your brand. Take into account your brand's history and ensure you stay in line with your values. For instance, Whole Foods, which opened in 1980, has continued to focus on overall health--healthy food, healthy lifestyles, and a healthy community--as it grew into a chain and was later acquired by Amazon. Despite the changes the company has undergone, the health-oriented content Whole Foods creates has helped the brand maintain its authenticity by consistently proclaiming its values.
3. Show your roots, and your future.
Effective brands often rely on the past. Customers want to know your roots, and perhaps the best way to convey where you come from is to tell a story. Maybe you run a restaurant based in Omaha, and your goal has always been to serve authentic Midwestern cuisine. Acknowledging the long history behind your company's values will demonstrate the commitment and authenticity behind your product.
That said, your customers live in a different world than where and when you started. They may value your history, but they also value change and innovation. No doubt that's why Amazon topped communications agency Cohn & Wolfe's list of the 20 most authentic brands in the U.S. Even as the company has grown, it keeps experimenting and is ready to adapt and evolve when it makes new discoveries. Meanwhile, it maintains the focus on customer service that has been its core value from the start.
Your story, too, should celebrate your company's past while acknowledging that the future will be different. Every ode to your history should highlight the values you maintain even as your brand adapts to industry changes and innovation.
Profitability and authenticity aren't mutually exclusive-in fact, today, they're joined at the hip. Your customers know you're selling a product, but if you prove you're also there to make an impact, they won't see you as just another business. Maybe they'll see you as a genuine solution to a need they've had all along.