a couple where the man is wearing a t-shirt that says authenticity on it, representing how authenticity means something to people

Why should brands care about being authentic?

September 4, 2014

The concept of authenticity has real relevance to people, yet its exact meaning can be both elusive and intangible as it relies on subjective interpretation. Increasingly for brands offering an authentic product, service or experience it is an important selling point. However, because honesty and integrity are integral to the concept, authenticity can be easily undermined, and that makes it a real challenge for brands to achieve, establish and maintain.

To help, we set about delving into the concept and reality of authenticity to understand how brands can:

  • Navigate authenticity to make it more tangible in their offering and communication
  • Demystify the term in order that it can be used more meaningfully
  • Locate their true source of authenticity and demonstrate it with integrity

Dr Bob Cook, who led the research at Firefish, says:

Before we go any further, it’s important to remember that brands cannot fake, borrow or buy authenticity and if you truly are authentic, you shouldn’t have to say so.

What makes a brand authentic?

In this research, we identified five core tenets of authenticity that we judged 50 brands against (see methodology section). These 50 brands were based on a list chosen by the editorial team at Marketing Week from BrandZ. We adapted the list to include brands well-known in the UK. Research was carried out from a nationally representative sample of 1000 people.

The five tenets are: Original, honest, visionary, sense of purpose and credible.

All brands in the Marketing Week Top 50 have good authenticity scores – authenticity is central to the success and value of brands – with some performing well across all five tenets, others in two or three areas.

Originality is consistently the most important part of overall authenticity score, and in the qualitative research, it is also the most instinctive interpretation of authenticity. Brands including Google, Apple and eBay gain most from ‘visionary’ and ‘sense of purpose’ tenets compared to established brands such as Heinz, Cadbury and Levis, who gain more from ‘originality’ and ‘credibility’.

Two other factors have an important role to play in influencing authenticity:

Familiarity Familiarity and brand proximity can foster an increased sense of authenticity in consumers. The more familiar you are with a brand, the greater your access, interaction and affection with it and its narratives.

Consistency There is a strong desire and expectation for brand stories to confirm and validate our own belief systems, personal choices, sense of identity and ideals. It’s important for brand narratives to do this through consistently delivered stories that feel appropriate for the individual, and for the category. These stories act as codes or short-cuts to aid and reassure our decisions. So brands that deliver against or allude to these category truths can validate and support consumers’ expectations, creating a positive and meaningful connection.

An example of conforming to category ideals

Within Western culture we have been brought up with tales of the tradition of excellence amongst Italian pasta makers – their skill, process and ingredients. This category ideal has created the benchmark against which we judge and make informed choices based on our desire to satisfy this narrative. As such, we tend to respond well to pasta brands that have an Italian heritage.

However, there is a note of caution from Firefish’s Francesca Alberry:

It is crucial for brands to remain true to their own identity or narrative, whilst conforming to this category idea. People are looking for a meaningful connection with brands, and are quick to identify when narratives appear false or forced. Brands need to avoid the easy pitfall of entering the realm of stereotype or caricature. This happens when narratives are visibly lacking in substance, veracity and of course, authenticity.

To close, here are our 10 Commandments of Authenticity

  1. Stories must be grounded in a truth, be genuine and true to your brand
  2. Choose a narrative that best suits your situation so it has integrity
  3. Maintain insight into your brand, your audience and the culture you exist in
  4. Be consistent, passionate and honest
  5. Be mindful of the pre-existing narratives, but steer clear of stereotyping
  6. Be visionary
  7. Imperfections and idiosyncrasies keep you unique and meaningful
  8. Aspire to be original and master of your own field
  9. Be proud of your origins, stay original – and avoid complacency
  10. Be bold and brave, reinvigorate and evolve but stay true to your brand


Want to read the full article and see the list of brands? Click here to head to Marketing Week

Want to talk to Firefish about a brief? Drop us a line.

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