Brands cannot get by with just surface authenticity

An attachment to a wider principle must go deeper into its psyche

Graeme Erens CEO & Executive Creative Director, Genius Loci

Gulf News

With such a proliferation of choice, now more than ever, brands are vying for attention and telling consumers how to live every aspect of their lives. Brands and products, through marketing and design, promise a point of view… a position.

They exude an approach to ecology, waste, equality, health, convenience or something as simple as flavour or energy, and many other topical or socially relevant subjects. Often these campaigns are a form of lecturing, a me-too approach, hoping to get on the bandwagon of the current trendy topic.

A recent study reveals consumers rate brand authenticity very highly and want honest communication about products and services. We predict that brand authenticity and honesty will become the new ROI (return on investment). Because without honest, clear communication, relevant to the right market it all means nothing.

To be truly authentic, brands need to live a consistency and continuity between what they say and what they do. But be warned, that speaking the words and not walking the walk is the equivalent of brand suicide.

But how many brands truly act? How many really have a genuine, sometimes risky point of view? Companies spend a lot of money on crafting their unique positioning and then communicating this. But the promise of a brand means nothing when there is no action.

Toms shoes took a simple idea — One for One — and turned it into a global movement. By matching every pair of shoes purchased with a new pair of shoes for a child in need Toms is a brand taking a stand, and making a difference by providing 60 million pairs of shoes to children in 70 countries. Ten years later, the success of Toms is being carried forward by a new demographic in their 20s that wants to make purchases that count more, wants to make purchases that are conscious.

The minefield for brands is that more consumers are living out their lives on social media, a place where users must filter fake news and constantly question the authenticity of the author, product or brand. Trust is a real problem online and to prevent consumers from receding into the social media echo chamber, which is filled with general agreement at the exclusion of alternative opinions, brands require authenticity to penetrate these self-segregated communities.

Let us not forget, the communication of brands is driven by people, and these people are influenced by current topics and the current environment. More than three weeks after Hurricane Maria struck, millions of Puerto Ricans are still without access to much-needed communications services and nothing short of an innovative approach is going to help restore connectivity on the island.

Enter “brand” Elon Musk of brand Tesla and brand Space X fame with the promise to fix Puerto Rico’s energy grid with his Tesla batteries by diverting resources allocated to fix Tesla Model 3 bottlenecks and applying them to increase battery production for Puerto Rico. Tesla will also send staff to train battery installers.

This isn’t a marketing tactic, this is a brand taking a stance, having an opinion and taking action. These optics will linger for years to come and influence new Tesla owners and potential investors.

There’s the old axiom you can’t please all the people all of the time. But so many brands aim to do this by default. They aim to capture our imagination and pretend to share a point of view in order to interact with us and drive our purchase preferences.

When a brand is not true to itself or honest with its customers it has a detrimental effect on perception and sales. Volkswagen was brought to its knees by pretending to be honest and authentic. Pepsi the brand doesn’t have an opinion about unrest, petitions and riots. But it tried to ride the wave of current socio-economic instability and resulting in withering online opinion.

Customers are influenced by opinions that resonate with what matters to them. Brands that are not true to their beliefs and do not tell an honest story will become growingly irrelevant and see their sales and market share affected.

Brands must have a point of view, relevant to their products and service. Yet it is vital that this brand opinion is delivered truthfully with action to ensure market relevance, consumer engagement and brand championship by users. Authenticity combined with impactful action drives brand strength.