Consumers expect that the companies they deal with have integrity and authenticity. A survey by Cohn & Wolfe found that:
Nearly nine out of 10 consumers are willing to take action to reward a brand for its authenticity, including 52 percent who would recommend the brand to others and 49 percent who would pledge loyalty to the brand.
Consumers want more than quality and good value from the brands they use – they also want values.
There are many reasons for this shift to authenticity but one element is particularly crucial: millennials. Millennials have a deep distrust of traditional advertising. A consumer study on millennials found that a mere 1% of those polled would trust a company because of advertising. Younger generations, including Gen Z, have a similar mistrust of advertising.
In fact, 91% of consumers are more likely to buy from an authentic brand than from a dishonest brand. Today, most consumers want brands to walk the talk.
If you’re struggling to grow your business or improve your brand, you may need to do more to convey authenticity to your customers and prospects.
Here are five key factors that help brands increase their authenticity.
- Build relationships with customers and prospects
- Be consistent with your branding and messaging
- Engage customers and prospects in conversation
- Have values and stay true to those values
- Be honest and transparent
Let’s look at each of these factors in more details.
1. Build relationships with customers and prospects
Relationships are the key to authenticity, but you can’t build strong relationships overnight. Relationship building requires that you look at your long game. Consider how consumers interact with your brand over an extended period. Every touch point with your customers is an opportunity to build a relationship. Forging relationships requires work, but the result is worth the effort.
Good relationships are built on trust. There are many ways to build up trust. Start by listening to your customers.
Most businesses have a tough time doing this because they don’t know who their customers are! In fact, it’s the reason most marketing is misdirected.
Who are you marketing to? What do they want? What problem(s) are they trying to solve?
New and existing companies can grow faster and get a better return on their investment by building a strong brand.
This is important across industries, but especially critical in some industries. For example, in our definitive guide on how to start a clothing brand or clothing line, we emphasize that Millennials pick clothing largely based on authentic connections with brands.
Authenticity is also the reason some Etsy sellers are successful while others fail. A strong authentic brand can help your Etsy store thrive.
You also should show that you appreciate your customers. You can do this through proactive customer service and personalized communications. This can be as simple as including the customer’s name in emails you send out.
2. Be consistent with your branding and messaging
Once you’ve established your values and brand story, make sure they’re consistent and aligned across all platforms.
For example, be sure you’ve developed a strong brand identity (everything visual about your brand) and that you use it uniformly online and offline. This includes the logo you use for your business, as well as your company name.
When you get to know someone, you start to develop opinions and impressions of them based on your interactions. Your customers and prospects approach your company in the same way.
Present a consistent image and brand to make your brand feel more dependable and unique. Dependability increases trust. Uniqueness increases loyalty. The problem is that many companies make the mistake of forgetting to create a unique identity.
Often, this is easily evident, such as when companies use stock art for branding, marketing, and advertising. Stock art is killing your small business brand.
Inconsistency and lack of authenticity are two reasons companies rebrand. As we wrote previously:
Renaming your business isn’t ever just renaming – it’s also re-branding.
And, part of a successful re-branding process is figuring out the authentic brand story you want your audience to associate with your business.
Since your business name is a central element of your brand, it’s essential that you figure out how your new name relates to that brand story.
Not every company needs to rebrand, however. Some just need to focus their messaging. Let people know that they can rely on the same experience no matter where they interact with you. This consistency helps them feel more comfortable and helps foster an authentic brand experience.
As Peter Minnium wrote for Marketing Land:
Consistency is key to authenticity. In today’s fragmented media environment, brand messaging often varies from source to source. While it is necessary to curate content concerning context and audience targets, it is vital that brand messages be synchronized, because today’s consumers expect their experience to be consistent across devices and platforms.
3. Engage customers and prospects in conversation
Open communication is a cornerstone of any relationship. It’s crucial to not seem like an impenetrable ivory tower to your customers and prospects. Engage with them on social media and through other channels.
When they talk to you, respond.
Engage in two-way conversations to humanize your brand. The key here is to make sure it’s a dialogue. You want to talk to your customers, not at them, and that means listening is almost more important than what you say.
How can you get conversations going with your customers? Here are a few ideas:
- Share the news. Try sharing industry news and trends in the form of an email newsletter, social media feed, or blog. The important part is to include feedback loops so customers can talk back to you. Social media is a natural place for this as it’s optimized for communication, but email newsletters can work, too.
- Look for pain points. A great way to engage with your customers to ask them about their pain points. Post questions to your social media feed about lessons learned, or challenges customers face, and listen to what they have to say. If it’s appropriate, respond with actionable advice.
- Answer questions. People often ask questions directed at your company on social media. Take the time to answer them! Not only do you help a customer, but you also create opportunities for further discussions and comments from others that follow your feed.
- Ask questions. Customers often appreciate being consulted and asked for their opinion. It’s essential to make sure these questions are not too self-serving, however. It’s acceptable to ask for feedback or input on new features or services as long as you plan to take action on at least some of them. Either way, be gracious and make sure to keep an open mind and ear.
4. Have values, and stay true to those values
Authentic brands have moral, social, and corporate values they hold dear.
The best brands make their principles and values a core part of their business. They do not compromise on those principles and values. As William Arruda wrote,
Successful brands are based on authenticity, drawn from real achievements, real strengths, and real emotions that are alive and well at all levels in the organization.
Company values and principles start from the top down. As a business owner, it’s up to you to choose what is essential and weave that throughout both your brand and your organization. Often the most successful brands express the values of the organization the clearest.
For example, Apple is synonymous with beautiful design that is easy to use. Nike values peak performance through great products. Google values indexing the world’s information and making it available to all.
To be seen as genuine and authentic, your company and brand need to stand for something. This is important and often is the difference between success and failure, as we showed in our look at statistics about branding every entrepreneur and marketers should know.
5. Be honest and transparent
A key component of authenticity is honesty and transparency.
Being honest shows your customers that their respect is important to you. Be conscious of your strengths and weaknesses, and admit when you’ve fallen short.
This transparency humanizes your brand and makes it easier for customers to connect with you on a deeper level.
Let customers see behind the curtain. It’s easier to trust when there’s more to see. The most trustworthy brands give customers a view of the company and what makes it work. Consumer research backs this up.
A survey by Cohn & Wolfe found the number one behavior consumers expect companies to exhibit is that they “communicate honestly about its products and services.”
Another study by the Harvard Business Review showed that customers consistently preferred companies that valued “openness, relevance, empathy, experience, and emotion.”
Openness, transparency, empathy, and emotion are all qualities that stem from honesty. In the crowded brand marketing space, honesty stands out. Conduct your business with openness and transparency to cultivate both a robust corporate culture as well as a strong, authentic brand.
The business landscape is amid a sea change from the old world of advertising and assumed brand loyalty.
Millennials and Gen Z consumers demand that businesses stand for something more than just profits, and they have no qualms jumping ship if a brand proves to be superficial and inauthentic.
Social media has made it much easier for news of a company’s missteps or lack of principles to spread virally. Every week another instance of a company’s inauthenticity and bad behavior is in the news.
It’s crucial that your company and brand take these lessons to heart.
Authenticity is always a work in progress, and there’s no better time than now for your brand to get real.