‘Authentic brand’ is the cliche du jour – everyone wants one, but few people understand what it really entails.
Google ‘Create an authentic brand’, and you get plenty of advice – craft your story, connect with customers, get other people to tell your story. It all seems simple and straightforward. What could possibly be added?
Plenty. Because as it turns out, the stories we craft still carry the residue of classic advertising. We tell selective truths, we embellish, we overpromise.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with putting your best foot forward.
But I believe it’s far more engaging to give your audience a more, well… candid perspective.
An authentic brand doesn’t exaggerate
As humans, we tend to embellish to make ourselves feel good. It’s natural.
This tendency is reinforced in advertising. Check out this ad, and you’ll see a classic construct – the cracker tastes like cheese, so tell everyone it has huge cheese taste.
If you’re crafting a brand story to sound authentic, exaggeration doesn’t help.
In fact, it makes you sound like a very well known cheese coloured individual who tended to make overblown promises from the presidential pulpit. Not great.
Far better to tell your story as if you were speaking with your best friend – someone who doesn’t need to be impressed. Someone who will call your bluff when you slide into exaggeration.
Want to create an informative personal brand? Start here.
An authentic brand doesn’t promise the world
Remember those great tampon ads? They showed women doing all the things women do during their period – skydiving, surfing, riding horses and just generally have a whale of a time.
These ads were so universally reviled and ridiculed, they became the stuff of legend.
If you’re describing what your product will do for people, be realistic. Instead of saying your tampon will inspire women to gallop into the sunset, say it will simply help them get on with their day.
When it comes to writing an authentic brand story, the same rules apply.
In fact, it doesn’t hurt to mention the areas where your brand is still underperforming. Self-deprecation and genuine modesty (not to be confused with the humble brag) are endearing.
Another key lesson is that you need to know your consumers to sell to them. More on that here.
An authentic brand states goals… and measures
This follows on from my previous point. If you’re saying your brand has room for improvement, you should describe what that journey of improvement looks like.
But beware of the ‘every day, in every way, we’re getting better and better.’ To prevent your goal from sounding like a vapid promise, tie it to real measures.
My personal heroes on this front are brands that hold sustainability in high esteem. These brands, like Unilever, know what gets measured gets done, and they understand the power of accepting a big challenge. It inspires employees, and customers. It turns consumers into believers.
Tell me if you aren’t motivated by these bold statements:
An authentic brand keeps an open mind
At the end of the day, the best lesson is that the lessons never stop. A brand striving to be authentic must keep an open mind and welcome criticism as the catalyst for positive change.
But even if the journey never ends, it’s a worthwhile one.
Authentic is an awesome way to brand.
Want to know more about building a better brand? Pick up my book BrandDIY.
It helps you answer questions like:
- Who is my audience, and what do they really want?
- Which stories do I tell, and how?
- What are the brand essentials, and what are the ‘nice to haves’?
- And much more!
Want more stories on authentic brands? Try these:
- What the heck is an authentic brand, anyway?
- How to brand in the gig economy
- The trouble with origin storytelling? The origin.
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This article was originally published in 2018, and has been updated and refreshed just for you.