There’s a lot of talk out there about the importance of brand authenticity. A quick Google search on the topic spouts out over eight million results. And according to Cohn & Wolfe’s “Authentic 100,” a global report on the role of authenticity in business, nearly 90 percent of consumers claim they’re willing to reward and support a brand they perceive as authentic. Wowza!

But at the end of the day, what makes a brand truly authentic? Handcrafted products… a meaningful mission… stellar service? And is it actually possible for today’s businesses to ignite interest, gain loyalty, and stand out in this dizzying digital world—simply by being real?

The trek toward true authenticity

While brand authenticity might trace back to a whole slew of characteristics and qualities, we’ve definitely seen a handful of themes prevail, both in our work with clients and in the greater brand landscape of modern marketing. Good old time and experience have shown us that the most authentic brands—brands that rightfully earn the ongoing respect and loyalty of their customers—are the ones that follow their own versions of a tried-and-true trail.

Start with the story

Discovering and sharing your brand personality is the first and most important step in the authenticity journey. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. You can’t expect others to know what you stand for…if you don’t. So take the time upfront to get in touch with your inner brand, find your true story, and share it with the world. Showcase the people that make your brand, and all the heart and soul they put into it.

This is something that our client Associates in Family Medicine (AFM) does particularly well. As the largest locally owned medical group in Northern Colorado, AFM espouses community-centered health care from genuinely down-to-earth providers. And by sharing fun glimpses into the lives and interests of their team members, AFM uniquely conveys their distinctive brand story—a story built around world-class care delivered by hometown professionals.

Stick to it

When you’re true to yourself, it shows. So don’t just say that your brand is authentic. Be authentic. Put your time, money, and energy where your mouth is by living out the standards you promote.  

TOMS® is a fantastic example of a brand that walks the talk. The One for One® Company has turned one man’s story into a worldwide movement—helping a person in need with every product purchased. By using company profits to provide shoes, sight, water, safe birth, and bullying prevention services across the globe, TOMS consistently stays true to their corporate mission of improving lives. And their founding principle on the power of giving just keeps getting bigger.

Listen and learn

It’s not enough to discover who you are and then go about your business. Once your story is out there, pay attention to what your customers are saying about it, and take their comments to heart. Actively and openly engage with them on social media to benefit from their ideas, apply their feedback, and continue building on your brand identity over time.

Of course, we all mess up from time to time. So own up to your mistakes and maintain a high level of transparency and trust with your customers. After all, it’s only when we admit we were wrong that we can actually learn from our slip-ups. And if you want an example of a not-so-great apology, read the statement from The Honest Company regarding complaints about their sunscreen. While the company’s response is serious in addressing the issue, it does little to empathize with customers or identify a solution for moving forward.

Embrace a cause

Deloitte’s 2017 “Millennial Survey” shows that 87 percent of Millennials want companies to value a larger purpose over sales and profits. They also believe that businesses have the platform and opportunity to make a difference in the world. In order to relate authentically with America’s largest demographic, plus do something meaningful for your community or the world, find a cause that matches up with your brand mission and values. 

One of our clients has done just that. As a leading provider of analytical instruments and reagents for testing water quality in a variety of industries and markets around the world, Hach founded the Hach Helps initiative—a tangible way for their company and employees to help communities across the globe that are in desperate need of clean, safe water. The Hach Walk for Water is just one of the many causes that make up the company’s overarching initiative. Through this annual event, people have the opportunity to build awareness around the global water crisis and raise funds for sustainable water treatment systems around the world—just by taking a walk.

Show customers you care

While embracing a cause is certainly an important element of building brand authenticity, delivering exceptional customer service is still the crown jewel of truly reliable, relatable, and respected brands. You can’t expect to forge lasting relationships with customers or encourage brand loyalty if they don’t feel the love.

In the words of Cohn & Wolfe’s “Authentic 100,” “Consumers are looking for daily, real-life reminders that they can count on brands.” The report shows that most consumers “prioritize ‘high quality’ (66 percent) and ‘delivering on promises’ (70 percent) over more lofty measures like ‘social responsibility’ (57 percent) and ‘environmental responsibility’ (55 percent).”

A big brand that earns an A++ when it comes to great customer service and experiences is Southwest Airlines. As a matter of fact, when lined up against three other major domestic carriers in MBLM’s “2017 Brand Intimacy Report,” the airline earned the highest Brand Intimacy Quotient by far. Why? With competitive prices, free checked bags, friendly employees, and a people-oriented philosophy, Southwest consistently sends the message that customers come first.

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Yet showing customers you care extends beyond even great customer service. It also has a lot to do with communicating your passion for what you do. One of our newest clients, Purpose Brewing, has a profound commitment to their craft. Whether it’s personally harvesting hops, giving each brew the time it needs to mature, or incorporating local ingredients for truly distinctive flavors, Purpose Brewing remains ever mindful of the art and dedication that goes into producing their brews. Even the company’s name is a tribute to their larger philosophy, one of nurturing the resources and ingredients around them to arrive at a higher, better purpose… “a work of good taste.”

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Wrapping things up

In a world where businesses are constantly under the scrutiny and influence of today’s tech-savvy customers, authentic brands are the ones that stand out and succeed. But one thing’s for sure; just saying that you’re authentic won’t help you cut it amidst considerable competition. Doing the work to actually be the brand you claim to be is what will draw people in and, more importantly, keep them coming back for a long, long time.