What Makes a Brand Authentic?

Authenticity. Take a moment to think about what authenticity means to you and a couple different brands that fit your idea of authentic – we’ll revisit them later.

When I took a moment to do the same, I came up with the idea that authentic brands are original that do great things. My example was Patagonia, a brand that always keeps things original and stays true to their identity, while doing amazing things in the world – that I find great.

However, I began to question my idea of authenticity and wanted to dig deeper. So, I asked the Sherpa Marketing team “what does authenticity mean to you” and the responses were the following:

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All the Sherpas’ answers were similar to Merriam-Webster’s definition of “authentic” – not false or imitation – REAL, ACTUAL.

After compiling these answers and thoughts, a question began to rise in my head.

Do Brands Have to Do “Good” to Be Authentic?

This is the question that makes “authenticity” ambiguous. Sure, a brand can do original things. However, if their actions are not “good”, does that mean the brand isn’t authentic?

Well, that poses a new question of what your definition of “good” means.

Depending on your morals and values, your definition of “good” will be different than others. I’m certain there will be similarities among many of us, though they will differ.

These morals and values are the same for brands and businesses. Each brand has their own unique set of morals and values, which guides their decisions.

Depending on a certain brands morals and values, their interpretation of “good” may differ than what others believe. What someone might consider “bad” or “immoral”, someone else might not see it that way. Therefore, when determining if a brand is authentic, we must base it on the brands own unique set of morals and values.

With this concept in mind, it leads us to our definition.

If a brand consistently makes decisions which follow their morals and values, while being original and transparent – their brand will earn the label “authentic”.

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Painting an Authentic Picture

Now equipped with our definition of “authentic”, I’d like to revisit the question I asked at the start – “What does authenticity mean to you and what are a couple different brands that fit your idea of authentic”.

Did any of the brands you choose fit our definition? Do they consistently make decisions which follow their morals and values, while being original and transparent? If yes, that’s great – you’re a pro. If no, that’s alright – we’re going to go through an example to paint the full picture, but first I’d like to run through the process of how we’re going to evaluate whether a brand is authentic or not.

There are three parts.

1. Decisions Consistently Align with Morals and Values

Understand the brands morals and values, then evaluate whether their decisions align with their unique set of morals and values. Remember, we may not agree with the brands morals and values, but have to remain neutral to avoid evaluating from a bias perspective.

2. Originality

Is the brand original? Simple as that.

3. Transparency

This one can be difficult as most brands are generally considered transparent until something bad happens. However, use your best judgement and it never hurts to get a few other opinions on a question like this.

Authenticity Test Subject 001 - Amazon

Kicking off our list is Amazon. Heard of this organization? I’m sure you have but let’s get to know Amazon on a more personal level. What are their morals and values? Their mission statement is a great place to start.

“To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices.”​

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Along with their mission statement, Amazon lists a few guiding principles:

“Invent and Simplify”

“Insist on the Highest Standards”

“Think Big”

“Earn Trust”

“Customer Obsession”

All these guiding principles reinforce their mission statement of putting the customer first and delivering at an exceptional level.
With an understanding of their morals and values, let’s evaluate their decisions on macro and micro levels.

From a macro perspective, Amazon is consistently reinvesting and searching for ways to deliver better service to customers. For example, since Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Food in 2017, they have been lowering prices in best interest of customer. Of course, there is the argument that it’s to eliminate competition and drive profits. Regardless, the decision favours customers which aligns with their morals and values.

Looking at Amazon from a micro angle, they’re always delivering a pleasant customer experience whenever a problem occurs. In the case of a customer being disappointed in the delivery time, Amazon often refunds a portion of the item(s). Similar case if the customer receives an incorrect item, Amazon will send the correct item free of charge and allow the customer to keep the incorrect item. Customers can easily abuse this system, though Amazon places their trust in customers to hold themselves to the same standard Amazon does as a company.

Based on my research, Amazon meets the criteria to pass step one in our process of ensure their decisions consistently align with their morals and values.

Now, is Amazon original? Hell yes.

After looking at all their business ventures, they’re a clear thought-leader and dominate originality. As marketers, we might be quick to head over to their social media and conclude that it looks tame and unoriginally. However, we must start from a strategic perspective and understand that social media is simply one tactic in a massive marketing strategy comprised of many marketing tactics.

Finally, we’ve come to transparency. Since Amazon is a publicly traded company, it forces them to be more transparent than those who aren’t. The public has an inside look at Amazon’s financial interactions to see where their revenue is going and the direction of the company.

Despite being public, Amazon – like every company - does face questions of transparency. Amazon doesn’t like to talk when it doesn’t have to. As a customer, and if I was an investor, I respect that. Therefore, Amazon earns a checkmark for transparency in my books.

With that, based on our criteria we selected, Amazon fits the definition of “authentic”.​

Future of Authenticity

The future of authenticity will be interesting. There is more emphasis from consumers than ever before for brands to embrace corporate social responsibility. Though, there are still brands who are authentic that don’t represent similar values and morals as their consumers. Therefore, there might be a shift in thought around the word “authenticity” and the value the word itself holds.

Regardless, at Sherpa Marketing we love to work with businesses to help them align their brands to their morals and values, thus building loyal consumers and strong advocates.

We’d love to hear what you think the future of authenticity looks like and if we did a good job at understanding it for ourselves! So, we encourage you to leave comment below or email our most authentic Sherpa – Marty Fisher, our President.

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