Work, InsightsPOSTED August 21, 2017

Why claims of brand “authenticity” ring hollow

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We go through “insights du jour” in brand reputation management and brand marketing and “authenticity” is now reigning supreme.

Although it’s just another term for humanizing a brand, when imbedded in an organization’s core values, it’s a powerful path to a strong and sustained reputational glow.

But we have a problem.

And it’s one we as consultants and brand reputation experts unfortunately perpetuate. We talk, we counsel and we critique brands according to their level of authenticity or lack there-of, but neglect to define what it means or what attributes authenticity requires.

Worse still, we give clients a false sense of reputational security by suggesting that a halo of authenticity can be achieved via tactical initiatives, such as an influencer marketing or social responsibility campaign. Both tactics, when well-conceived, can do a world of good for a product, service or brand, but neither will make a brand authentic.

I find such counsel, which I see far too often in the media, on social channels and at industry events, lazy and misinformed.

Firstly, let me offer you my take on what it means to be authentic:

  • Show and articulate humility: With the exception of a certain individual who holds high office south of the border, we logically acknowledge that no one is perfect and that we all make mistakes. The same goes for brands. It’s the companies that give as much attention into recognizing their areas for improvement as much as their successes that earn our respect. And when mistakes happen, the most reputable brands quickly admit it and accept the consequences. It’s such a logical and effective approach, yet surprisingly rare.
  • Be transparent: Within reason (in the context of competitive, regulatory and legal realities) brands should be forthcoming about their products and services, quality control practices and standards, ethical principles, pricing, ingredients, warranties and so on. As a non-profit, charitable or publicly traded company, clearly disclose detailed financials, and ideally above and beyond the bare minimum regulatory requirements.
  • Listen: It’s no coincidence that within brands, the top performing leaders, salespeople and employees generally are all recognized as good listeners. Guess what? The same goes for a brand. Listening with the intent to learn is not only a show of humility, but a source of powerful intelligence to keep your business and reputation on the up-and-up both from within your company and with customers/stakeholders.
  • Be consistent: I find that demonstrating authenticity is far too often a convenience rather than a leading principle and value. We’ll be authentic some of the time ― when it suits us — just not all of time. We see the same kind of inconsistency with transparency. It too is summoned and dropped when convenient. But there are tough consequences. As brands play fast and loose with the principles of authenticity, so too will employees and customers with their brand loyalty.

Given the influence of social media and the distortions coming from fake news, brand authenticity and communicating with an “authentic” voice is now more important than ever.

Let’s do our clients a big favour by thoroughly defining the critical attributes of an “authentic voice” and what it means to behave in a genuinely authentic manner. That also includes sharing the reputational consequences of not upholding these principles consistently.

Need help defining what “authentic” means for your organization? Drop us a line.

Kenneth Evans is managing partner at APEX Public Relations and ruckus Digital, as well as a reputation management and media training specialist.