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Authenticity in Branding


In today’s episode, we are going to tackle the topic of brand authenticity. While it may seem lofty, brand authenticity is not nearly as complex of a subject as you may think. We see many examples of this concept every day – think Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, Zappo’s approach to customer service and company culture, or even how Oprah uses her story and her character to build her brand around herself.

LAS019: Authenticity in Branding

Let’s break this down on an atomic level. A brand is described as a “name given to a product and/or service such that it takes on an identity by itself.” We know that a brand is so much more than a name, logo, or a catchphrase. A brand is essentially the character or personality of your product, service, or in these days, your content. Your brand is who you are. It tells people what you stand for and how strongly you stand for something.

Authenticity is defined as something that is real, genuine, and reliable. If something is authentic, it is understood that it is not counterfeit or fake. When potential customers or the general public sense inauthenticity in your branding, products, or services, they stop trusting you. Maybe not right away, but they will slowly start recognizing that there is something off or disingenuous about your messaging. This makes people hesitant to buy into anything that you are trying to sell them – whether it’s an idea or a tangible item. 

 Let’s revisit the Dove Real Beauty campaign. This campaign has been around for over 15 years at this point and has quite honestly, completely reshaped how we position Dove products in our minds. Now referred to at the Dove Self Esteem Project, they have created a genuine and thoughtful connection between them, their products, and their customers. Dove transformed itself from being a soap company to being a pillar of confidence, vision, and acceptance in the beauty and skincare industry. They aligned the reputation of their products with women feeling good about their bodies and happy in their own skin. 

At this point, we know that people don’t buy products or services; they buy emotions. There are far too many businesses and companies all driving in similar lanes, so they have to recognize what makes them stand out from their competition. Usually, it is not enough to say, “Hey, I have the lowest prices,” or “Buy my product; it’s top of the line.” These statements and approaches never tackle the most critical issue – value. And, despite this obsession with consumerism, we rarely feel any joy or experience value in something based off of how much it costs or how much better it is than what its competitors are making. We associate something’s value with how it makes us feel. 

If you were a kid growing up in the 80s and 90s, then you likely watched an episode or two of Oprah – probably many more, but I am being conservative here. People were obsessed with Oprah’s show and how she tackled issues that may have made others feel uncomfortable. But Oprah was not the first person on television to host a show that highlighted important topics and discussions. So, why is she now the head of a 1 billion dollar brand? Her authenticity. Oprah’s ultimate mission is to make people feel good and hopeful. Her show, magazine, and subsequent material inspired her fans. This is why they continued to watch her show, buy her magazine, and even purchase books that she said were worthy of their time. 

There are many ways to begin creating an authentic approach to branding your products, services, social media presence, and whatever else you may be trying to perpetuate. The two main concepts that have to be at the forefront of your approach are your values and your integrity. When you accurately communicate these things with your audience, they begin to relate to you and your brand. This relationship that they build with you and your brand is so much more powerful than any other form of marketing, advertising, or communication. 

They feel connected on a level much more profound than merely purchasing a product or following a page. So, let’s take a dive into how you can begin creating brand authenticity to start making some real, deep, and lasting connections with your audience. 

Let’s talk about using storytelling to build authenticity

As humans, we LOVE a good story, whether real or fictional. However, there is something incredibly unique about our responses to real stories, especially if there is a powerful way to relate to the person or brand telling the story. When we process information in a more narrative or story-like form, we remember concepts within that story so much better than a headline or bullet points on a list. 

A fun little side note: Stanford conducted a study in which subjects were told to listen to pitches that contained either facts and figures or a story. Out of the group, only 5% recalled the statistics, while a massive 63% remembered the plots of the stories. We are humans, not computers. We need connection and a human touch!

When you start pulling from the authentic narrative of your brand’s story or your personal journey, people become much more invested. You are essentially sharing with others the origin story of your brand or what its core values are. Your storytelling should create an emotional connection with your audience. 

A great example of this was the “Say What You Need to Say” campaign that Hallmark ran with the John Mayer song of the same title. Through commercials, the music, and strong visuals of family and friends coming together, Hallmark was able to create a very strong emotional tie to the brand. Greeting cards essentially take the place of our own words to tell our loved ones how we feel about them and their essential moments throughout life. By showcasing the why Hallmark essentially does what they do, they created an incredibly compelling and lasting message with their audience.

The great part about a story that is genuine, authentic, and has integrity is that you don’t have to make it up. There is no fancy spinning to be done or people to persuade. You simply tell your audience, “Hey, this is why we do what we do and how we strive to make your life better from a lesson we learned in our lives, or because of the values that we hold dear to our hearts and our beliefs.” Your audience will remember that heartfelt message before they remember how much cheaper you are than their competitor or the number of units that you have already sold. 

The Three R’s

At this point, you may be thinking, alright, these are great abstract concepts – good storytelling, a powerful message, appealing to people’s emotions, but what makes authenticity authentic? How do we quantify this idea outside of these swirling, feel-good emotions like trust, inspiration, and nostalgia? Altogether, there are three main concepts behind an authentic brand that creates a definite sense of action behind the idea. The three qualities to make an authentic brand are that it is reliable, respectful, and real.

Reliability means that you have created a reputation and a promise of consistency, quality, trustworthiness, and accountability. Your audience knows that you are honest and willing to stand by your product, your service, and your brand with pride because you have created something worthy of a trusted standing. A great example of an authentic brand that has to build a strong sense of reliability between its brand and its audience is Toyota. When you think of a valuable, reliable, family car that will keep you and your loved ones safe, Toyota is almost always at the top of that list. They don’t try to reel people in with fanciness or luxury because that isn’t who they are or who they want to be. They know that their customers rely on the promise that they are building cars that will allow them to drive around with peace of mind. 

Creating a reliable brand may seem like a no-brainer, but ask yourself how many brands that you know of who have kept their promises, communicate information about themselves honestly, and don’t strive to place their own interests above those of their customers? If it is hard to think of one, it’s because reliability has become the exception in today’s world of fast fashion, easy money, and quantity over quality. 

A respectful brand very simply keeps their customers at the very center of everything they do. Consumers place more importance on brands that treat them well over how brands treat the environment and impact the planet, as well as how clear a brand is about their own beliefs. That last part of beliefs may seem confusing, but here is how stating your beliefs as a brand differs from your authenticity of a brand: focusing too much on the beliefs of your brand puts the focus on the brand itself, focusing on how your brand authentically adds value to your audience sets the focus on them, which is the absolute most crucial part of authentically branding yourself or your business. How is your product making your customers’ lives easier? How is your service saving them time? How does your story or your brand’s story help them?

In order to be a brand that exudes respect, you must treat your customers or your audience as the absolute center and the most pivotal part of your business. Amazon is a particularly great example of a customer-centric brand. They were one of the very first eCommerce companies to employ a no-questions-asked return policy for their customers. This may seem like a standard or expected concept today, but ten years ago, they were finding ways to put customers first that no other company had explored. Amazon remains the most trusted and respected online retailer because they put their customers first. 

We have got the last “R” in the three R’s, and that is real. It is no coincidence that being real and being authentic are incredibly similar identifiers. Being honest, open, and vulnerable in your communications with your audience has an incredibly powerful and compelling impact. We all feel imperfect; we all have flaws; we are all human. In order for you to humanize your brand into something that is unique and authentic, you have to find ways to show comfort in your flaws and imperfections. If your shortcomings are something that has affected or can affect your customers, then your need to be honest in your faults and weaknesses and communicate how you are going to fix that part of your business or your brand. 

Touching back on Toyota. They had a national scandal throughout the United States in 2009 and 2010 as a manufacturing issue led to at least five deaths.  This defect caused the accelerators to potentially become stuck under the mats in the car, creating a loss of control for the driver. Toyota admitted that it misled consumers by concealing the truth and making deceptive statements. Now, this behavior obviously does not demonstrate the reliable, respectful, and real behavior that we are used to seeing from Toyota. But that isn’t the most important thing to focus on for the sake of this topic. The most important thing to pay attention to is that they admitted that they were wrong, that they screwed up and did not live up to the expectations they had set for themselves, and that had been set by others. This admittance of guilt and they’re being open about their mistakes essentially saved their brand’s reputation because it was a very real, very human response to a problem. 

Being Authentic

For those who do not plan on owning and operating a massive company like Toyota or Amazon, or for those who are artists and content creators, a significant part of your brand’s authenticity comes from the personal authenticity that you have! When your brand has a smaller, more intimate, or digital audience, you are the brand. Branding yourself can be even more difficult than branding a product or service because you essentially have to figure out what makes you who you are – what makes you authentically you.

There are a few ways that you can essentially develop or develop more of your authenticity so that it naturally comes through in your branding efforts. 

You first need to find ways to show your true self. Especially with the advent of social media, we tend to give people the highlights of our lives – only the good, celebratory, or happy moments. There is nothing wrong with sharing this part of ourselves. People love to see things that are heartwarming and inspiring. However, if you don’t also show the more difficult and challenging aspects of yourself, your audience is likely to feel misled, or at the very least, they aren’t going to connect with you because you aren’t showing them what makes you human. Denying your audience the chance to see some of the same things that they struggle with is a detriment to how they connect with you, which is a problem for your brand. 

Another great way to develop an authentic brand is to tell stories – larger companies refer to this as storytelling marketing, which we touched on at the beginning of this episode. But for a smaller business or someone focusing on a personal or lifestyle brand, including stories that are related to your product, service, or content is an effective and powerful way to make yourself feel more real to your audience. If you created something to fix a problem in your life and that product or that service has become the core of your business, you need to tell others about it! Let them know how it made your life better and why you were compelled to create the same resolution for them. This will show your audience that you are heavily invested in helping them overcome the same challenges. 

Above all, be passionate! Show your enthusiasm, your passion, your excitement! Be corny and silly and laugh at yourself when sharing content or showing your audience part of who you are and your life. When people can laugh together, or feel sad together, or create inspiration from each other, they develop such an incredibly strong bond. This bond that you create with your audience through authentically branding yourself will cement you and your business’s role in their lives. 

When your audience can see that you are excited about and invested in what you are saying to them and the product or services you are essentially marketing to them, they mirror those same sentiments. Think about when you meet somebody new. If they are kind and warm, welcoming and funny, you are so much more likely to respond in kind. You will want to get to know this person on a deeper level, spend more time with them, and keep them around – keep them in your life. On the flip side, if someone is guarded or cold, maybe they don’t offer much to the conversation – this makes you want to avoid them as much as possible. They make you feel uncomfortable and add a negative connotation and energy to the space, and no one wants to be around that. 

Here is what you need to take away regarding authentic branding…

Learning what makes your brand, whether it’s a lifestyle brand or personal blog, or a fortune 500 company, – understanding what makes your brand develop an emotional connection with your audience is going to create the single most vital link. In order to make that personal connection, you have to be authentic. It is as simple as that. You need to be honest, open, reliable, and respectful towards your audience. Tell your story so they can feel like it connects with theirs. When you create that authenticity within your brand, you are essentially creating a human connection between somebody else and a product, service, or idea. 

Jennifer Deputy-2.jpg

Hello, I'm Jennifer Deputy

I am a writer, blogger, and traveler. Being creative and making things keep me happy is my life's motto.

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