How to Establish & Maintain Brand Authenticity

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The old adage of “Fake It Until You Make It” has been replaced with a new statement –– “You Can’t Make It If You Fake It.” During HOW Design Live 2017, Hamish Campbell of Pearlfisher discussed how to build the world’s most desirable brands, challengers and icons. In it, he discussed his belief that brands are losing their core truth in the world of design and advertising. It’s what he’s calling Brand Faux-Thenticity.

Brand Faux-Thenticity and Why It Matters

According to Campbell, “Brand Faux-Thenticity” is the result of brands losing sight of their identity, their reason for being and chasing trends without balancing that with their truth. This results in lost time, cost and customers, as the brand struggles to be something it’s not. Campbell suggests that brands, challengers and especially icons stop attempting to jump on every trend and find inspiration from within their own brand’s’ core truth.

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What Consumers See When They Look at Your Brand

More and more, brands are playing a large part of consumers’ lives and identities. They have chosen a brand for a reason bigger than just a jacket or handbag, a reason that resonates with their view of the world. So, when a brand moves away from its core truths, the consumer is aware of it immediately and will only fleetingly wait for the brand to regain its authenticity before moving on to something that they better identify with. There is no fooling your consumer in an age when they connect brands to their lives—not just buying a product/service.

How to Build an Authentic Brand

Understanding a brand’s purpose is the first step to building authenticity; it’s what makes up its ethos and ultimately its story. Ask yourself:

  1. Why was this brand created?
  2. Where did it originate?
  3. Was it to provide a product that aligned with a value structure—fair trade, sustainability, impeccable taste, or luxurious beauty?

The reasons for being are truly endless, but one or two will be at the core of your brand. Once you discover that core truth, you can begin seeing how consumers will relate to it and design for that truth.The real trick is holding true to this brand truth when the winds of trend are blowing away from it. Campbell used Patagonia as an example of a brand staying true to it’s core truth—theirs was conservation, responsibility and sustainability:

Instead of following the overall activewear trend of always wanting something new and fresh, Patagonia launched a campaign to fix up the jackets people already owned. This kept brand loyalty and stayed true to themselves as well as demonstrating their longevity as a brand.

Above: Patagonia’s first “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ad in the New York Times on Black Friday 2011.
Below: Worn Wear, the Patagonia site that evolved from the original campaign and still operates today.

Three Ways Design Can Reflect a Brand’s Core Truth

According to Campbell, there are three ways design impacts everything related to the brand. The responsibility of design is to see the opportunities to stand out from the crowd, be imaginative and tell the brand’s authentic story. Design’s role in creating and sustaining this core truth comes down to this:

  1. Understand who you are at the core—be transparent, truthful, individual.
  2. Use imagination not imitation—authentic, honest, refreshing
  3. Use design as a tool for telling your brand story

Campell uses The Coca Cola Company as an excellent example of design staying true to the brand:

With 130 years of design and marketing history, Coca Cola has long equated its product with happiness, smiling and the good things in life. With the recent campaign against soda and other sugary beverages, Coca Cola evolved. It still sent a message of friendships and good feelings (as always) but began offering smaller serving sizes (see the Coke Mini ad below), talking about making the choice of a drink and using their evolution in their marketing to continue to have a valued place in consumers lives. Coke expressed its understanding and honesty about new nutritional standards and care for it’s consumers. This shows the value of knowing your brand’s core truth and using it to overcome challenges and changing times.

Losing Customer Trust and How to Get it Back

If a brand loses customer faith due to being false to their brand identity, it is no small thing to recover from. Since consumers identify personally with brands, the lack of authenticity becomes a betrayal. To restore faith, a brand must respond quickly, be honest and transparent and then devise a plan to reconnect with customers. Admitting the wrong quickly and tying it back to the core brand truth to show understanding of why the wrong was counter to the brand is very important. This step begins the restoration of believability of the brand. Campbell used Volkswagen as an example, referring to how Volkswagen introduced MOIA in response to the scandal of cheating the diesel emissions testing was uncovered. MOIA is focused on ride-sharing and ties back to Volkswagen’s core truth of working towards cleaner energy in their vehicles. Volkswagen showed an increase in profits in the U.S. for the first quarter of 2017—the first since the scandal in 2015.

Staying True to The Brand

As you can see, any brand that has longevity in the market will evolve and incorporate new products, but the key to keeping your customers loyalty and having success is to know your brand truth. Trying to be something you’re not won’t suffice. Once you understand the brand’s mission or reason for being, you can design product, marketing and more with confidence, knowing your customer’s will get it.

Want to be part of the design conversation? Register for HOW Design Live 2018 today!

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