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Brand Authenticity: How We Got Here and Where We’re Going

By Jesse Epstein

As society recovers from the trauma caused by the pandemic, the 2021 HawkPartners Brand Authenticity Index™ provides an opportunity for brands to connect in new ways with consumers that are more engaged, connected, and open than before the pandemic began.

To understand the moment that we, as a collective society, are in right now, we need to first understand how we got here.  HawkPartners believes it is a culmination of at least twenty years of directional shift. 

A Directional Shift in Consumer Connections

In the early 2000s, following the unknown of Y2K, consumers gained greater access to brands through technological advancement and the rise of portable tech. Suddenly, they were able to research brands in real-time when they saw an ad or passed a retail store, to fact-check claims, or to follow them on what would eventually become social media.  In their pockets, at all times, was a way to connect with your brand. 

In the latter half of the 2000’s, consumers experienced another massive disruption, the Great Recession.  Along with the financial suffering, there was a significant erosion of trust between consumers and brands. The idea that corporations weren’t necessarily looking out for the best interests of consumers emerged from beneath the surface to being on full display, and consumers noticed. As the recovery began, consumers demanded more of brands, having heightened expectations before they would offer their support or advocacy. 

Some brands took early advantage of this opportunity, starting to show what they stood for, meeting consumers where they were. A brand like Southwest Airlines is a great example of this, doubling down on consumer centricity at a time when other airlines were increasing fees and making air travel more burdensome.  Through the early to mid-2010s, brands showed they were willing to take new actions to earn back consumers’ trust. Brands aimed to turn expectation into opportunity.

Over the last year, while enduring multiple health, economic, and inequality crises, while holed up in their homes, consumers sharpened their attention to what brands were doing, saying, and what they were supporting with their words, actions and dollars.  Consumers now increasingly see brands as part of the solution to broader societal issues; Brands are now viewed as a way to lower the heat of political polarization, overcome systemic inequalities, and vaccinate our way out of the pandemic. 

“Consumers increasingly see brands as part of the solution to broader societal issues.”

Authenticity as a Driver of Consumer Loyalty

Emerging from the pandemic, brands find themselves at the culmination of twenty years of trends leading to authenticity as a driver of consumer loyalty. 77 percent of consumers say that they are willing to spend more money on a brand that is authentic over one that is not.  85 percent of millennials and Gen Z say that it’s important for a brand to be authentic.  And this trend doesn’t appear to be fading — it has risen from 2019. With a connected consumer base, armed with access and expectations, we believe brands have an opportunity to connect authentically and prove that they are part of the solution, becoming a part of who a consumer is and establishing a bond that is unbreakable. 

77 percent of consumers say that they are willing to spend more money on a brand that is authentic over one that is not. 

The HawkPartners Brand Authenticity Index™ is our roadmap to uniting beyond product and person and developing an authentic connection that will allow your brand to flourish in the next normal, whatever that may be.