Becoming an authentic brand

Gemma Ede shares her failed yogi’s guide to building an authentic brand.


I’m no yogi. But, I did spend a few years living on the Kapiti Coast where I embraced a slightly more ‘hippy’ lifestyle and took to yoga and kale smoothies like a pro. Yoga hasn’t stuck with me as much as I’d have liked it to. I found F45 which appeals much more to my ‘get it done’ attitude. However, one thing that has stuck with me from my yoga days is the ‘Ujjayi’ breathing technique.

Firstly, don’t try and say it without help: “U-Jai” is how it’s pronounced and will be used henceforth.

U-Jai breathing sits at the heart of good yoga. It’s a technique where you make as much space through the back of your throat as possible, resulting in a Darth Vader sort of sound, as you breathe deep and slow right into the depths of your stomach. Complete a few of these bad boy breaths and relaxation just washes over you. It’s quite something.

The reason for the short yoga story, is when I think about building of strong brands in the age we live in, the analogy of the U-Jai breath is a good one. Why? Because U-Jai effectively draws energy from the outside world, taking it deep within, and distributing to every cell. The result is a better sense of wellbeing and generally good vibes.

If you consider what brands are trying to achieve – in an age of the more cynical and well-informed consumer – it’s a deeply connected, authentic brand. It’s a position of truth. A reputation of honesty

Authenticity comes from an organisation’s ability to draw insights from the outside and combine them with ideas from the inside. An authentic brand is the result of knitting together around key traits, demonstrating, communicating, recruiting, designing and rewarding them. And most of all, delivering experiences based on them.

Whether you’re B2B, B2C, or all the Bs and Cs, whether you’re a consultant, a fashion boutique or a large enterprise selling insurance, the authenticity of your brand is vital.

Your best customers – especially in younger generations – will not stand for anything less from brands. The human radar for ‘commerciality’, ‘flakiness’ and ‘boring’ is only getting stronger, and the demand for a unique (or just a good) experience, is benchmark. Fail? Your customers’ have other choices and the ‘vote of the feet’ is brutally swift.
According to a Forbes 2020 / OBI Creative report: “Thirty years ago, a brand symbolised a sense of quality and consistency. Today, a brand must do that and also provide a link to something more. Brands must represent quality and consistency while offering a connection to attract others to it. Characteristics that have meaning are critical.”

So as organisations chase down the utopia of being an ‘authentic brand’ what do they need to think about?

Here’s a few thought-starters from my own experience with brands and clients:

Think about traits authentic brands share

Think about how these traits apply to your brand and where the ‘holes’ are, keeping in mind that in most cases you’re not trying to appeal or attract everyone.

  • Consistent communication: in your brand personality’s unique style.
  • Accountability: for actions, stuff-ups, opinions.
  • Entertainment: in an appropriate way. Be it fresh, surprising, humorous or beautiful.
  • Honesty and relatability: (for your markets – not every man and his dog).
  • Ease of transacting: improving lives, giving people back time, making things accessible.
  • Tidiness: zero confusion within the experience, the language, the look.
  • Alignment and consistency: in messages, visuals, opinions, human interactions.

Consider your specific audience make-up

Walk through your customer’s journey with the different ‘trait hats’ on. Where are you falling down? How would a customer feel at each little interaction? How would your own people feel? Identify:

  • Are your people demonstrating these traits?
  • Is your brand aesthetic achieving these traits?
  • Are your promotional assets living up to these traits?

Bring to mind the brands that you love

Ask yourself the question: ‘why do I love them?’ Here’s an example and no, they didn’t pay me to say this. I’m the biggest cynic when it comes to brand experiences (ask my partner how much he cringes when I have a less than positive experience and head straight for the suggestion box, or unsuspecting staff member).

But there are brands that are doing well. And although nowhere near perfection, their journey of authenticity is clear.

One of my brand ‘loves’ is Southern Cross Healthcare. They have one of the best call centre experiences I’ve ever had and their latest campaign ‘We’re with you’ albeit a bit cliché, is still beautiful and well-executed. The most powerful thing however, is when good marketing is knitted together with a fabulous customer experience – especially in a call centre situation.

Engaged and helpful staff, minimal wait times, issue resolved and feedback requested. Tick. Add to this a reasonable effort in relevant email marketing, digital innovations and the various pieces of their brand all start to stand for a consistent thing.

There’s work to do, but Southern Cross are clearly absorbing feedback, learning the moods of the nation and flowing a customer centred approach into the cells of its business. In turn, this all results in a more connected experience.

Align the ‘oxygen’ with ‘carbon dioxide’

What are you taking in and what are you putting out? In other words, how are you obtaining feedback and insights from your markets regularly? And, more importantly how are you aligning these insights with internal assumptions and hypotheses?

Don’t make it too cumbersome, you want to create a habit. Focus on the measures most important to your brand: brand strength, brand experience, loyalty, competitive position, etc. Select the methods for your brand: NPS, adhoc surveying, customer service questions, basic better listening, and capture.

Remember what’s expected of you

What ‘promise’ have you put in market? We all love a new shiny thing. So we love the creativity and excitement that comes with our marketing. But, marketing messages carry promises which your brand needs to live up to. And, when I say ‘you’ I mean your whole business. For example, if I fire an email to disruptive start-up agency, what do I expect? A fun, energetic and fast response, surprise me. Entertain me even. If I call up Electric Kiwi, what do I expect? An easy, friendly, simple interaction.

You get the picture. A lot of the time building authenticity in brands is driven by the marketing team. So, the front end – the marketing and promotion – looks like the real deal. Then it all begins to crumble once you get a little further down the road, and we’ve all been on the receiving end of these situations.

Simply: You’re only as authentic as your last interaction.

Make the mundane glamorous

The response times, the sales tasks, the data entry, the automation, online transaction, the extra minute taken to perfect the customer email before sending, the time taken to ask a genuine question.

Often, the less glamorous stuff is where the ‘rubber hits the road’ for the customer on the receiving end. These are the actions that deliver (or don’t deliver) on the marketing promises made. These are the actions that creates an experience and therefore your brand.

Breathe in. Breathe out. And make the pursuit of authenticity a priority for your brand. Whether you’re into yoga or rugby, find your ‘U-Jai’ flow. Make it a regular item on the agenda that gets attention. It’s not a tickbox.

About Gemma Ede

Gemma Ede is Founder of Strut & Swagger Marketing – helping companies build brands that people remember.

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