What is brand authenticity?

Be Authentic

Posted by Ray Poynter, 27 February, 2020

One of the key demands for brands today is to be authentic, but what is authentic? To me it comprises three elements:

  • Being true to your promise
  • Not being two faced
  • Not doing inauthentic things

Being true to your promise is all about living up to your brand image, for Patagonia it means giving 1% of revenue to environmental groups, campaigning for environmental causes, but most of all it means creating durable products (because durable products are better for the planet and better for wearing when exploring the planet). Zappos are committed to delivering ‘Wow through service’, so authenticity includes all staff going through the same 4-week training as the call centre staff, using ‘Holacracy’ as a system self-governing units to distribute decision making, and offering new hires a $2000 quitting bonus (to make sure only the right people stay).

Not being two faced means not doing one thing in one market and another thing in another market, or sending one message to one group of people and a different message to others. Brand Dove does a good job at being authentic about its attitude to women and beauty. But Unilever, in owning the brands Lynx (Axe in some markets) and Dove, did (for many years) a much less good job of being authentic, supporting two very different views of women.

Not doing inauthentic things means not offering services or products that undercut the brand’s promise. For a premium brand this might mean not offering a discount line, for meat brand it might mean not offering a vegan option, for a politician it might mean not supporting an important donor if it conflicts with his or her ‘values’ (or not taking money from that donor). If you can’t do something authentically, don’t do it. This was the lesson that Pepsi learned when it bombed out with its Kendall Jenner ad that tried to leverage the Black Lives Matter campaign.

Other Examples?

What examples of authenticity would you add? What examples of a lack of authenticity would you mention?