What does being authentic mean for you and your brand? Many business owners are quick to play up the idea of authenticity because they believe it persuades consumers to trust them. Yet, according to Cohn & Wolfe, a researcher of brand authenticity since 2012, there appears to be a way to go before building that trust.
In 2016, research by Cohn & Wolfe found that across 14 global markets, approximately one in five consumers finds brands “Open and Honest.” Findings suggest that while in the US, 23% of consumers trust brands to be Open and Honest, in Western Europe, the figure drops to between 5 – 7%.
The opportunities for brands to bridge the gap are huge. Cohn & Wolfe says that “If companies were to be more authentic, then consumers say the turnaround would earn their recommendation, loyalty, investment and even a desire to work for the company.”
The research centred on big global brands where Disney, BMW, Microsoft, Amazon.com and Apple rated in the top five of the hundred brands listed for being most authentic.
However, although these are huge, well-known global brands, local business owners can also up their game to convey trust and attract consumers to their brand – and keep them there. Here are three examples of principles that you should stick with if you want to convey brand authenticity to your customers.
#1 Be True to Your Vision
Nothing puts customers off more than finding a company that doesn’t adhere to its vision. Say you have promoted your brand as being environmentally friendly and that you only source local and sustainable produce. Your target market may have bought into that ethos because they too believe in those principles.
If you swerve from your vision and decide to buy cheaper supplies that have been transported thousands of miles, your customers will feel let down. Even if you say it was a short-term necessity due to a cash-flow problem, how will you ever gain their trust again? You will have lost credibility and you customers will go somewhere else.
On the other hand, you could let your customers know that you’ve run into difficulties. While they may not be ready to give up their principles, they may agree to come back to you once the crisis is over. You will at least have their respect for being honest with them.
#2 Don’t Hoodwink Your Customers
Business owners are often fearful of presenting truth and transparency. They fear that being open about mistakes and failures will drive customers away. This isn’t the case. In another study by Cohn & Wolfe (2014) consumers were asked if they understood what authenticity in brands meant. One comment sums up consumer perceptions and says that “An authentic company owns up to their mistakes and is honest with customers. Doesn’t sugar coat anything or sweep problems under the rug.”
If you’ve made mistakes, let your customers know and tell them what you’re doing to fix things. (Think Samsung and the honesty they showed regarding an inferior product – the company still came eighth in the top global one hundred.) Customers will see the ‘real’ you – a human being who sometimes fails at what they’re trying to achieve. More importantly, they will trust you to put it right and you will earn their loyalty and support.
Similarly, if a customer comes to you with a problem and you are unable to fix it, say so, and point them in the direction of someone who can. If a supplier lets you down and you can’t deliver to your customer on time, contact your customer to let them know. Don’t wait until they call to complain. Offer a new time and date along with the option of cancelling the order. They may or may not accept, but you will be seen to be ‘doing the right thing’ by your customer. They will thank you for your honesty.
#3 Demonstrate Integrity
Customers want to see a company that cares about them, not just about making a quick buck. If customers complain, they want to be heard and not to be dismissed out of hand. How many companies do you see with the mantra of ‘the customer is always right’ or, ‘we provide exceptional customer care’? Yet, how many firsthand experiences have you had that demonstrate otherwise?
If a customer makes a complaint, deal with it swiftly. Own up to any wrongdoing or mistakes; assure customers that you take their complaints seriously, and outline a plan of action to rectify matters. Even if you lose a little money in the process, it demonstrates you are putting principles before profit. And, you will probably gain back any loss by acquiring a loyal customer.
Also, remember that customers trust you with their personal information. In the 2016 study by Cohn & Wolfe, consumers saw “privacy and data control as fundamental to their experience of a brand.” Passing on personal information in any form is a huge no-no for consumers.
These are only examples outlining areas where authenticity can help you to keep customers and attract new ones. Regardless of where you are on your business journey, stay focused on your vision, be open and honest with your customers, and maintain your personal and brand integrity. You will find that by being genuine, you will garner trust and loyalty and develop solid long-term customer relationships – musts for any growing business.