Dec 18, 2023 Brian Tervo, CEO

The Authenticity Dilemma: How to Win Customers at Scale Without Losing Credibility

8 Pillars of Brand Authenticity

Authenticity is a buzzword that's been circulating in the marketing world for a while now, but what does it really mean? 

At its core, it's about genuineness, transparency, and integrity. It's about being true to your brand's ethos and ensuring that it resonates with the values and expectations of your target audience. 

For instance, 88% of customers say authenticity is a key factor when deciding which brands they like and support. But here's the catch: customers don’t just want lip service. They can sense when a brand's authenticity is disingenuous or forced. And the consequences of getting it wrong can be severe, with 70% of consumers saying they would switch to another competitor if they felt a retailer wasn’t authentic, according to research by Asendia.

So, how can you make your brand feel one-to-one instead of one-to-a-million, regardless of your company’s size? And how can brand representatives help? Let’s dive in: 

Roadmap to Relatability: 8 Pillars of Brand Authenticity

1. Be a Brand Inclusive of All
Your customers come from different backgrounds, cultures, and walks of life, and they want to see themselves reflected in the brands they choose to support. When you embrace diversity and inclusion, you're essentially saying, "I see you. I value you. You matter."  
Consider Fenty Beauty launching with 40 shades of foundation, catering to a wide range of skin tones often overlooked in the beauty industry. It wasn't just a savvy business decision; it was a statement. It told consumers that Fenty Beauty understands and appreciates diversity in skin tones. The result? People felt seen, valued, and understood. In short, customers appreciate when brands celebrate differences, take the time to understand their varying experiences and needs, and reflect these in their products, services, and communications.  
2. Go From Faceless to Familiar
When you're deciding between two similar products, are you more likely to choose the one from a faceless corporation or the one from a company that shares behind-the-scenes peeks, employee stories, and personal anecdotes? Most of us gravitate towards the latter because we crave connection. We want to know the story behind the product, the people who put their heart and soul into creating it. That's where humanizing your brand comes in: it allows you to create a narrative around your brand that goes beyond what you sell.
Take REI, for instance. By sharing its employees' outdoor adventures, the retailer's not just selling outdoor gear; they're selling a lifestyle, a community. They're showing their audience that they don't just talk the talk, but they walk the walk. This approach makes their brand feel less like a business and more like a trusted friend who shares the same passions and values.
Humanizing your brand also means bridging the gap between company and customer, making large brands feel more approachable. A 2020 study by Sprout Social found that 70% of consumers feel more connected to brands whose CEOs are active on social media. This shows that to humanize your brand effectively, you need to be willing to open up, share your story, and engage with your audience on a personal level.
3. Speak the Right Language
In the world of communication, one size does not fit all. Authenticity is about understanding and respecting diverse communication styles. This means tailoring your messages to suit different demographics and channels, acknowledging that what works for one group may not work for another.
Let's take a hypothetical example: imagine you run a sustainable fashion brand. Your Gen Z audience on TikTok might love a behind-the-scenes video showing how your products are made, complete with catchy music and fun transitions. Meanwhile, your professional audience on LinkedIn might prefer a detailed infographic breaking down the environmental impact of fast fashion versus sustainable fashion. Both pieces of content convey the same core message — your commitment to sustainability — but they do so in a way that resonates with each specific audience.
4. Turn Customers into Co-Creators
When customers feel seen, heard, and valued, they're more likely to remain loyal to a brand. This is why involving customers in decision-making processes and product development can be a game-changer for businesses. This strategy not only fosters authenticity and respect for customer input, but it also stimulates innovation by tapping into the rich pool of ideas your customers possess.
Take Lego Ideas as an example. This platform invites fans to submit and vote on new Lego set ideas, blurring the line between consumer and creator. The winning designs are turned into real products, with their creators receiving a percentage of the sales. This process makes customers feel deeply connected to the brand, as they contribute directly to the creation of products they love.
5. Have a Cohesive Brand Story
Consistency is the glue that holds your brand together, ensuring that your values, messaging, and tone are uniform across all platforms: website, social media, email newsletters, and customer service interactions. Why? For one, it creates a sense of familiarity and trust among your customers. When they know what to expect from you, they're more likely to continue engaging with your brand. 
Take Apple, for example. The tech brand's consistent portrayal of innovation, user-friendliness, and premium quality, whether it’s a product launch event, a TV commercial, or a customer support call, has earned them a loyal customer base worldwide. By maintaining a consistent brand persona, you're essentially telling your customers, "This is who we are, and you can count on us to stay true to our promise."
6. Promote Complete Transparency
By being open and honest about your operations, from sourcing to supply chain to work life, you're showing your customers that you have nothing to hide. This openness fosters trust, making customers feel more comfortable doing business with you.
Consider Patagonia's approach: through its Footprint Chronicles initiative, the company shares detailed information about its supply chain, offering a level of transparency that few other brands match. This transparency doesn't just showcase their ethical practices; it also gives customers a behind-the-scenes look at how their favorite products are made, creating a stronger connection between them and the brand. 
7. Consider Cultural Nuances
Cultural intelligence goes beyond just avoiding cultural missteps or faux pas. It's about actively seeking to understand and appreciate the rich tapestry of different cultures and leveraging this understanding to tailor your business approach. This could mean modifying your product offerings to suit local tastes or adapting your marketing strategies to resonate more deeply with your target audience. 
For example, cosmetics retailer Sephora has done an excellent job in Middle Eastern countries by offering a wide range of products that cater to the local beauty standards and practices. They also provide Arabic language service and have local influencers promoting their products.
8. Develop a Distinctive Brand Personality
In the retail world, your brand's personality is your unique fingerprint. It's not just about your logo or your tagline, but it's the combination of traits and behaviors that make your brand distinctively you. 
Think of it as the human attributes of your brand; it could be sincere like Dove championing real beauty, exciting like Red Bull's daring adventures, competent like IBM's technology prowess, sophisticated like Rolex's elegance, or rugged like Jeep's off-road capabilities. These are all dimensions of marketing expert Jennifer Aaker's "Aaker Brand Personality Framework," pictured below, which helps in shaping your brand's persona.

Brand Personality

Take Apple, again, whose brand personality exudes innovation, sleek design, and premium quality. This resonates strongly with their target audience, creating a kind of emotional magnetism that draws people in. It's this connection that fuels brand loyalty and influences buying decisions. When a customer feels like they share the same values and characteristics with a brand, they're more likely to stick around and choose that brand over others.

Achieving Authenticity at Scale with Brand Representatives

A study by Edelman found that 63% of consumers trust what influencers say about brands much more than what brands say about themselves. This is the power of authentic voices, like those of your representatives: they lend credibility to your brand and make it more relatable. 
The first step to empower these voices? Encourage your brand representatives to share their genuine experiences with your products. While a well-scripted sales pitch may capture attention, it's an authentic testimonial that will win hearts. 
Other ways to scale authenticity through brand representatives include:

Diversify Your Brand Representation
When your brand representatives reflect the diversity of your customer base, it creates an environment where every customer feels seen, heard, and valued. And this diversity sends a positive message that your brand values all customers, regardless of their race, gender, or age.
Consider the case of athletic wear giant, Nike. In recent years, the retailer has made significant strides towards diversifying its brand representatives – from featuring professional athletes of various races and genders to including models with disabilities in their campaigns. Customers from all walks of life can see themselves in Nike's products, making the brand more relatable and appealing. The result? A notable increase in brand loyalty and sales. On top of that, Nike's commitment to diversity has elevated their brand reputation, proving that inclusivity isn't just good ethics — it's good business. 
Unleash the Power of Personal Anecdotes
Storytelling is a potent tool for humanizing your brand. It allows you to share the 'why' behind your brand and products, creating an emotional connection with your audience.
Brand representatives can use personal anecdotes or customer stories to build a relatable narrative. By sharing their own experiences and interactions with your products, they can help customers understand the value and uniqueness of what you offer. They can provide authentic, firsthand testimonials about how your products have made a difference in their lives, or share stories they've heard from other satisfied customers. This personal touch adds credibility and relatability to your brand, making customers feel more confident and engaged in their purchasing decisions.
Respond in Real Time
Real-time engagement is a powerful strategy that allows brands to connect with their audience on a deeper level. It involves prompt, personalized responses from brand representatives, creating a sense of spontaneity and authenticity. 
Tools like ThirdChannel's live chat platform can enhance this interaction, connecting customers to real brand representatives to answer questions and concerns in real time, and even offer personalized recommendations. In an era of endless customer options, real-time engagement sets a brand apart by demonstrating that it values its customers' time and input, thus boosting loyalty and satisfaction.
Educate Your Team
Training programs are vital in equipping your staff with the knowledge and tools to communicate authentically. They should be well-versed in your brand's ethos and values, and able to address customer questions in a manner that aligns with these principles.
Your training program could include modules on product knowledge, communication skills, customer service etiquette, and handling difficult situations, all of which ThirdChannel's vast network of vetted brand representatives are equipped to help teach.
Boost Brand Performance with Co-Creation
Co-creation is an effective strategy for involving and empowering brand representatives, fostering innovation, and enhancing overall brand performance.

Let's dive into the components of successful co-creation:

  • Creating a Collaborative Culture. Collaboration shouldn't be limited to your internal teams; inviting external stakeholders into the creative process can lead to breakthrough ideas and innovations.

  • Utilizing Technology. Platforms like ThirdChannel's retail management software provide a centralized space for brand representatives to consolidate feedback, ideas, and updates directly from the front lines, offering immediate insights that can shape your brand's future.

  • Celebrating Shared Success. Recognizing the contributions of brand representatives and customers is crucial for fostering a sense of shared ownership and commitment. Celebrations can take many forms, from exclusive previews to profiles in marketing materials, but the key is to make sure everyone feels their contributions are valued and appreciated.

For large brands, achieving authenticity at scale is not impossible —  it just requires the right partner. At ThirdChannel, we provide retail solutions that empower brand ambassadors to humanize the brand and connect with customers. Schedule a demo with us to learn more.

Published by Brian Tervo, CEO December 18, 2023
Brian Tervo, CEO