The quest for greater brand authenticity and transparency is coming at a critical time. Where once a brand could be meticulously controlled, controlled and circulated among the masses, the advent of social media means that it now has a story for everyone. Reputation is fluid. Consumers are capricious. And for better or worse, people are equipped to make informational decisions about what a brand is, what it means and then vote according to their hip pocket.
Welcome to ‘Age of Cynicism’.
A new global 2021 study by advertising giant Havas Group titled ‘Meaningful Brands’ found that consumer confidence is flat. Surveying more than 395,000 people about more than 2,000 brands in 30 countries across 21 industries, it appears that the global pandemic has resulted from the “chaotic cultural The landscape” has increased. , which “significantly influenced consumer preferences and behavior”.
Several startling statistics also emerged; Consumers feel that 77 percent of brands are not ‘meaningful’ to their lives, they consider only 47 percent of brands to be ‘trustworthy’.
Given the sheer scale of the study, it compels brands to focus on their three simple quotients that show how any brand can be more authentic and relevant to people’s daily lives. The ‘worthiness of a brand’ is first measured by the purely functional benefits it offers to consumers – specifically, whether its products work as promised, are they of good quality, are they value-for-money provide value?
The second metric is more personal – how does a product improve my life, reflect my condition, or make me feel? And finally, there is the collective benefit of growing importance to Millennials and younger audiences – what does a brand mean? Is it a force for good, what is their environmental or social impact, and is it in line with my own values?
Alas, authenticity is not something you can pretend. So, what are some brands that people consider to be authentic and what can be learned from them?
Best and Divest. become
Co-founded in 2014 by activist Simon Sheik and his financier friend Adam Verwe, Future Super set out to lead the growing disinvestment movement. At the time, some consumers understood that their own savings were essentially tied to fossil fuels and other industries such as arms manufacturers and big tobacco. By proving that retirement could be more profitable, Future Super’s mission was to pressure other banks and super funds to follow suit.
Certainly, its ethical strategy has consistently paid dividends. In 2019-2020, Future Super’s three investment options were the first, second and third best performing balanced options in Australia, giving returns of over 5.2 per cent. It is worth noting that the balanced category average super investment option for the same duration gave negative returns.
The brand now manages approximately US$702.6 million and is one of the fastest growing funds in Australia. Meanwhile, its undeniable success continues to prompt the rest of the retirement industry to divest, with more than US$7.7 trillion being shifted out of fossil fuels over the past five years.
Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brooks invests US$147.6 million in a giant solar farm
Startup Atlassian’s exponential success isn’t just another ‘unicorn story’, it’s a real Pegasus. From its inception in 2002, founders Mike Cannon-Brooks and Scott Farquhar identified the need for best-in-class software solutions and online project management tools. Adopting a unique ‘freemium model’, they built their offering on consistently, achieving more software services and winning the loyal support of customers.
But it is their progressive reputation where Atlassian’s authenticity shines. Cannon-Brooks has become a white knight for the renewable energy industry by investing US$147.6 million in Sun Cable, a massive solar farm that promises to power entire cities. He also led the successful hostile takeover of AGL, forcing the energy provider to make a rapid transition from coal power to renewable energy. Meanwhile, Farquhar recently hit the front page after a thorny Twitter exchange with none other than Elon Musk.
When Musk threatened to sack Tesla employees who sought to work from home, Farquhar responded by saying that the comments were “something like the 1950s.” He also tweeted, “Atlassian employees choose every day where and how they want to work – we call it Team Anywhere. This has been critical to our continued growth [and] The future of how we will work. Highly distributed, highly flexible. In the past year, 42% of our new employees live two or more hours out of an office. There’s a lot of talent all over the world.”
Musk shot back at the trademark snark, suggesting that “the recession serves a significant economic cleanup”. And yet, if Atlassian’s figures are any indication, Musk is also wrong about it as the company has shown a US$555 million jump in its subscription revenue (from the prior year to US$350 million).
Overall, his annual income has been reported to increase from US$569 million to US$740 million. Curiously, their careers page has since been amended to include the banner: “Welcome, we’re Atlassian and we work from anywhere.”
At first glance, US yogurt brand Chobani’s tagline might sound outlandish—”A cup of yogurt won’t change the world, but how can we make it”—until you realize it means every word. Not only is its strain yogurt made with natural ingredients, it actively supports local communities and makes its employees a priority.
Chobani’s philanthropic founder, Hamdi Ulukaya, gifted a 10 percent stake in the company to its mainly immigrant workers (many of whom were refugees) in 2016 and donated US$5 million to fund startups in his Turkish homeland. As a result, consumers feel comfortable buying the brand’s product and Chobani has dominated the market.
On the verge of going public, the company grew 5.2 percent from 2019-2020, and is said to enjoy over US$2 billion in annual sales.
It makes sense for a beauty brand to talk about being really beautiful and yet, Dove stands out from competitors by championing a more accessible beauty. By celebrating the old woman, greater diversity, intrinsic qualities versus external aesthetics and the minor flaws that lend the character of each face to the youthful but ultimately superficial perfection, Dove’s decade-long ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ helped women’s women. Has won over a generation (not to mention a bunch of advertising awards along the way).
Chobani’s philanthropic founder Hamdi Ulukaya donates US$5 million to startups in Turkey
In addition, the brand set up its own charitable fund to continue supporting worthy causes that female consumers feel passionate about. As a result, Dove’s sales have grown from US$2.5 billion to over US$4 billion in the first 10 years of the campaign.
Founded in 1973 by climber Yvonne Chouinard, Patagonia is arguably the most authentic brand in the world. It holds the number one market share in its category and its stance on the environment is legendary – it has not only donated more than US$140 million to the environment, it is determined to make sure it is already at least as much carbon. Offsets the footprint.
Two-thirds of its products are made from recycled materials, while its infamous ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ campaign urged consumers not to buy more unless absolutely necessary. However, by placing objective before profits, on the upside, consumer goodwill overshadowed profits anyway. So it generates sales of over US$1 billion every year.
How to become a more authentic brand
- walk the talk: Credibility is not a dress you can only donate to a one-time campaign. Authenticity needs to be earned. Consumers expect consistent evidence of what a brand means and how they maintain their values across all of their business ventures.
- The motivation for change should be internal, not external: Any story that a brand tells, whether it is a new, purpose-based direction or a corporate and social responsibility initiative, cannot be the only public relations exercise to increase sales. Instead, it must originate from within the organization – either reflecting the personal values of the leadership team and/or because employees demand it. Only then will the positive byproducts of that change emerge.
- put your money where your mouth is: Commitment to authenticity can cost. It requires actual investment before it starts paying dividends. So, if posting a net loss for a few years is likely to shake your leadership, rethink your strategy.
- Be the master of your failures: Brands love to talk about all the good things they do, but the cynicism is so pervasive that consumers assume that any agenda to do good is to win a greater share of the wallet. It may be better for a brand to be clear about what it has done wrong. Transparency is seen as a virtue and owning mistakes can be dear to customers.
- Stay in your street This should be self-evident, but unless your brand is uniquely qualified to talk about an issue that is in little position to deal with, it’s wise to be explicit. For example, no one expects Coca-Cola to discuss dental health, or McDonald’s to discuss childhood obesity.
- Don’t Greenwash: Kit-Kat’s unfortunate ‘Give the Planet a Break’ campaign was ridiculed as clumsy greenwashing, as is its parent company, Nestlé.
- Be true to your brand: Remember that there are limits to reinvestment. Whatever steps a brand can take to become ‘more authentic’, it can really just try to be a better version of itself, and live up to the ideals and values that it already has.