The Journey to Brand Authenticity

By Jesse Epstein and Joanna Landsvik

Over several otherwise unremarkable Spring evenings in suburban Los Angeles, a routine set of Focus Groups with everyday shoppers became surprisingly memorable, highlighting the evolving relationship with brands for which consumers today yearn.  Group after group, consumer after consumer, kept telling us that they want brands that stand for something – even if they don’t necessarily agree with what the brand stands for.  Specifically, they want to connect with brands beyond just their products.  And most of all, these everyday consumers used the same word over and over: they want brands to be more authentic.

An authentic brand is “A brand that clearly communicates with consumers who it is and what it stands for. An authentic brand tells you what it believes in and lives up to those values.”

The following week, while walking down Michigan Avenue in Chicago, we noticed Nike had recently opened a pop-up shop dubbed, “The Future of Retail” by Fast Company.  In partnership with a local artist, the space focused on creativity, sustainability, and connectivity.  Rather than just a place for product sales, the NikeLab Re-Creation Center stood as an embodiment of exactly what we heard from consumers a week prior: authenticity.

So, we set out to understand what factors drive authenticity and how brands can connect with consumers in an authentic manner.  The result is HawkPartners’ Brand Authenticity Index.

Why Authenticity?

Brands like Nike aren’t changing the way they interact with consumers because it’s convenient or preferred, but rather, they recognize that the ground is shifting beneath them. Authenticity is not only a buzzword, but a true driver of how consumers are making purchase decisions.  In 2016, the PR firm Cohn and Wolfe launched a global study which found that 9 out of 10 consumers say it’s important for a brand to be authentic.  If you pay attention to the media these days, you know that 9 out of 10 people usually can’t agree on anything!

9 out of 10 consumers say that it is important for a brand to be authentic.

And our own proprietary research found that 69 percent of consumers would be likely to spend more money on a brand they perceive to be authentic than a direct competitor that was not perceived as authentic.  And authenticity becomes even more important with those who will drive tomorrow’s economy.  Willingness to pay more for an authentic brand rises to 73 percent among Millennials and Gen-Z.  The correct approach to building authenticity can prove extremely valuable to brands by creating lasting and profitable connections with consumers.

“Authenticity is having a moment in our culture right now because social media is creating this artificial world… So consumers are looking for meaning and trying to find those that have the same values.”

– Phyllis Fogarty, PepsiCo

Introduction to the Brand Authenticity Index

So, we engaged with consumers directly to get an initial read on what they think makes brands authentic.  We then collected data from 6,000 Americans to statistically assess the importance of each of those characteristics and to evaluate 100 brands across 10 industry categories.  Based on this analysis, we created an industry-specific algorithm to generate an overall Authenticity Score for each brand.

So, what did we learn?

Based on consumer input, an authentic brand is “A brand that clearly communicates with consumers who it is and what it stands for. An authentic brand tells you what it believes in and lives up to those values.

Six key factors define authentic brands, and while the relative importance of each factor varies by industry, all authentic brands are:

Brutally Honest – a brand that tells the truth, even when the truth hurts

Unapologetically Transparent – a brand that is open and clear

Constantly Consistent – a brand that reliably delivers what it promises

Values-Driven – a brand that lives its principles

Explicitly Moral – a brand consumers can count on to do the right thing

An Expression of Who I Am – a brand that is for someone like me

Next week, we’re excited to share with you the companies who excelled in each of these categories and the overall winners and industry stars.

Reach out to Jesse or Joanna to learn more about enhancing your brands authenticity.