Are Your Claims of Authenticity Having the Opposite Effect?

illustration of the word perception with magnifying glass revealing reality

Branding is no longer what we tell the consumer; it is what the consumers tell each other it is.”

— Co-Founder, Intuit

After decades of exposure to the advertising industry’s various tactics, consumers are as wary as ever of shopper marketing. We’ve already discussed the value in surveying your target audience to determine where you can be more transparent in your product marketing. But as much as consumers crave transparency from the brands they give their money to, acknowledging one’s authenticity can sometimes damage the very legitimacy you’re trying to own. So how can brands be more honest with their consumers without inadvertently triggering skepticism?

We See Corporations As People

The Supreme Court has already decided that for certain purposes, corporations and the brands that represent them are legally considered to be people. We won’t get into the judicial nitty gritty, but the ruling has changed a lot about how we view corporate entities. Factor in the presence and personality of social media, and it’s no wonder that people talk about brands the way they talk about people: a brand can be friendly, aggressive, pretentious, or even funny.

Our personification of corporations is key to understanding how consumers interpret authenticity. Recent research conducted by Glenn R. Carroll, Laurence W. Lane Professor of Organizations at Stanford Graduate School of Business, dives into how claiming their authenticity can actually work against the best interests of corporations.

So We Want Them to Act Like People

While being open and transparent about your company’s identity and values can help boost your brand’s credibility with consumers, touting that authenticity can have the opposite effect. Think of how you would react if a friend of yours was always bragging about how honest and original they were; if they talk about it too much, you might start to question whether it’s even true. It’s similar to the effect of putting too many positive claims on your packaging: loading on the positivity will eventually lead to skepticism. And for consumers who are already anti-corporate, this can go doubly for big, international brands: they already see corporations as the bad guy, and flaunting your sincerity may just sound fake and hollow to them.

Basically, authenticity is great, but a company should consider actively claiming the virtue only sparingly. Knowing why you’re showcasing authenticity in the first place helps to frame how you present it to your consumers. Maybe you’re trying to sell the “real deal” with authentic sourcing, or maybe your product has a unique moral or inspirational angle, like donating to charity or being a childhood dream come true. The key is to capitalize on the consumer desire for authenticity—usually rooted in our innate desire to individuate ourselves from the masses, particularly among Millennials—without overdoing it. If done right, being able to claim something as original or morally unique in a world of mass production can pay off in dividends.

So how can brands capitalize on a desire for authenticity without overly or explicitly verbalizing it? That’s where market research methods can play a crucial role. In order to understand how to best communicate your brand’s sincerity and originality, you should understand what kinds of messages will resonate best with customers.

  1. Let them tell you. Your brand isn’t defined by how your company talks about it, but by how consumers do. If you’re struggling to figure out what makes you unique, or you aren’t sure what messaging will work best, try asking your customers what they think makes you original. Using qualitative research will allow them to tell you in their own words, helping you find the terminology that captures your brand’s genuine self in a way that you know will resonate with consumers.
  1. Leverage your metrics wisely. We believe the three metrics that should always be included in your market research are believability, purchase intent, and uniqueness. These will help you understand if your products live up to consumers’ expectations, how interested they are, and if it appeals to their desire to be individuals. These metrics can also help inform product and shopper marketing to ensure that realistic promises are being made to your audience, furthering perceptions of sincerity.
  1. Get back to your roots. Being authentic isn’t about how much you share, but what. Staying true to the identity your brand and products have created is the best way to ensure you are perceived as genuine. You can begin with a quick market survey to understand how far you’ve strayed from this identity, if at all. But it’s the qualitative feedback of your customers that will help you find the stories that define your company and form unique attachments with consumers.

When it comes to being authentic, it seems that actions speak louder than taglines. Backing up your marketing claims, being open and honest about operations that affect consumers, and staying true to the brand identity you’ve crafted are all far better ways to prove your legitimacy than by simply stating it. To learn more about testing taglines and messaging for optimal effect, check out the report below exploring consumer reactions to claims of sustainability from two different points of view.

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