The Rise of the Genuine Brand: Why Authenticity Matters in Today's Customer Communication
Updated: Dec 12, 2019
Gone are the days of perfectly polished and packaged communications. These days, images of real people have replaced models airbrushed to perfection. User reviews have replaced celebrity endorsements as the gold standard of testimonials. And when a brand comes across as canned or inconsistent, customers are not afraid to let them — and others — know about it, often sharing screenshots of interactions-gone-wrong on social media.
Consumers are increasingly seeking out authentic brands, and they're quick to disregard, unlike or unfollow those that aren't. Across the generations, research has found that 86 percent of consumers value authenticity, with 90 percent of millennials — the largest living generation — saying that it matters to them.1
I experienced this firsthand last month when I ran into an issue with my order from Chewy.com. I called the company to report that our shipment of dog food was missing. Before even getting into the details of my order, the first heartfelt question from the agent was if my dog, Lily, had enough food?
She then quickly followed up by researching and owning up to a logistic snafu at their warehouse, arranging to send out a replacement, and providing a credit for me to run to the store to get a stopgap supply. While the case of the missing dog food could have been frustrating, the company made it easy on me.
And, most importantly, I was left feeling like Chewy.com truly cares about my dog, from the very beginning of our conversation. The company, which has even been known to send condolences to customers who have lost their pets, lived up to its brand promise to "…delight, surprise and thank our loyal pet lovers."
As this story shows, brands are responding to customers' desire for human, authentic interactions. Whether your business is B2B- or B2C-focused, we're now in the era of engaging with customers as people-to-people (P2P). And when it comes to word of mouth, brand authenticity matters.
Brand authenticity, defined
A person's entire interaction with a brand, from its visual appearance to the way it speaks and behaves, helps them gauge its level of authenticity. When you interact with a brand that is authentic, it feels good — like connecting with an old friend. You sense that you can take their word or promise to heart.
As a result of this feeling, you are more likely to engage with the company by responding to its promotions, opening its emails, or sharing its social media posts, as well as your own experiences, by submitting a rating or writing a review. Plus, consumers, who are more informed and connected than ever, can spot insincerity and inconsistency a mile away and share it across their networks — social and otherwise — in an instant.
Creating authentic communications takes time and planning. But these four tips can help you connect with and influence today's more discerning consumers.
Tips for communicating authentically
1. Be You
Great companies live by established values. They are reflected every day across all customer communications and interactions, whether in store, at a bank branch, on social media or on a live website chat.
Who's doing it well:
Patagonia. As an environmentally-aware apparel company, customers can expect great products made from recycled materials, such as plastic water bottles. They can also be delighted, but not necessarily surprised, when the company decides to donate unexpected profits to grassroots organizations focused on protecting the planet.
2. Be Consistent
Companies aren't authentic in their communications by chance. They follow a plan. They adhere to a standard, yet authentic, tone and style, as well as customer service policies. Employees are trained on the company's values and how to embody those values when communicating with customers.
Who's doing it well:
Zappos. They are powered by service and, in turn, empower their customer representatives to take actions that support this core value. As an online brand, they make it easy and risk free to shop, try on shoes or apparel and make an exchange or return.
3. Be Honest
Today, we as consumers expect to be more 'in the know' than ever before. We want to be aware of what's in our cosmetics, what's in our food and where our clothes are manufactured. Blockchain technology will further accelerate this transparency. When a brand hides or misrepresents these details, sooner or later it will be found out, often causing irreparable damage to a brand's reputation and negatively impacting revenue.
Who's doing it well:
Jeni's. One brand we admire is Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, which offers artisanal ingredients and sophisticated flavor combinations. A few years back when one pint of ice cream tested positive for listeria, instead of just pulling the lot, they pulled all their ice cream and closed all their scoop shops. While probably a costly decision, it was a move consistent with prioritizing what's in their ice cream — and caring about their customers' well-being.
4. Be Clear
We find our team counseling B2B brands to avoid the jargon and 'industry speak' in favor of clear, human communication. The same applies with being clever or cute: a brand should only attempt this if it's compelling and aligned with your company's personality.
Who's doing it well:
Ally Bank. Ally Bank tends to be more youthful and energetic in both its look (including fonts and graphics) and its voice. As one of the top-rated online banks, Ally doesn't sacrifice clarity and simplicity for cute or clever. So even while they choose to be more real and playful than other bank brands, they are reliable and respectful.
Now that you've seem some examples of leaders in this space, consider this: How authentic are your company's customer communications? Do you embody the values held by the customers you want to attract and keep? Do you walk the walk?
Carolyn Kopf is the founder and managing partner of C.E.K. & Partners, an Atlanta-based branding and strategic marketing communications firm that partners with leading companies across payments, fintech, financial services, healthcare and purpose-driven brands. Its writing lab supports content strategy and development and its research lab designs and conducts custom quantitative and qualitative market research studies. Want more B2B brand insights? Check out and sign up for the latest thinking from the Brand Feed Blog.
Carolyn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 404.345.6447.
This post was originally published by TSYS on April 16, 2019 on The TSYS ngenuity Payments Journal. https://www.tsys.com/news-innovation/whats-new/Articles-and-Blogs/nGenuity-Journal/