What does it mean for a brand to be authentic? It has a lot to do with ethical behaviour but mostly it should be about telling the truth and demonstrating your commitment to this truth. Consumers are seeking out brands that do more than just talking about how great they are, they are looking for proof that the brand is willing and able to practise what they preach. It is increasingly vital that brands rise up to this challenge and prove to consumers they intend to live up to their brand promise.
Authenticity is not something you can create via a campaign. It needs to be demonstrated across every touch point and every moment the brand interacts with the consumer. Most importantly it needs to be true – not just a gimmick. Consumers are savvy and their expectations are high. According to last year’s Edelman Trust Barometer, the expectation on CEOs to step up and lead change was up to a record high of 65%. CEOs and CMOs can achieve this by working together to put brand purpose front and centre of the organisation.
Not only are consumers seeking out and choosing to support authentic brands, they are also actively calling out inauthentic brands (mainly via social media). The speed at which disapproval can spread is rapid, and the digital footprint left is extremely hard to reverse or repair.
As a brand strategy agency, BrandMatters work with brands big and small, established or start-up, to develop an authentic brand narrative and positioning. A brand’s story needs to be rooted in the brand vision and needs to ensure it addresses the target audience in a way that resonates with them and makes them believe the brand truly understands their needs.
In this time of disruptors and game-changers, no market, industry and category is safe from being called out or completely alienated by consumers. In the wake of the banking royal commission – a recent Roy Morgan Report indicated that 1.3 million Australians are considering opening new bank accounts in the next 6 months. In an industry where the hassle often outweighs the motivation, this number is staggering. ING and Bank Australia are two examples of financial services brands who have stepped up with a message that targets these consumers and are demonstrating how brands, even banks, can be good, ethical and authentic.
Putting the customer first. This shouldn’t be a new concept, but for certain industries, complacency has taken over – performance has been measured by profits and dividends alone. This view is incredibly short sighted. Brands need to put their customers first if they want to survive long term.
Brands need to stick to their guns. Once they have developed and articulated their brand position and brand values, they need to find ways to communicate and demonstrate these values. Examples such as Nike, Lego and closer to home Qantas are legacy brands who have consistently demonstrated their values. They have managed to stay relevant and consumers appreciate this consistency because trust has been developed and consumers know what to expect from these brands.
It doesn’t mean that they can’t change, adapt or innovate – but when they do it must be in a way that is in-keeping with their brand position and brand values.
In the past, CEOs and CFOs have been told to put the shareholder first. Now, even their largest stakeholders are challenging this, and realising that ethics and sustainability needs to be part of the equation.
Many brands and organisations have implemented a corporate social responsibility policy (CSR), and actively support a charity or support the community in some way, shape or form. The main issue with CSR is it is often seen as a side responsibility that comes after profits. The values that lead to a CSR policy should be shifted over to become part of the brand values rather than a side project.
Brands who care about what their customers are thinking and feeling will engage in brand research or brand tracking. Asking for feedback and continually improving based on the feedback will help brands keep a pulse on the market and the needs of their target audience. It inevitably will help them make decisions about the future of the brand and how to stay relevant. NPS is a great way to measure consumer sentiment. Simply put, understanding the likelihood of your customers recommending your brand is a great benchmark of your brand equity and customer satisfaction.
Many businesses have adopted the Net-Promoter Score as their dipping stick into customer satisfaction – if they see the levels change, this can trigger some more intensive investigation or research and lead to changes in the brand strategy.
Airbnb’s brand positioning is ‘belong anywhere’. The idea behind Airbnb (people essentially opening their homes for strangers to share) was incredibly reliant on building trust. More importantly, the trust needed to be two-way. The owner of the property (host) needed to trust the customer (guest) and the guest needed to trust that the offering from the host was authentic and genuine.
To many, this seemed like an impossible level of trust and convincing people would be no simple task. Airbnb demonstrated their authenticity by implementing a system of support, connection and safety.
Further to this, they are continually standing up and shouting out about the things they value and believe in. Examples of this were their support for marriage equality and also their protest of the Trump travel ban with their campaign #weaccept. Not only did support for these issues align to their brand, but the message of acceptance is one that underpins the trust they have built in their community (both guests and hosts). Airbnb’s entire business model relies on establishing this trust, building relationships between strangers, which is essentially what every brand needs to do.
When reading Bank Australia’s vision and values you may well disbelieve it. Bank Australia was established in 1957, originally as the CSIRO Co-operative Credit Union. In 2015 it was renamed Bank Australia and continues its’ focus on ethical and sustainable banking – which is 100% owned by its’ customers.
The timing of the launch of their recent campaign was precise and resonated immediately with consumers who had lost faith in the traditional banks and were looking for a better alternative.
The campaign highlights how the brand is turning its values into action – for example by only investing in renewable energy and affordable housing solutions and not investing in fossil fuels.
At BrandMatters, we believe relationships matter, a positive relationship between your brand and your customer is fundamental to success. In a world where consumers are bombarded with choice, as a brand, you need to stand for something – otherwise, the consumer choice has no critical path and will end up being about price. Living and breathing your brand values (both internally and externally) will help you develop a strong bond with like-minded customers.
Creating buy-in from your employees – who in turn will become brand ambassadors – is a great first step (read more in our recent blog employers guide to re-building trust in a disillusioned world). Living your brand values internally – with a strong employee value proposition – is a great way to establish how strongly it resonates and will result in your employees becoming strong brand advocates, working from the inside out.
Starting with a strong set of principles, we can help you develop and articulate your brand’s purpose, and most importantly provide the tools to bring this purpose to life through authentic interactions with your customers.