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Why Brand Authenticity Matters More Than Ever (Even If People Are Tired Of Talking About It)

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More than a catchy buzzword, brand authenticity can drive real business impact. Learn how in our recapped insights from Wunderman and RXBAR.

“Brand authenticity” has become one of the marketing industry’s favorite buzzwords. In fact, it’s overuse has had the unfortunate effect of diminishing the significance of the term.

As things like social good and transparency continue to be core to many marketers’ strategies, consumers are wisening up to what’s honest and genuine—and what’s BS. In a Social Media Week Chicago session on how to build a “no BS brand,” Executive Director Toby Daniels sat down in conversation with two experts on brand authenticity: Greg Auer, a seasoned Executive Creative Director from Wunderman Chicago and Charlie Hart, Head of Digital for RXBAR.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the panelists.

Know what you stand for before diving in

In order for so-called “brand authenticity” to work, panelists noted that the way authenticity is manifested must align with the company’s established core values. To that end, panelists reminded marketers to ask themselves the tough questions: What is the core reason the brand was created? What is my brand’s universal truth? Once this North Star has been identified, then and only then should it craft marketing campaigns that promote those beliefs and mission.

Brands also have to tread carefully because consumers see through gimmicky ads that don’t ring true to a brand’s values. With social media, people can bring down a marketing campaign in a day if they catch a company misleading people about its product. On the other hand, fans of a brand will talk about it and defend it in a social space when given the right tools.

Authentic brands in action

In RXBAR’s case, Hart points out that his company is upfront about the fact it is simply a protein bar; it doesn’t pretend to sell a lifestyle centered on fitness. RXBAR stands for honesty about its ingredients and prints them on the front of its packaging, which is a stark contrast from many companies who hide sketchy ingredients in fine print on the back label. Hart even mentioned that instances of incredulous consumers challenging the brand in social (e.g. “How can there be only X number of ingredients?”) actually end up working in RXBAR’s favor. “It’s an opportunity to have the conversation we want to be having,” he said.

Auer referenced McDonald’s Canada as another brand that has embraced the core value of being honest with consumers. The company created an ad campaign to answer consumers’ questions about its products. Every question was answered honestly, eliciting a positive response from consumers. During the campaign, McDonald’s Canada answered more than 20,000 questions, received 14 million video views, and made huge gains in brand trust and food quality perception. The brand achieved its goal of making McDonald’s something people could be proud to love by giving people what they wanted: the truth about what they are purchasing. Citing his own team’s work, Auer referenced Dale’s Pale Ale as a brand that understands what it stands for and authentically communicates this truth to consumers.

Honor the value exchange

When developing campaigns and engaging with consumers, the panelists reminded brands to keep in mind that they need to give consumers a reason to interact with their product. In other words, it’s all about the value exchange. “I’ll tell my friends about your brand, not because I like your brand, but because I like my friends,” said Auer.

Regardless of how sexy or polished an ad or campaign can be, today’s consumers are less likely to gravitate toward a brand based on this type of marketing flash alone. Savvy consumers are looking for validation from their peers that they are buying a quality and trustworthy product. Long story short: brands can cultivate consumers’ positive perception of their brand by eliminating the BS and living their truth.

Who’s winning at authenticity?

Global PR firm Cohn & Wolfe recently released the results of its annual Authentic 100 study, which surveys tens of thousands of consumers globally to create a list of the year’s most authentic brands.

Tech companies dominated this year’s top brands and made more appearances in the top 10 than any other category. Lynn Fisher, executive vice president and global director of the Cohn & Wolfe’s branding and insights group said, “Technology has become a ubiquitous and integral part of how people manage their lives, so there are countless opportunities for these brands to make a positive connection.

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