Authenticity Matters: Consumers Want Brands To Get Real

Brands hoping to distinguish themselves as authentic, honest and trustworthy should start by remembering three simple words: reliable, respectful and real. This brief but important lesson comes from a comprehensive study conducted by global communications agency Cohn & Wolfe.

Respectful brands understand consumers are individuals who deserve thoughtful interactions – while protecting consumers’ privacy and data.

The 2016 survey of nearly 12,000 consumers across 14 markets around the world analyzes how customers define brand “authenticity.” It highlights a key opportunity for companies to boost their image and expand their customer base by tackling a credibility problem that’s globally pervasive. The good news? Brands demonstrating authenticity are on track to reap big rewards.

Consumers spell “authenticity” with three “R”s

First things first. The study reveals nearly 80% of consumers see a disappointing, even frustrating “authenticity deficit” in the global marketplace. Among myriad complaints: countless companies don’t communicate honestly or openly, nor do they respect basic privacy rights. Cohn & Wolf uses the three Rs to understand how consumers define “authenticity” – and to show brands how to turn a perception problem into a positive business strategy. The survey reveals:

  • Reliable brands deliver on promises about their goods and services, giving consumers exactly what they expect from their purchase and always at a consistently high quality.
  • Respectful brands understand consumers are individuals who want and deserve thoughtful, careful and attentive interactions. They also protect consumers’ privacy and data, a trend that’s emerged across all the surveyed industries.
  • “Real” brands set and achieve three customer satisfaction goals: they communicate honestly, are “genuine and real” (not artificial) and they act with integrity.

These three Rs outrank other authenticity benchmarks including being socially or environmentally responsible and upholding corporate or company-wide values. Translation: Consumers care about their own personal experience far more than about a company’s lofty ideals or beliefs.

Don’t just mind the credibility gap, bridge it

The problem is, more than 75% of U.S. consumers are cynical about brands’ openness or honesty. That’s pretty grim (unless you compare the number to Sweden’s dismal 96%). But savvy brands should not be deterred by skepticism. Where challenge lies, so, too, does opportunity – and in this case, the potential rewards are high. Consider this finding from the Cohn & Wolfe study: Almost nine out of ten consumers worldwide would reward brands for perceived authenticity. Such “rewards” include:

  • Recommending the brand to others: 52%
  • Pledging loyalty to a brand: 49%
  • Valuing a brand: 48%
  • Wanting to work for the company: 20%
  • Investing in the company: 20%

By these measures, businesses with a proven track record for authenticity are likely to convert customers, build long-term relationships and even expand the employee pool – and, ultimately, help their bottom line.

Who do consumers trust?

Based on consumers’ perception of authenticity, Cohn & Wolfe analyzed extensive customer data to compile a list of the 100 highest ranking global companies. Disney, BMW, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple top the list.

Businesses with a proven track record for authenticity are more likely to convert customers, build long-term relationships and even expand the employee pool – and, ultimately, help their bottom line.

In addition to these brand behemoths, smaller companies known for creating an exceptional customer experience also garnered high marks. For example, Levi’s, Adidas, Nike and Chanel may not dominate the marketplace with quite the heft of Apple or Amazon. However, they foster trust and inspire deep brand loyalty by consistently communicating “authentically” with customers. Donna Imperato, Cohn & Wolfe CEO, puts it this way: “The brands topping the Authentic 100…have demonstrated consistently that they value more than just their bottom lines by fostering a genuine dialogue with their customers.”

In other words, winning brands know how to keep it “real.”

Willow Older is a professional writer and editor based in the Bay Area. She is a semi-professional consumer who firmly believes a "lifetime warranty" really should last a lifetime.