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Your Brand Can’t Be Something You Are Not

7 May 2016: A Spanish language version of this article appears in  Spanish marketing magazine Reason Why.

With increased transparency across businesses today, there’s nowhere to hide anymore. What brands are doing—or not doing—becomes apparent to customers quicker than ever. In today’s on-24/7 media environment, brands can no longer get away with simply claiming they’re “green,” that they offer quality products, or have great customer service. Actions and words must align; promises must be delivered on—any discrepancies will eventually surface (and spread like wildfire on social media).

Brands are no longer something that can passively sit between the customer and a company. The company is the brand—and authenticity and consistency are key to maintaining relevance while sustaining a meaningful position in the marketplace.

The new differentiator isn’t what you think

In this environment, companies that over-focus on the differentiation of their brand are missing the bigger point: authenticity is the new differentiator. In fact, there is only one way for a company to sustain a coherent brand experience across all touch points with consumers, and that is to actually deliver an authentic and relevant customer experience that all employees can help build.

Making an effort to clearly define the brand’s authentic purpose, for example, opens up great opportunities to engage and empower employees. The benefits of this are numerous as it:

o   Signals executive commitment to the role of the brand in building the business

o   Creates a winning culture with talent that understands the way the brand wants to make an impact

o   Leverages voluntary discipline to contribute to the (cross-silo) management of the brand

o   Improves efficiency and effectiveness as a result

The art of being—or staying—authentic

Authenticity is not necessarily something a brand needs to acquire, since often it’s something that is already there, but needs to be re-discovered. In our work, we sometimes find that a positioning project for a client boils down to peeling off many layers of pretense that the company has added over the years on top of what made that company authentically relevant in the first place. In such a case, it’s a matter of getting back to the core values or roots of a brand and re-igniting passion and creativity around heritage, tradition, or founding ideas while articulating their relevance for today’s consumers and marketplace.

But authenticity does not require strong roots in the past. Take the relatively new brand Shinola from Detroit, which proudly claims on its website that “the long tradition of Detroit watchmaking has just begun.” By offering products that are well-aligned with the company’s brand promise (without the burden of too much history) and cleverly leveraging their Detroit roots, Shinola demonstrates that a brand can be authentic, without being “old.”

This is part two of a series of articles by Stephan Gans focused on unleashing your brand’s potential. 

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Chief Strategy Officer, North America