- Consumer expectations of brands are increasing.
- Consumers now expect businesses to represent issues they care about.
- Issues must be aligned with the brand's values or consumers may perceive the company as unauthentic.
Consumers' expectations of brands and businesses have grown over the years. They no longer just want a nice "shiny" product, but they also expect the organisation behind it to represent their values and beliefs. This is why authenticity is often a key component in marketing strategy as more than 70 percent of consumers reportedly spend more with authentic brands. Authenticity refers to the extent to which consumers perceive a brand to be genuine, transparent, and consistent in their communication and behaviour. It is equally applicable to big commercial-oriented brands as it is for small and less well-known ones. However, authenticity is not easily achievable as consumers are cynical about the sincerity of brands. In fact, it has been reported that as many as 80 percent of consumers find it difficult to trust brands.
Businesses need to be genuine
It is not always clear what it is that makes consumers think that a company or brand is authentic. Nonetheless, there is some guidance that can be useful when trying to convince consumers that they are the real deal. Whilst it may seem obvious, it is important that it is not just all for show and it needs to be consistent with the overall conduct of the company. During the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests, Nike hired Colin Kaepernick to be the face of their advertising. This was to show support for racial justice. Whilst applauded by some, others pointed toward Nike’s lack of authenticity in that they said the company’s practice such as the lack of Black board members contradicted their public support. When brands engage in socio-political debate, they open themselves up to be scrutinised. Thus, if it does not hold up, negative attitudes are formed that can impede brand equity.
Whilst the here and now is important, so is the past of companies. Indeed, brand authenticity appears to be socially constructed in that childhood memories, previous experiences, and expectations come together and determine how brands are perceived. Thus, brands that have been around for a while may not only need to think about whether what they currently represent is congruent with their advertised values but also if they are compatible with the past. If they have "new values," they need consumers to believe the brand may wish to consider presenting information in a way that aligns with future-oriented framing effects as this can be perceived as a message of hope.
So why should companies try to ensure that they are perceived in an authentic manner? Well, research in this area points toward many, and not always so obvious, benefits. First and foremost, it builds trust and loyalty. This can be aided by presenting the brand in a warm and competent manner. Consumers also form a stronger emotional attachment to brands that have high levels of brand authenticity. Such an emotional attachment also facilitates the likelihood of spreading information about the brand through word of mouth.
The fact that there is a link to emotional engagement may also to some extent explain why authenticity can be used as a persuasive tool for purchase intent and digital engagement on social media platforms. And, last but not least, it also correlates with consumers' purchase intentions. This is most likely because it aligns with people’s personal authenticity (i.e., the sense that something is congruent with one’s true self) and as consumers tend to purchase items as reflections of the self, it is key that brand authenticity aligns with their personal authenticity to ensure that their image is maintained.
Responses to inflation are important
Authenticity can also have a role to play in how companies deal with the current ongoing inflation. Their responses to it may determine whether consumers stay loyal. There are companies that have been accused of using inflation as a way to cover up price increases, something that is likely to create a strong negative association with the company and or brand. If price increases are essential, then this should be honestly and openly communicated with the consumers to ensure that authenticity is maintained. Create a narrative that outlines "good reasons" for the price increase that can be used by the consumer to determine if the brand is still worth purchasing. Business needs to be empathetic and think of ways that will make the consumers understand that they are still the priority.
Authenticity is now a key new driver of revenue and loyalty for UK shoppers. FashionUnited. March 28, 2023.
Ritson M. If ‘Black Lives Matter’ to brands, where are your black board members? MarketingWeek. June 3, 2020.
Perkins T. Revealed: top US corporations raising prices on Americans even as profits surge. The Guardian. April 27, 2022.