Are brands and retailers defining authenticity on their own terms or consumers’?

Discussion
Photo: @Polinaloves via Twenty20
May 11, 2021

University researchers have come up with six types of judgements consumers make when determining a product’s authenticity.

“Consumers crave authenticity. Yet marketing itself is typically considered inherently inauthentic,” professors from the University of Southern California, Bocconi University and Vrije Universitei Amsterdam wrote in a statement.

In the paper, “The Concept of Authenticity: What it Means to Consumers,” researchers said the problem is that marketers generally have come up with “numerous idiosyncratic definitions” of what authenticity means, making it a “nebulous” concept to re-conceptualize.

Leveraging data from more than 3,000 consumers across 17 different types of consumption experiences, the authors developed a holistic assessment of authenticity determined by six component judgements. The role of each component can change based on the consumption context.

The six components are:

  1. Accuracy: The seller being transparent and reliable in what is conveyed to consumers 
  2. Connectedness: Consumers’ feelings of engagement and at times a sense of transformation 
  3. Integrity: The source being seen as intrinsically motivated, while acting autonomously and consistently 
  4. Legitimacy: Conformity in terms of adhering to norms, standards, rules or traditions
  5. Originality: A product or service standing out from the mainstream
  6. Proficiency: The display of skills, craftsmanship and/or expertise in the offering

“From this research, practitioners can also tell which of these six judgments to emphasize and when in their customer marketing and communications,” said Andrea Ordanini, a marketing professor at Bocconi University in Italy. “For example, companies selling hedonic products should see relatively large returns perception-wise from emphasizing proficiency because it matters more for hedonic products than for utilitarian products.”

A 2019 study from Stackla found that, although 92 percent of marketers believe most or all of the content they create resonates as authentic with consumers, 51 percent of consumers said less than half of brands create content that resonates as authentic.

In marketing, employing influencers, tapping user-generated content and using “real people” instead of models in advertising are some ways brands claim to drive authenticity. Older brands claim to be viewed as more authentic than newer ones. Other authenticity elements often cited include aligning a brand’s actions with values, being transparent and brand storytelling.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What advice would you have for brands and retailers actively trying to convey authenticity to consumers? Which of the six components identified by the study do you think is most essential in a consumer’s determination of a product’s authenticity?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Brands should not attempt to actively convey authenticity to consumers, they should actively convey their brand characteristics and be transparent."
"If you have to “try” or “have a strategy” for authenticity, then by definition you’re not being very authentic."
"What is puzzling to me in this research is it does not address social or ethics concerns, which makes me skeptical of the framework."

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18 Comments on "Are brands and retailers defining authenticity on their own terms or consumers’?"


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Brent Biddulph
BrainTrust

Authenticity is becoming an increasingly critical component in terms of consumer decision making. Witnessing first hand my 22-year-old daughter and her circle of friends – it is evident that if done right, with a cohesive “story,” this largest consumer cohort (Gen X, Y, Z) are willing to pay more for authenticity but, more importantly, socially aligned and ethically responsible companies. What is puzzling to me in this research is it does not address social or ethics concerns, which makes me skeptical of the framework.

Michael La Kier
BrainTrust

Similar to brand position, consumers (not brands) decide what’s authentic. Brands should not attempt to actively convey authenticity to consumers, they should actively convey their brand characteristics and be transparent versus attempting to pose as something they are not.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

You got it exactly right Michael! I got a ringside seat to the Coke and Pepsi ad wars. Also the Budweiser/Miller/Coors ad battles of the day. My contention was always that those “in your face” high testosterone ad campaigns worked so well because for once the ads that appealed to the egos of the marketing titans of the day (still mostly men) which were exactly the brand persona that the consumers they targeted also shared. In effect, we tripped over the transparency you espouse. Hilarious in hindsight — but there’s a lot of truth in it.

Jennifer Bartashus
BrainTrust

I completely agree with you Michael. Consumers want to know what a brand stands for – whether that is quality, value, inspiration, aspiration, social or environmental causes, etc. – which are things that resonate on a personal level to build authenticity. If brands can’t communicate that they ultimately lose.

David Adelman
Guest

A product’s authenticity comes largely from a brand’s heritage. It isn’t easy to have instant authenticity with any product unless the brand representing it has provenance. It doesn’t matter how you package it today; consumers want to trust a brand first. Once they have achieved this trust, it will be much easier for a brand to convince them that their products are truly authentic.

Take Dove, for example; their award-winning ad campaign showing women in their underwear promoting their gentle soap created authenticity by not showing typical models. Unilever is also a heritage brand that starting selling Dove back in 1957.

Today a brand can’t promote its products on TikTok, through influencers or on any social media platform, and expect it to be universally accepted as authentic — you have to earn it!

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

I’d add a seventh component: Time tested and proven. Do I trust the authenticity of Patagonia’s claims regarding earth friendly principles? Completely. But Peloton’s skills as an authentic fitness company should have translated from bikes to treadmills. Not so much.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

I would add one more to the list: consistency. Once the customer has experienced these six components, they will enjoy and feel connected. However a lack of consistency means the customer won’t know what they are going to get the next time. That erodes the customer’s confidence, destroys any chance for loyalty, and means the brand will have to work that much harder to get them back. As for which of the six is most essential to authenticity, I’ll vote for integrity. Without that, the other five don’t matter.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Going back decades to key product and advertising principles. “Tell the people what they already want to hear and they will believe you.”

Gary Newbury
Guest

Consumer alignment is key (i.e., between what the consumer thinks and feels about your brand, and how you support it with storytelling and messaging). This suggests that it matters not how rigorous the “authenticity” matrix might appear, if you bring pre-purchase dissonance, you will only bring the brand’s consumer perception into question and the consumer will find out quickly that you are not as authentic as they might have believed.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Delivery is always critical. The leaky bucket theory is real.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust

If you have to “try” or “have a strategy” for authenticity, then by definition you’re not being very authentic. For me, integrity is the most important of the list. You have to operate from a very solid alignment to what you stand for as a brand – and you better stand for more than just “great prices” or even “great products.” Brands need to stand for something more, something that does tie back to their products, and then they need to live it and breathe it and bleed it from top to bottom. If you do that, you don’t need to “try” to be authentic. Anything less than that, consumers will sniff out in a heartbeat.

Liza Amlani
BrainTrust

Accuracy is of utmost importance in conveying authenticity today, especially around sustainability.

If we could truly see if a brand is sustainable, using track and trace to be certain our textiles and materials were ethically sourced/developed, and carbon emissions were truly being reduced, not only would we have brand trust but we would be more loyal to the brand/retailer.

Gary Newbury
Guest

That would certainly work if the brand was extolling its sustainability credentials but I wonder, with many consumers focused on price, whether a brand/retailer who was not open on its sustainability credentials but rather focused on some other aspect, such as service, novelty/innovation or availability — would they appear “less authentic” if they were doing exactly what was on the label?

Jlauderbach
Guest

Authenticity has more characteristics than the six listed, although those ones certainly are essential. Authenticity of a brand is fleeting or temporal. Whereas at inception everyone in the organization is of one mind. I write from my experiences at startups with altruistic cultures. In these startups, literally everyone from accounting, technology, operations, HR, and merchandising held the same view and vision. We delivered our message, and it did not need to be marketed. Our guests knew what we were about, and it was part of our products and our behavior. As the companies grew the “authenticity” needed to be taught. This did not dilute the authentic delivery but certainly became more mechanical. I do not think any characteristic is more essential than another. They all must be present. The question is like asking what is more essential to a cake, flour or eggs?

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Authenticity is like trust. Neither of these concepts can be “conveyed to consumers” by a seller because both authenticity and trust originate in the mind of the consumer and are either reinforced or refuted by the actions taken or not taken by the seller. So authenticity is something consumers perceive and conform in their own minds, not something that can be imposed on them. As to which component is the most essential, I kept looking for “honesty” but since it isn’t there I guess I would vote for integrity.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Seems like there’s more than a little overlap — if not in fact downright redundancy — in those six. But anyway, my advice is succinct: Be the best brand you can be. If you’re trying to “convey authenticity,” you’ve already failed.

Rachelle King
BrainTrust

The problem with trying to convey authenticity is trying to convey authenticity. Usually, the harder you try, the less authentic you seem. Yet, consumers make it tough for brands. They look for themselves and all their imperfections in a brand in order to feel connected, but they also want to see their hopes, dreams and aspirations. It’s an incredibly fine balance to strike and most brands miss the mark, generally with considerable effort behind them. There is something about simplicity that accentuates authenticity. Once all the studies have been read and focus groups refocused, the best thing brands can do is remember why they started in the first place. Simply.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

I would add one more to the list: consistency. Once the customer has experienced these six components, they will enjoy and feel connected. However, a lack of consistency means the customer won’t know what they are going to get the next time. That erodes the customer’s confidence, destroys any chance for loyalty, and means the brand will have to work that much harder to get them back. As for which of the six is most essential to authenticity, I’ll vote for integrity. Without that, the other five don’t matter.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Brands should not attempt to actively convey authenticity to consumers, they should actively convey their brand characteristics and be transparent."
"If you have to “try” or “have a strategy” for authenticity, then by definition you’re not being very authentic."
"What is puzzling to me in this research is it does not address social or ethics concerns, which makes me skeptical of the framework."

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