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Brand Authenticity and its Relevance Today

Brand Authenticity and its Relevance Today

2021, has seen the worst of COVID and the best of investments towards start-ups of all sizes in India. With the rise of the direct to consumer segment in India which is estimated to reach $1.7 Tn by 2025, Indian consumers are bombarded or will be bombarded with more options in products and services directly, more than ever before. While digital has enabled businesses to reach consumers directly, the growing competitive landscape demands that every business also strategizes to hold consumers’ attention and works towards brand recall through a differentiation. Unless the consumer understands the core competence of a company through its brand messaging, it is difficult for him/her to make a choice. But differentiation has been important since the 1960s, so why talk about differentiation all over again?

Meaning of Differentiation today

Differentiation may have existed for a long time but digital has brought brands and consumers closer through social media and constantly evolving AI enabled consumer touch points. It is easier to understand consumer interests and preferences with data analytics on digital platforms. Differentiation is no more about evolving a single product to meet consumer’s needs. Companies are using analytics and constant feedback from consumers to evolve their offerings to meet peripheral needs of consumers when they use the brand’s flagship products. For example, Apple no more differentiates itself just through its latest technological innovations in its phone’s or Macbook’s features. It also makes sure that consumer’s experience is seamless with an array of related services in the areas of data security, collaboration, multi-device access etc. User-friendly, simple experiences, which enable people as creators remain as the core value of Apple and it reflects in not just the main products but the peripheral or support offerings and services as well. Consistent efforts towards it has enabled Apple to become an authentic brand.

Meaning of authenticity

Authenticity is closely tied to trustworthiness, it’s about transparent communication of what a business stands for, what it believes in and how the business lives up to those values to deliver products and services.

As our world becomes more uncertain with new challenges like the pandemic and the already apparent climate change impact, consumers will and are already focusing their energies towards companies which are transparent.

Characteristics of an authentic brand

  1. Value Driven - A brand that communicates & lives its values.
  2. Transparent - A brand that is open and transparent about its offerings, pros and cons, achievements and mistakes.
  3. Consistent - A brand that delivers consistently
  4. Celebrate Users - A brand that celebrates user generated content and their voice.

While the first three characteristics have been part of building value driven brands, celebrating users or finding the confidence to handover brand conversations to consumers is very new. When brands communicate about their unique or differentiated vision consistently users are more likely to take notice. If brands can bring relevance to consumers' lives then consumers get into conversations with the brands of their choice. Identifying the right consumer who connects with the ethos of the brand is important and such consumers also act as the authentic referrals for the brand. In life as well, praise is always authentic when it comes from another person and not touted by oneself. Same applies for brands, they come out more authentic when users generate content on behalf of the brand, organically.

Tech, gadget, cosmetic and fashion brands have done a fantastic job of engaging their loyalists and turned them into influencers. Notion, a 2013 start-up in collaborative workspace domain, got valued at $2 billion in 2020 and does a fantastic job of enabling their authentic users who in turn add to their brand value. Notion invested in building a community for their users early on and enabled the top users to have information about the evolving product. These users now act as influencers by updating others about usage and product updates about Notion, through their own social media channels. This not only adds brand value but also helps in recruitment of new users for Notion in an organic way and keeps the current Notion users with the latest updates and innovations of the product.

Delivering differentiated experiences authentically

Pre-social media era, branding and brand value was a unidirectional effort. Businesses decided on how a brand will look and feel which determined their brand positioning and marketing strategy. With advanced digital experiences and social media, today consumers are closer to the brands of their choice through online conversations and communities. No matter how you approach differentiation, consumers care to watch brands closely and how they deliver their promise across all consumer touchpoints. To create an authentic brand the entire business itself needs to imbibe the same values and ethos across all verticals or departments. It’s a top-down approach of designing Vision and Mission, Values and then distilling it down to vertical-wise goals for achieving the same vision. When the entire business is focused on the same vision with an awareness about the values that need to be kept intact then the consumer experience across all touchpoints of the brand becomes consistent hence delivers higher value.

Highlighting Brand Story as a connection

Since all our business stakeholders including our consumers are humans, it is also essential that brands highlight their brand story at every brand touchpoint. Brand stories, when delivered consistently, bring out the personality of the brand distinctly and make it easier for consumers, employees, channel partners, investors et al to find a deeper connection with the brand.

Closer to home a brand that has been consistent about its ethical nature is TATA group of brands. No matter which brand of TATA you are interacting with, vehicle, beverages, jewellery, retail, hospitality, a common thread that ties the brand is its strong ethical values.

Final Thoughts

“Business, as I have seen it, places one great demand on you: it needs you to self-impose a framework of ethics, values, fairness and objectivity on yourself at all times.” - Ratan N Tata, 2006. Today as TATA acquires new start-ups and growing businesses, it finds it easier to build trust over those extensions as well [2].

The brands that are focused on delivering differentiated experiences to consumers derive more value when they make brand values and vision as part of their culture. Developing a strong culture and walking the talk every day by every stakeholder of the business makes authenticity an organic output of the brand. Marketing teams also find it easier and more valuable to communicate and engage with consumers in such scenarios. Building brands was never easy or achievable in the short term but when the foundation is laid correctly then the potential to deliver authentic experiences becomes easy.

References:

  1. https://techcrunch.com/2020/04/01/notion-hits-2-billion-valuation-in-new-raise/
  2. https://www.tata.com/about-us/tata-values-purpose

About the Author

Siddhangana Karmakar heads the Brand Strategy vertical at 82Advisory. She advises organizations on Brand Building and Business Transformation