Indie Brand Series: Authenticity in Digital: Why indie brands need to get real

Indie Brand Series: Authenticity in Digital: Why indie brands need to get real

In an era of ‘fake news’, photoshop and social media filters, that manipulate reality, brand authenticity is becoming an increasingly important factor in the consumer decision-making process. It’s putting honesty and authenticity at the top of the agenda, but how can indie brands ensure their brand communications are authentic, and do not alienate the next generation of consumers?

Next in our series of articles for indie brands, we explore the importance of authenticity and why brands need to get real, be consistent and understand the value of transparency.

Unfortunately, brand authenticity can be hard to define, but today’s consumers have an innate ability to know it when they see it – and to take brands to task when they step away from their core values and beliefs.

Take Nars, as an example. The cosmetics brand made headlines in 2017 when it went back on its own cruelty-free stance, in order to operate in the Chinese market – where animal testing is currently mandatory for all cosmetic companies. The brand was accused of putting ‘money over principles’, with many of its fans boycotting its products for compromising on its beliefs. Even a public apology and the company’s commitment to putting an end to animal cruelty couldn’t repair the damage fully.

This is just one example that demonstrates the importance of authenticity for today’s consumers. According to Cohn & Wolfe’s Authentic 100 survey , 87% of global consumers felt it was important for brands to ‘act with integrity at all times’, ranking authenticity above innovation (72%) and product uniqueness (71%). Nine out of 10 consumers were willing to reward a brand for its authenticity, while 52% would recommend the brand to others and 49% pledged their loyalty.

Personal care brands such as Burt’s Bees, Colgate, Crest and Dove successfully secured their spots amongst the top 50 authentic brands as ranked by US consumers – achieving the 3rd, 31st, 38th and 41st places respectively. But, what do they convey in their branding that their competitors don’t, and how can indie brands learn from them to embrace their own authenticity?

Today’s consumers want more than just quality and good value – they want a brand that represents and shares their beliefs and principles. And, here no consumer groups are more relevant than that of millennials and Gen Z. This always-on social and mobile-savvy generation won’t accept inconsistencies between the image a brand projects, and what it represents in reality. It’s important to realise that they have the purchasing power and platform to drive disruption when they disagree.

Millennials and Gen Z, in particular, are recognized for having a preoccupation with authenticity that makes them scrutinize the motives of large brands, opening up an opportunity for indie brands to appeal to their more independent sensibilities.

And, as the largest generation in the history of the US – with more than 83.1 million millennials born between 1980 and 1996 – they not only represent a power-house of influence and purchasing power, but have enacted a clear shift in consumer behaviours. For example, less than 1% respond to or are influenced by traditional advertising , while more than 71% turn to the internet and social media for their information on news, reviews, and more.

Clearly for brands today, the question is no longer whether to be authentic, but how to actually achieve it.

Be reliable, be respectful, be real
As outlined in Cohn & Wolfe’s Authentic 100, brands need to be reliable (deliver on your brand promises), respectful (treat your customers well and protect their data) and real (communicate honestly and with integrity) in order to gain the loyalty and trust of today’s consumers.

Authenticity requires brands to stay true to their DNA; be original, genuine and maintain a consistent voice, perspective and image across every channel and interaction. To do this, brands must know what they stand for, and why. Understanding this at the outset, authenticity becomes the core of the brand, rather than an after-thought. It’s why so many legacy brands, fighting to gain the purse strings of younger consumers so quickly fail – because their intention and branding are not authentic and they are merely trying to capitalize on a market opportunity in order not to be left out. It is why Nars, despite its reasoning and apology, failed to gain back the trust of consumers when shifting its policies for the purpose of gaining market share in a new geographic region.

Committing to and delivering on your brand promises here is essential. If you choose to be cruelty-free or use only natural ingredients, it is important to consider what this means to your brand and journey to success. What are the restrictions you are potentially placing on your brand, from exporting, pricing or sourcing, and how important is this to you as a brand owner? Make sure you are happy to commit to these challenges or risk creating further distrust along the way.

By identifying, focusing and sticking to your core values, your customers will also build realistic expectations for your brand. Whether it’s the natural ingredients used in your formulations or your cruelty-free approach to testing. Every promise a brand makes can either help to build trust or break it – resulting in serious damage to your reputation. It means brands not only have to think about the message, but the consequence of what you say, and how you say it.

Focus on the conversations
With social media providing a means for consumers and brands to interact daily, brands must put forward a natural, real voice that consumers can identify with. This should be used to hold real conversations with customers, whether it’s through a tweet, direct message, Instagram or Facebook update, or email you send.

Indie brands here are in a unique position, as often the founders – those at the heart of the business and it’s DNA – will be those in the driving seat for engagement. Just remember, that as the business grows, so will your workforce, so make sure they understand your core values and can mirror the tone and style established and recognized by your customers online.

Greater than the sum of its parts
Brand authenticity is more than honesty, transparency or integrity. It’s all of those things and more. Authentic brands are consistent, they provide reliability throughout their brand journey – be that their products or communications. They are original and demonstrate a passion and expertise for their products. They are empathetic and socially aware. They know who they are, as well as their customers and they have the resolve to stay true to their core values and beliefs, no matter what.

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[i] https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/nars-cosmetics-boycott-cruelty-free-brand-no-longer-consumers-chinese-market-china-animal-a7814466.html

[ii] http://www.authentic100.com/

[iii] http://millennialbranding.com/2015/millennial-consumer-study/ 

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