Think about the brands that you love. You know, the ones that you just can’t live without. It could be a cup of coffee or tea that delivers more than just a pick-me-up, a car that transforms your daily commute, a line of clothing that always makes you look your best, or a food delivery service that takes the guesswork out of preparing quick and healthy meals. There’s a reason why you hold these brands in high regard, and how they earned their place in your mind (and heart) is anything but an accident.

As marketers, we don’t need to look far to see that consumer trust is eroding across virtually every industry, increasing the need to deliver honesty and integrity to your customers, along with quality, convenience and value. According to Boston Consulting Group, authenticity is one of the top qualities that customers identified that would attract them to a brand. Furthermore, brand authenticity is second only to loyalty discounts in importance to Millennials – the driving force of consumer spending – when choosing companies and brands to support.

There are now approximately 75 million Millennials in the U.S., already account for an estimated $1.3 trillion in direct annual spending. By 2030, the number of Millennials is expected to grow to 78 million. For brands looking to capture the attention of Millennials, it’s essential to remember that Millennials are NOT looking for brands or their advertising. However, they are seeking solutions to the problems they face in their daily lives and they prefer engaging with brands that meet them where they are by communicating with them on their level.

If your brand is falling short of earning top billing in the hearts and minds of your audience, it could be that you lack the brand authenticity that today’s consumers crave. Here is our list of the key ingredients that authentic brands include in their recipe for success.

Be True to Who You Are

Even if you personally enjoy brands and companies that display a snarky personality or push the limits by launching shocking campaigns, if snarky and shocking doesn’t accurately represent your company, trying to follow in others’ footsteps will cause you to fall flat with your current and prospective customers.

Making sure that everyone within your organization – from the CEO to the support staff – is on the same page when it comes to who your brand is, what you do, why you do it, your values, the things you stand for and more is the first step in not only truly understanding what your brand is, but how to convey your brand’s story authentically with your stakeholders.

Build Relationships

Just like our personal relationships, we tend to engage heavily with brands that just seem to “get us.” That’s why the most important element in delivering on the promise of brand authenticity is taking time to build meaningful relationships. Give current and prospective customers the chance to get to know the real you. In return, put in the time, effort and energy required to truly get to know them.

By being relevant, involved and engaging at all levels to your employees and customers, you cultivate a sense of community that demonstrates that you are committed, invested, and you won’t let them down.

Take a Stand

The prevalence of moral, social, and corporate values in the headlines, on social media news feeds and in the minds of consumers is placing public advocacy and support at the forefront of today’s successful brands. In fact, a recent Sprout Social study suggests that the majority of consumers want brands to take a stand on social and political issues. That’s why now more than ever, people are rallying behind brands that take a stand, demonstrate a commitment to the causes that matter to them, and make it easy for their customers to join them in their efforts. Here are a couple of brands who have mastered the art of authenticity by taking a stand on key social issues:

AT&T

Telecom mogul AT&T launched its iconic It Can Wait campaign in 2010 to raise awareness of the dangers of texting and driving. Two years later, they shifted the focus of the program from awareness to action by reaching out to schools and communities to deliver messages in key geographic markets, provide interactive driving simulations, and encouraging people to pledge not to text and drive. By 2013, the It Can Wait program became a social movement focused on reducing the number of crashes caused by texting while driving and to convey that texting and driving is as dangerous as drinking and driving. Continued analysis of the campaign suggests a positive statistical correlation between people sharing It Can Wait messages and a projected reduction in crashes. In addition, the program has earned billions of social media impressions and nearly 5 million people pledging not to text and drive.

By conveying the dangers of texting and driving to teenage drivers and their parents, and all drivers in the U.S., not only did AT&T succeed in increasing awareness about the dangers of using your phone while driving, they attempted to proactively change driver behavior. By presenting stark side-by-side simple text messages next to horrific accidents that have resulted from distracted driving, along with testimonials from first-responders to such accidents and the impact they have on families, AT&T demonstrated that texting and driving is simply not worth it.

AT&T’s ability to convey empathy for the victims of distracted driving incidents and their families, without demonizing anyone in the process, proved to be powerful in terms of encouraging people to put their phones away and/or communicate to others when they are driving and can’t respond to texts.

Dove

Dove’s ongoing mission to help women look and feel beautiful led to its creation of their long-running Real Beauty campaign. By offering beauty care products and educational workshops that focus on the value of body image and self-worth, more than 625,000 teachers have delivered a Dove self-esteem workshop and more than 1.5 million parents have engaged with the Real Beauty campaign content online.

What began as a survey of more than 3,000 women in 10 countries, where only 2% of the respondents thought of themselves as beautiful, Dove’s parent company, Unilever, saw an opportunity to reframe the discussion about women’s beauty. By creating a campaign that featured real women who remind us of ourselves, our friends, our mothers, our grandmothers and our sisters – not models and actresses – Dove focused on beauty as a source of confidence and not anxiety.

Women who viewed the ads found Dove’s focus on real and relatable subjects a welcome, refreshing twist that encouraged women to look more lovingly in the mirror and embrace their uniqueness.

If these great examples haven’t already sent you running to create your brand’s corporate social responsibility initiative, talk to your leadership, employees, and key stakeholders about the causes that are near and dear to them. From there, chart your own course for support, advocacy, and meaningful engagement with and for your brand.

Act Like a Human Being

Nothing drives customers and prospects away faster than talking to them as though they are nothing more than contributors to your bottom line. That’s why being open, honest, relatable, and accessible is critical for brands looking to master authenticity.

Think about being at a party. No one likes to talk with someone who only wants to talk about themselves, right? Of course not. You spend time talking with people who listen to and engage with you. Those who encourage you to share your stories, ask for your thoughts and feedback, share useful information, and take a sincere interest in you as a person. The same holds true for brands.

Rather than just talking about yourself and spouting one-way messages, take the time to get to know your customers on a granular level. Ask for their thoughts and feedback as you are developing new products or services, respond to their questions or concerns in real-time and make them feel heard. Doing so will not only humanize your brand, but bolster loyalty.

Be Consistent

In order to ensure that you’re delivering brand authenticity and placing your focus squarely on the people who deliver your brand, as well as those it serves, consistency is key. If you haven’t already done so, create a comprehensive brand style guide that conveys your organizational values and sets the tone for communications to all audiences across all channels. Use it as a road map to guide your brand strategy, messaging, and actions. Doing so will yield a better, stronger brand reputation with your stakeholders.

Own Up to Your Mistakes

The immediacy and intensity of modern media makes it impossible for people and brands to hide when something goes wrong. The good news is that no one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes, but honesty is and always will be the best policy.

In the event of a product recall, customer service issue, or crisis, the brands that are brave enough to own up to their mistakes, evaluate what went wrong, implement a plan to correct things moving forward, and make things right with their customers will almost always survive.

Think again about the brands that you love. More often than not, those organizations display textbook brand authenticity by being true to themselves, working hard to build meaningful relationships with their customers, taking a stand on issues that are important, conveying consistency in their message, owning up to any mistakes in delivering their product or service. By doing this, they are not only boosting their brand’s reputation, they are adding value for their customers.

If you’re struggling to infuse authenticity into your brand, or you’re unsure which adjustments will generate the most positive impact for your organization, contact us.