Authenticity is the core of strategic brand-building

By on May 28, 2014

It is hardly news that the term authenticity with regard to brand building has become a business buzzword in recent times. Society is showing increasingly visible disenchantment with business and advertising practice that misleads or deceives us writes Dr Carla Enslin. 

Searching for Authenticity

Consumers are simply more critically informed than ever and more motivated to share their brand opinions.  Shallow or false brands that do not deliver what they promise are therefore at increasing risk, since full exposure and rapid communication flows can cause instant and irreparable damage. Initiatives such as Sourcemap, for example, expose the true nature and status of the supply chains of everyday products. The founders act on the premise that “people have the right to know where things come from and what they are made of”.

Brand authenticity is never a superficial or a secondary strategic challenge, since authenticity calls into question the very identity and practice of a brand. A brand cannot claim to be authentic and not deliver its promise.  At this juncture, contemporary businesses and organisations are increasingly driven to recognise authenticity as a cornerstone of brand building and feeling the pressure of instant global information spread against a rising volume of critical, questioning stakeholders.  It may therefore help to review the origins of the concept authentic.

Three fundamental strategic implications for brand building practice emerge from these philosophical principles:

  • An authentic brand, first and foremost, has an original purpose 

The primary goal of brand building is to establish the brand’s uniqueness; how it presents a standard of trueness to itself that is not shared with others; how it fulfills a meaningful purpose that other brands (active in the same space) do not. Cynthia Montgomery, author of The Strategist (2012), argues that understanding how a brand matters is the most important question that the leader of a company or organisation must answer.

  • An authentic brand purpose is one that is delivered

Mike Freedman from Freedthinkers states it clearly:  “A brand is not a promise made, but a promise kept. An authentic brand purpose is therefore deeply dependent on cohesion with its contact strategy. Only when the brand delivers its promise and serves its purpose at every point of contact with stakeholders across the value chain can it present itself as authentic, as exactly what it appears to be.

  • An authentic brand purpose is one that is sustained

Authenticity is not a simple and immediate characteristic of a brand but rather one that is attained over time. Authenticity becomes evident as a result of a continuing pattern of activity that endures over time. It is attained as a brand continues to serve a unique purpose cohesively against countervailing pressures.

The idea of complete and sustained brand authenticity may seem idealistic. However, in an increasingly competitive marketplace and proliferated communication landscape it is a valid end worth striving for. Building brands that do fulfill meaningful roles and that serve purpose requires commitment, drive and discipline.

The critical challenge for leadership is to build brands that genuinely add unique value to our lives, to uphold cohesive and truthful contact experiences that produce long-term stakeholder relationships and consequently, to grow brand equity based on deep and abiding levels of trust and loyalty.

Carla is one of the founding members of The Independent Institute of Education’s Vega School of Brand Leadership and heads the school’s national team of academic Navigators on four campuses. She is visiting lecturer at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business and publishes, presents and consults on brand identity design, concept development and contact strategy. Carla is Vice Chair of the Brand Council of South Africa.

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