Deep Dive into the Key Pillars of Brand Authenticity

By Jesse Epstein and Joanna Landsvik

Last week, we shared the background of our Brand Authenticity Index. This involved a search to understand why authenticity is so important to today’s (and tomorrow’s) consumer, as well as what factors create it. Through a year-long exploration that included focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and a robust consumer survey, we learned that authentic brands have the following characteristics:

  • Brutally Honest – a brand that tells the truth
  • Unapologetically Transparent – a brand that is open and transparent
  • Constantly Consistent – a brand that consistently delivers what it promises
  • Values-Driven – a brand that lives its values
  • Explicitly Moral – a brand consumers can count on to do the right thing
  • Badges Proudly Worn – a brand that is for someone like me

The most authentic brands

Today, we’ll share what we learned about which brands excelled in our analysis.

Of the 100 brands consumers evaluated, the most authentic is Trader Joe’s. The grocery store leads the industry with its quirky personality, quality products, and reasonable prices. Trader Joe’s attributes its success to eliminating the middle man that has defined grocery stores for decades. It means something to be a Trader Joe’s shopper, and customers are proud to be associated with the brand. In fact, customers feel they have an intimate connection to the brand—a connection for which many retailers strive.

Trader Joe’s customers tell us that the brand…

– “prides itself on being itself; they don’t try to imitate others”

– “provides affordable, healthy options which are realistic for how people should live if they want to have good nutrition and health that tastes good”

– “has a clear philosophy; they are transparent about the sources and content of their products and stay true to their values.”

Anecdotes like these illustrate the goal of many brands. Trader Joe’s has figured out a way to capture the essence of becoming an authentic brand and creating authentic connections with consumers.

Rounding out our top 10 is a blend of iconic brands that span industries, mixing game changers like PayPal (2) and Netflix (9) with definers who have been American staples for generations, like Heinz (3) and Disney (5). Here are the ten most authentic brands from our study:

  1. Trader Joe’s
  2. PayPal
  3. Heinz
  4. Panera
  5. Disney
  6. Under Armour
  7. Campbell’s Soup
  8. CVS
  9. Netflix
  10. Chick-fil-A

What makes these brands authentic?

The pillars of brand authenticity are best understood by the brands that exemplify them, so for each factor, we’ll examine who’s doing it well and what consumers are saying.

Brands that are Brutally Honest convey that consumers never have to worry whether they are being told the truth or if there is anything the brand is hiding. PayPal scored highly for this pillar, as consumers believe it differentiates itself amongst other financial services companies for being honest with consumers about fees, processes, and benefits in an industry where perceived honesty is often lacking.

Authentic brands are Unapologetically Transparent and show consumers the nitty gritty about how their businesses works. Trader Joe’s resonates with consumers because of its transparency, both in its personality and its processes.  By cutting out the middle man, Trader Joe’s is trusted as the producer, wholesaler, and distributor of its products—all done with a clear personality that is appealing to consumers and truly transparent at all levels.

It is critical for an authentic brand to be Constantly Consistent, a baseline performance of product and interaction that a consumer can depend on every time one engages with a brand.  Heinz, an iconic and nostalgic brand that created the ketchup category, remains consistent every day, from the “57” logo greeting its consumers to the flavors, texture, and impact on a meal. Whether on morning eggs, a burger at a barbecue, or fast-food French fries, consumers know what to expect from that iconic Heinz taste.

Authentic brands are Values-Driven, wearing their missions and values on their proverbial sleeves day in and day out. Patagonia, which donated its profits from a tax cut to environmental groups and created a website to preserve public lands, is known for its commitment to conservation efforts.  Whether consumers agree or disagree with the content of its ideals, Patagonia receives praise for its clear alignment with its values.

Consumers also reward brands that are Explicitly Moral, knowing that they can always count on them to do the right thing. CVS, the winner in the health category, receives praise for its bold stances like stopping cigarette sales and pulling Zantac from the shelf last week. In a category where consumers depend on brands to keep them healthy, CVS earns its reputation for doing good.

Lastly, authentic brands are An Expression of Who I Am, ascending beyond the traditional connection between brands and consumers by becoming an integral part of who someone is. Netflix, a game changer in how we consume media, is a badge for cord cutters, binge watchers, and consumers who are proud to adopt a new way of doing things and evolve with the times. No brand better exemplifies the digital generation than Netflix, and it shows in the connections it creates with consumers.

Authenticity is not only a buzzword, but a true driver of how consumers are making purchase decisions. Each of the top-performing brands highlighted above are prime examples of how brands can connect with consumers in an authentic manner.

Connect with Jesse and Joanna to discuss how to enhance your brands authenticity.