What I Love About Brand Authenticity

What I Love About Brand Authenticity

By Christopher Bevel


I really love how Mike Robbins illustrates the importance of practicing authenticity in his book, Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken. In this book, and in several speaking videos, he uses vivid story telling in describing how authenticity impacts relationships, trust, and productivity, both in personal circles, and in the workplace.



Watch: Mike Robbins TEDx talk on the Power of Authenticity


In this video, Mike Robbins discusses the importance of vulnerability and how that gives us true freedom in life and allows us to connect with others in a real way.



Mike Robbins does a great job of connecting authenticity to vulnerability in his book, Bring Your Whole Self To Work. Robbins describes authenticity like an iceberg. Most people only show us what is above water, yet most of who they are is unseen below water. They key is to lower the water line, to allow others to see who you really are, a willingness to be vulnerable.



So, what does it mean to be authentic?

Authentic is generally defined as:

”true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” ; “not false or copied; genuine; real.” 



Authenticity is about staying true to yourself. I believe this applies to businesses and people alike. Companies (and their brands) are managed by individuals and built upon values that guide decisions and actions. The same applies to personal behaviors and how we treat people.



Why authenticity can be hard to achieve.

It turns out that staying true to our values can sometimes be hard, for a few reasons.



First, it is sometimes hard to know our true self. We live in a world where we’re being constantly influenced on what to do, how to act, and who to be. Knowing how to be true to yourself and live the life you want can be a challenge. It requires occasional and honest self-reflection; a look into the mirror of our souls as a check on the ‘why’ and purpose in our professional and personal lives.



This is why so many university commencement speeches focus on ‘following your passion’ (which has it’s own flaws). Adam Grant, author, organizational psychologist and Wharton professor, has a great point of view on being careful about following your passion, which he covers in his excellent podcast, WorkLife.



Another reason authenticity is hard is because it requires courage to overcome the fear of being vulnerable, letting down your guard, accepting the possibility of getting negative feedback, or being wrong.



“Vulnerability is not a weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” —Research professor and author Brené Brown in Rising Strong. Source: Medium



I’ve come to learn about the power of authenticity in two ways. First, is the power of authenticity in marketing and brands, and it’s role in the dynamic of customer experiences.



Second, is in the part authenticity plays in the workplace and in employee engagement, which seems to be increasingly important, especially now given the promise (and fears) of artificial intelligence and robotics in the world of work.



Authenticity in Marketing

A brand (either a company, product or person) is built upon a promise to deliver on a particular purpose or mission, which translates into a value proposition for the customer. When the promise is met or exceeded, the result is positive experiences, and growth in revenue and brand affinity. When this promise isn’t kept, company performance suffers, or even worse, the brand’s reputation is irrevocably damaged.



The connection between brand and experience is in ‘meaning what we say’ and delivering on what we promised as a brand through the experience.



Inauthentic messaging that doesn’t deliver on the brand promise suggests to customers the company does not believe in its own missions, products, and services.



Here are a few reasons why authenticity in marketing is becoming increasingly important.



1. Consumers are overwhelmed with ads.

This is really nothing new, however the trend of sheer volume of advertising exposure is growing and will likely continue to grow. About 40 years ago, the average consumer in the U.S. saw around 500 ads per day. That number has since grown tenfold to over 5,000 ads a day. Also, according to recent research by Kantar Millward Brown most people believe digital ads are too intrusive.



2. Consumers are less trustful of brands than ever before.

Based on the latest Edelman Brand Trust Barometer, just one-in-three US consumers will trust most of the brands they buy and use. This is while consumers rank brand trust as one of the top factors they consider when making a purchase, with 81 percent of survey respondents saying that they “must be able to trust the brand to do what is right.”



Almost half (42%) of Americans find brands and companies less truthful today than 20 years ago, according to McCann’s Truth Central unit. And, according to Havas Media, consumers only trust one in five (22%) of brands.



Perhaps a big reason why this trend is growing in recent years is because of the increasing prevelence of fake news, which seems to just add fuel to the fire, and is becoming a big concern in it’s own right. According to Pew Research, more Americans view made-up news as a very big problem for the country than do terrorism, illegal immigration, and racism.



3. Consumers are putting more emphasis on brand values.

Consumers (especially millennials) are more likely to associate themselves with a brand that shares their values. McKinsey’s research shows that Gen Z consumption is driven by the “search for truth” and they largely view consumption as “an expression of individual identity, and a matter of ethical concern.”



A brand that shows itself to be honest in the way it delivers on it’s promises is a brand that will remain authentic in the eyes of its customers. This is what gives a brand true authenticity – when every action it takes shows integrity, even when it is hard, or costly. Maintaining an authentic brand message means telling the truth, even when the truth isn’t particularly flattering. People trust those who admit their faults but distrust those who claim to do no wrong.



How is Brand Authenticity Measured?

The PR firm, Cohn & Wolfe produces a list of the top 100 most authentic brands in it’s Brand Authenticity survey, where Amazon, Apple, Microsoft & Google have the highest marks on the following qualities used to measure brand authenticity:

  • Delivering on promises
  • Treating customers with respect
  • Providing high quality
  • Protecting customer privacy
  • Acting with integrity
  • Being genuine and real



Be transparent.

To this list I would add transparency. A recent consumer study found that 56 percent of those surveyed said additional product information—like where a brand sources its goods and how it makes its products—instills more brand trust.



Boeing and Facebook are two recent examples of brands who could have done a better job at transparency, and have suffered from public backlash and increased governmental scrutiny.



Then there are examples of brands that take swift action to ensure transparency and trust. AirBnB recently took steps to begin verifying their listings after a tragic event that led to five deaths at a Halloween party hosted at a California Airbnb rental.



“trust on the internet begins with verifying the accuracy of the information on internet platforms, and we believe that this is an important step for our industry.” –Brian Chesky, CEO of AirBnB Source: TechCrunch



Authenticity at Work

How does authenticity relate to our workplace? The benefits of a positive work environment include improvements in creativity, productivity and happiness. So, how does authenticity drive a positive work environment?



One study found that the greater employees’ feelings of authenticity are, the greater their job satisfaction, engagement, and self-reported performance.



Then there is employee engagement which has been trending downward according to recent studies conducted by Aon Hewitt. The annual study covering more than five million employees at over 1,000 organizations revealed that less than a quarter of employees are highly engaged, and less than half are at least somewhat engaged.



Authenticity drives employee engagement.

Engagement is the ability to be present, focused, and energized. Engaged employees go above and beyond what is expected of them because they feel part of a purpose larger than themselves. That purpose is the foundation of engagement and a healthy, effective work culture.



Sure, a lot of people are motivated by compensation. However, intrinsic motivation has been show to be an even bigger driver of sustained employee engagement. Motivational science demonstrates that people are motivated by interesting work, challenge, and increasing responsibility. These intrinsic factors meet people’s deep-seated need for growth and achievement.



This is even more the case with future generations of workers, especially the creative class. By 2025, millennials will represent 75 percent of the global workforce, and they especially seek out meaningful work, flexibility and autonomy, and connection and mentoring.



Meaningfulness in work is a big driver of employee engagement, and yet it actually extends beyond just work.



Research shows that meaningfulness of work is very individual and personal, and that employees find meaning in work through it’s connection to humanity. Organizations can encourage this by creating a culture of ethics, morals, and corporate social responsibility that brings an employee’s personal values and work life together.



In short, leaders can create meaningful work through creating authentic cultures that uphold company values.



Authenticity can help you (and your brand) truly connect with others through trusted and meaningful experiences. Empower your brand and your employees to be venerable to say and do what they feel. Your true self always shows in the end and trying to hide what you feel or who you really are inside just won’t benefit you. So, just be you! As Mike Robbins says, “be yourself because everyone else is taken.”



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