In a world of fake news and political polarisation, it is unsurprising that a study by the McCann World Group found that ‘truth’ can now be considered a brand’s most valued currency. Heightened scepticism and cynicism amongst citizens can be reflected within various markets and consumer trends across the world. The question of trustworthiness has become intertwined with the ability to build an authentic brand. Something of a marketing buzzword, it is important to understand the true meaning of brand authenticity, its relationship with trustworthiness and whether it exists within your brand.
Authenticity is defined as something ‘not false or copied; genuine; real’. Some may interpret authenticity as representing an absolute truth, however what is ‘real’ to someone is based on a subjective perception of reality. An example of this in branding terms is Häagen-Dasz. Born in New York with no actual ties to Scandinavia, the Häagen-Dasz name and brand was created only to suggest a connection which did not actually exist. Interestingly, a focus group sought to understand whether people would care about what could have been perceived as a deceptive marketing trick. They didn’t. Authenticity is being true to yourself, being consistent and staying true your values. For Häagen-Dasz, being true to itself means persisting with an imagined reality. A perception of value pertaining to its premium Scandinavian heritage.
Contemporary culture is currently infatuated by nostalgia. This is evident by a variety of consumer trends such as: the number of remakes playing in cinemas; an increase in vinyl sales and the success of the craft alcohol markets. Customers are seeking tangibility, purpose and authenticity in an intangible, digital world. The quest for purpose and authenticity, however, has caused some confusion. According to Richard Shotton, author of The Choice Factory, many brands and marketers have been ‘distracted’ by the ‘lure of social purpose’ and have subsequently strayed away from the ‘core tenets of the trade’. Shotton outlines a mass- strategic misunderstanding of how to build an authentic brand. Without rigorous insight and without unearthing the truth about your brand, purpose is impossible to find, authenticity is overlooked, and trustworthiness will remain elusive.
Lambs Navy Rum is an example of a brand that was suffering from such an ailment. With market share slipping away to competitors such as Captain Morgan and Sailor Jerry who were perceived as more exciting, Lambs was fighting for relevance in a growing industry. Our Ponderation process unearthed two key findings: First Lambs was a genuine rum for real rum drinkers; Second, Alfred Lamb, the founder, was a characterful British entrepreneur. The proposition we created was designed to capture the essence of what made it famous in the first place, ‘True British Character’. Better insight led to a rediscovery of purpose, a restoration of authenticity and in turn, trust. It became the number one dark rum on the market, outselling Captain Morgan.
Building trust means designing the choice architecture that allows consumers to make their decisions straightforward. Flooded with options, many consumer decisions are made in a fraction of a second; particularly within the FMCG industry. Whilst we would like to think much of our shopping habits and behaviours are well thought out and calculated, our cognitive biases often lead the way. Being true to yourself is crucial, so make the most of your heritage, your provenance, your story; whatever makes you, you so people can make an easy, positive connection. Carlberg, for example, has recently reneged on its long- term campaign of being ‘probably the best beer in the world’- unable to substantiate this claim, it was clearly inauthentic. The focus is now on Danish heritage, the fact that it is a pilsner, the label reflects the Danish flag and there is a signature from the founder reflecting its 179-year history. It is unclear yet whether it will halt sliding sales but reconnecting with its roots has been identified as a key strategy to help people identify with the brand, provide new, positive brand shortcuts and rebuild trustworthiness.
The power to influence today is often based upon the simplification of information processing. Echoing the thoughts of prophetic Nobel prize winner, psychologist and economist Herbert A. Simon, a “wealth of information” has created a “poverty of attention”. Leading through strategy and insight gives the capacity to build cognitive shortcuts designed to illicit authenticity and trustworthiness. This is an infinitely powerful tool, part science, part art, it is often the key to success.