2014 Authentic Brands Study: The Age of Authenticity

29th Oct 2014 | Posted by Geoff Beattie Geoff Beattie's picture

What do we mean by the ‘Age of Authenticity’? Big shifts in the global economy in recent years have created the conditions for it. First, the era of ‘digital everything’ – from devices to wearable technology – means that information can be captured and shared instantly. Every consumer is now potentially a reporter who can get to the ‘real story’ about a company, product or service. Brands need to understand and embrace this uncomfortable idea. Second, the global economic crisis has created much more scepticism amongst global consumers about brand narratives. To put it simply, they just aren’t buying those brand stories as easily any more. Companies need to work harder to convince their customers that they are being more open, honest, transparent and clear about their purpose and values. In a word, they need to be a lot more authentic!

To help brands understand the continuing relevance and evolution of authentic communication, Cohn & Wolfe launched the most recent in our series of original studies about authentic brands at The Holmes Report’s 2014 Global PR Summit in Miami.  

This is the third year that Cohn & Wolfe has published an Authentic Brands Report, and 2014 is our most ambitious to date. We have spent the past few months polling and analysing the views of 12,000 people in 12 important markets across North America, Europe and Asia. Our goal has been to measure how consumers around the world value different aspects of a brand’s ‘authenticity’, compared to more conventional attributes such as product innovation, utility and dependability.

To be honest, we had some scepticism that, if we started digging deeper, we would find much enthusiasm for ‘authenticity’. Would consumers even recognise the word in the context of brand appeal?

To test that notion, we started by asking our 12,000 respondents to define an ‘authentic brand’ for themselves – in the form of a 140-character tweet. (We have to thank Professor Ioannis Ioannou of London Business School for this bit of inspiration). Frankly, the results astonished us. It turned out that people around the world really did have a clear idea of ‘brand authenticity’.  Here are some examples:

“An authentic company has values and morals and stands by them no matter what challenges are encountered.”

“True to its mission and values.”

“A brand that honestly divulges its practices, both positive and negative.”

“A brand that is willing to show its flaws in order to show where it needs to work.”

“A company that tells the truth about the origins of retail products, sustainability, working environments and tax.”

“An authentic company owns up to their mistakes and is honest with customers. Doesn’t sugar coat anything or sweep problems under the rug.”

“Does what it says, says what it does.”

We have 12,000 of these kinds of responses! And most of them have the same clarity and consistency about what makes a brand truly authentic.

From these 12,000 tweets, we asked our Cohn & Wolfe research team to distil brand authenticity into seven distinct ‘anchors’:

  • Communicating honestly about products and services
  • Communicating honestly about environmental impact and sustainability measures
  • Acting with integrity at all times
  • Being clear about and true to beliefs
  • Being open and honest about partners and suppliers
  • Standing for more than just making money
  • Having a relevant and engaging story

With the anchors defined, our research team had a very solid basis on which to measure authenticity. But just how much do people value these behaviours?
Around the world - from Idaho to India to Indonesia – consumers rate brand authenticity very highly. It turns out that what consumers most want from brands is honest communication about products and services. Beyond that, nearly nine in 10 people (89%) said it was important for businesses to act with integrity at all times, surpassing the number who rated ‘innovation’ (72%) and bringing ‘unique products to market’ (71%) as factors in their buying decisions.
What do these results really tell us? And what are the lessons for brand owners? One thing is very clear: this is the time for major brands to take authenticity seriously.
As Cohn & Wolfe continues to lead the conversation about brand authenticity, we will show you how these principles correlate strongly with key drivers of business performance, including customer advocacy and share of high value consumers. This is what we call the ‘authenticity opportunity’. By embracing the authentic behaviours we have identified, brands will be tapping into demands which appear to be shared by modern consumers everywhere – for a more honest, transparent and meaningful relationship.
To hear more about these findings and request a completed copy of the study, visit our Authentic Brands site at http://cohnwolfe.com/authenticbrands.


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