Authenticity is a modern marketing buzzword. Marketing articles say authenticity is the honey to attract the millennial bees.
Authentic leadership is a topic in business journals. Many brands are turning themselves inside out to be perceived as authentic.
Many brands have authenticity built in, such as Patagonia. Others try to create a perception of authenticity. Authenticity can be “grown” even if the brand is not steeped in centuries or decades of history. Recent research (Fritz, Schoenmueller, Bruhn, 2017) identifies precursors of authenticity. The research demonstrates that brand authenticity positively affects customer behavior.
For the sake of this discussion, let’s define brand authenticity as a brand’s perceived genuineness that is derived from the brand’s “stability and consistency (i.e. continuity), uniqueness (i.e. originality), ability to keep its promises (i.e. reliability), and unaffectedness (i.e. naturalness).”
There are data showing that the desire for authenticity increases during periods of uncertainty because people want touchstones that offer them continuity. But it is not just a brand's perceived connection to its heritage that matters: a brand's “virtuousness” can be a marker of authenticity. “Virtuousness” connotes perceived integrity, and absence of ambiguity.
With the pervasiveness of information on the Internet and through social media, customers can seek authentic brands, know when a brand is faking authenticity, and are no longer willing to accept disingenuous, artificial brand behavior. And, customers are very willing to let others know when a brand is insincere and hypocritical.
For all of the hype about brand authenticity, it is an incredibly important brand factor. Authenticity literature shows that authenticity impacts perceptions of brand credibility, brand trust, brand satisfaction, brand image, and brand quality. Authenticity strengthens emotional brand bonds, and is contributing factor to brand commitment. Brand authenticity contributes to increased purchase intent, repeat purchase and willingness to recommend to others.
To reinforce brand authenticity or to build brand authenticity from scratch, the study identifies specific variables that influence brand authenticity.
These variables are:
1) a connection with the brand's past (i.e. brand heritage, brand nostalgia),
2) the brand’s perceived virtuousness (i.e. brand commercialization, brand clarity, social commitment),
3) proud employees (i.e. employee's passion),
4) customers identifying with the brand and its values (i.e. brand legitimacy, actual self-congruence).
An example of this last variable, self-identification with the brand, the authors cite the well-known Dove campaign where women of all races, sizes, ages were featured. Women could see themselves in the brand’s communications.
Brand authenticity has a strong, proven, positive affect on the quality of brand relationships. Customer perceived brand authenticity of a brand nurtures brand bonds leading to enhanced consumer loyalty (i.e. purchase intention, the willingness to pay a price premium), and interestingly, “consumer tolerance for bad brand experiences (i.e. the willingness to forgive mistakes).”
As a final message to brand leaders, the authors provide the following advice to brand leaders:
“… Implement a policy that presents an unchanging/enduring brand image/identity covering the brand's values, norms, and mission as well as all its communication activities. Avoid the pitfalls of inconsistent brand behavior. Abstain from short-termed marketing implementing short-term price-campaigns, aggressive or unsubstantiated advertising campaigns, unbelievable testimonials, or the use of communication instruments or distribution channels that conflict with the brand’s original essential identity.”
Brand authenticity is a powerful way to build, nurture, and grow a brand. Established brands or new brands can be emblems of authenticity. It takes effort but it is certainly worth it.
Larry Light, a global brand revitalization expert, is co-author with Joan Kiddon of Six Rules for Brand Revitalization. He also is the Chief Executive Officer of Arcature, a marketing consulting company that has advised a variety of marketers in packaged goods, technology, retail, hospitality, automotive, corporate and business-to-business, as well as not-for-profit organizations.
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