What do Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, BMW, Zippo, Harley Davidson, and LL Bean have in common? They are all “authentic brands” says Michael Beverland, professor of marketing at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia, a brand marketing researcher and author of the book Building Brand Authenticity – 7 Habits of Iconic Brands. So just what makes a brand authentic?
Beverland says authenticity is synonymous with truth. One way tell if a brand is truthful or not is to look at the marketing efforts of a company. Traditional marketers want to control the consumer with a top down approach. Beverland says they try to manage consumers’ brand image – they want to tell you or show you what you want or what you should feel about a brand. The traditional way to attempt branding is through price, product, promotion, and placement.
Building brand authenticity is more of a bottom up approach. People like products that make them feel connected and understood. Once they discover these products they express their loyalty to them. Take Harley Davidson for example – people wear that brand proudly with identity. People don’t say, “I own a motorcycle.” They say, “I’m a Harley rider.”
Authentic brands share these defining attributes: They…
- Stick to their roots – appreciate their heritage and traditions
- Are passionate about their product or service
- Are devoted to their craft
- Generate breakthrough innovations by immersing themselves in their markets
- Link together like-minded people
- Nurture connections to their communities
- Have employees that are as dedicated to the brand as their managers and executives
The author shares a story of a beverage company that goes from an authentic brand to an unauthentic one. The company was founded in 1972 in East Meadow, Long Island under the the name Unadulterated Food Products. People loved the quirkiness of its star product, Snapple. So popular was the drink that Quaker Oats bought Snapple for $1.7 billion in 1994. But consumers turned against the “adulterated” scheme of mass-marketing that Quaker employed, resulting in Snapple being sold for $300 million just three short years later.
Individuals are on “the search for what is real” says Beverland. Authentic brands help buyers define who they are or want to be. Company leadership at authentic brands are an important theme. The leaders of these organizations are:
- Passionate about what they produce
- Involved in all the decisions related to their brand
- Committed to a heritage that is entrenched in tradition
Consumers are forming identities and communities around brands. Customers voices are louder than ever with social media forms of expression like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. If people believe the brand message is disingenuous, they’ll stay away from the product and tell their friends to do the same.
The 7 habits that define authentic brands are:
- “The Authenticity of Stories” – stories that originate with the brand user and unite like-minded customers
- “Appearing as Artisanal Amateurs” – these brand creators let the world know that they love what they do, and they take on the persona of zealous artisans devoted to their craft, with products that speak for themselves
- “Sticking to Your Roots” – they stick with what made them popular, all the while adapting to the current time”
- “Love the Doing” – these makers communicate sincerity and commitment through their passion for their products and they stand for something
- “Market Immersion” – not market research, by interacting with their fans and even hiring them as employees
- “Be at One with the Community” – Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz identify as “German engineering”, while Burt’s Bees and L.L. Bean conjure up an earthy, natural Maine
- “Indoctrinate Staff into the Brand Cult” – the employees act like owners and they are taken good care of by the company once they’re hired
Here’s 7 questions to ask yourself about yourself or your organization to test your authenticity:
- Does your product or service make your clients or customers feel connected or understood?
- How passionate are you about your product or service?
- How devoted to your craft are you?
- How dedicated are your employees or your team members to your brand?
- How involved are you, the leader, in all brand decisions or have you distanced yourself from these type decisions?
- How important are traditions and organizational history to you?
- Do you love what you do?
You can’t fake sincerity anymore than you can fake authenticity. They are both rooted in truth. A wise man once said, “What you do speaks so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying.” Beverland says the same: “You cannot tell consumers that your brand is authentic – you have to show them.”
Go show them…and be real!
Bill Edmonds is an “Outside-Insider” (an Executive Coach and Consultant), who works with leaders to help them reach their full potential in the areas of organizational and personal development. He spent 24 years with Merrill Lynch until his retirement in 2014, where he led a $100+ million per year revenue wealth management business unit as a Director with the firm.
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