Authenticity: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

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My brand communications agency, Cohn & Wolfe, just released its fourth annual study on brand authenticity. In the study, we polled 12,000 consumers around the world in 14 different markets to ask them about the authentic behavior of brands.

We asked, "what makes a brand authentic," and "what brands are doing it well?"

Every year we learn something new, and this year is no exception.

The main takeaway?

Actions speak louder than words.

While consumers rated brands on 18 different attributes of authenticity, only a few bubbled to the top in a very different way than in prior years.

In the past, consumers have valued a brand's authenticity based on its stated values, its policies on community and the environment, and on its commitment to employees. These are all authentic qualities that come from what brands communicate to their constituents. Admirable for sure, but authentic?

Yes, in the past...but not so much anymore.

This year's study revealed a major shift in perceptions of authenticity: it's less about what a brand says it does and more about a brand's daily interactions with all of its constituents.

Are you staying true to your word? Are your actions open and honest? Are you treating people with respect?

This is authenticity, as defined by today's well-informed consumers.

The problem is that most brands aren't delivering. 78% of those surveyed said that brands are not being open and honest. Ouch.

But authenticity is important to consumers! 88% said that they would reward a brand for being authentic...by purchasing, by recommending, or by investing.

It's a tremendous lesson for all of us in business, because authenticity isn't just marketing. It spans all groups across the organization including employee relations, customer service, sales, and of course marketing. Every day-to-day interaction adds up to being authentic.

So sure, we've all gone down the route of writing mission statements, publishing our company values, and of course articulating our vision.

We've learned that keeping people in the loop on our brand and on our company reaps benefits. But that's not enough to be perceived as authentic anymore.

So don't ask yourself if you have your values documented. Ask yourself how you are living those values every single day. Ask yourself if you are interacting with your consumers on a regular basis in an open, honest, and real manner. Ask if your policies come shining through in your every day activities. All of your activities and all of your constituents.

Otherwise it's just words posted on a website or in a blog.

Then, and only then, can you ask consumers if you are an authentic brand, and maybe then you'll make the list next year!

Click here to read the full study from Cohn & Wolfe and to see which brands made the Authentic 100 list.

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