Brands invest millions of dollars in creating an external identity that reflects their mission, values and product. A good brand identity is instantly recognizable, reliable and clear on what your company stands for. That doesn’t make it strong or lasting.
Having a strong, durable brand comes from brand authenticity. Today’s consumers view their spending cash almost like a psychological investment, and want to believe in what they consume. In fact, recent reports show that 90% of consumers say authenticity is important when deciding which brands they like and support.
What It Takes to Create an Authentic Brand Identity
Creating a genuine and impactful brand goes beyond a visually appealing social media account, or a funny Super Bowl commercial. It’s about connecting with consumers on a deeper level and taking actions to live out your brand’s values or support issues that matter. Great brands now honor their customers.
We’ve seen brands do this well. Patagonia recently shared why it doesn’t use the word “sustainable” in its marketing. The decision stems from an awareness that, despite its best efforts, the company is still part of the climate change problem. Ben and Jerry’s is another example. Historically known for taking an unapologetic stance on social issues, its co-founders were arrested for activism work in 2016. By putting themselves on the line, leadership at Ben and Jerry’s showed their support of social issues is unwavering. These choices aren’t made for publicity — they’re the result of years of groundwork aimed at building a trusting, transparent relationship with consumers and honoring the issues that matter most to those who purchase their products. At the end of the day, consumers want to trust and be proud of the brands they support.
Cultivating an authentic brand identity doesn’t happen overnight — it requires time, consistency and empathy. Here are a few key takeaways and simple strategies for getting brand authenticity right.
Start With Your Internal Culture, Then Work Your Way Out
Brand authenticity starts with building a positive internal culture that’s rooted in transparency. Make sure all employees — whether they are in a corporate office, a store location or a distribution center — feel supported, engaged and heard.
Increasing transparency can take several forms, one of which is having frequent, open conversations with employees. By creating this space, you’re not only giving room for people to express their concerns and values, you’re also building community among your staff. Another way to positively impact internal culture is by incorporating employee feedback into your overall mission, asking your employees questions like: What social issues matter most to you? Are there any organizations you wish we were supporting? Incorporate this feedback into your overall mission and day to day activities, and your employees will feel more empowered and supported by your brand. They are your best advocates, and shape your brand every day through their actions.
To take this a step further, identify and acknowledge the weak spots in your company culture. Employees who feel overworked and burnt out won’t be putting their best foot forward. Likewise, companies lacking policies to foster connection among remote employees may find their staff disengaged and unmotivated. It’s important to remember that employees are a brand’s number one asset, and that they are people first and workers second. Address the pain points and make an active effort to increase everyone’s sense of belonging within the organization. By empowering employees, they’ll organically spread your message to potential customers, driving business value for the company as a whole.
Related Article: The Intersection of Employee Experience and Customer Experience
Talk Less, Act More
According to consumers, brand authenticity is less about overt messaging, and more about communicating through mission and action. Today’s consumers are spending consciously and increasingly seeking out brands that actively support causes that align with their own personal values.
Evaluate your corporate spending to ensure the organizations and causes you support align with your brand’s values. Don’t assume people won’t notice where your corporate dollars are being spent. The past two years we’ve seen people hold businesses more accountable than ever. Don’t just attach your name to every trending movement or cause, and stay out of conversations where your brand is irrelevant. Instead, facilitate open conversations with your consumers to eliminate the guessing from your efforts, and find opportunities to leverage your brand’s resources within your community.
There’s ways to do this well — for example, during a disaster in 2017, Budweiser began canning water instead of beer to aid hurricane victims, using its resources in a moment of need. It’s since continued this practice, developing a partnership with the Red Cross to provide support when it’s needed.
Integrity Counts, in Good Times and Bad
Make sure your brand voice is clear, genuine and consistent 100% of the time. Customers are increasingly sensitive to inauthentic branding, so avoid using emotional manipulation techniques in your marketing.
Similarly, own your mistakes. It’s almost guaranteed that your brand will not get it right every single time — no one does. Consumers will take notice of these moments, but they’ll likely be paying even closer attention to how you respond, and whether you learn. We recognize authenticity in humans through traits like honesty and humility. By owning any missteps and learning from them, people will recognize the authenticity in your brand, too. Of course, do your best to keep these moments far and few in between. And be sure to make things right with individual customers when needed. After all, how you correct a problem or mistake is just as important (if not more important) than the issue itself.
These three strategies are a stepping stone to creating an authentic brand consumers know and love. Having a strong, genuine identity builds trust and loyalty, which ultimately drives repeat purchases and leads to lifelong customer relationships. Authenticity is not created overnight — it takes years of consistency to establish yourself as a reliable, reputable, household favorite. But once you put in the time and effort, you’ll create a strong customer base of fierce brand advocates who align with your mission and spread goodwill alongside your brand.
Andrew Konya is the CEO and co-founder of Remesh, an agile market research platform that sparks meaningful conversations between decision-makers and the populations they serve, transforming the way organizations operate and driving more informed, empathetic choices. He began his career as a theoretical physicist at Kent State University, applying machine learning and supercomputing to understand emergent phenomena in complex systems.