Brand Authenticity Fundamental To Sustain A Brand Edited Louise


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Why brand authenticity is a fundamental competitive advantage and how to manage it

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Brand Authenticity Fundamental To Sustain A Brand Edited Louise

  1. 1. Authenticity: Fundamental to Creating & Sustaining a Brand?In Fortune magazine of 22 October 2007, the CEO of Burberry, AngelaAhrendts, emphasised the importance of being “British” as a differentiator forthe fashion brand. She stated, “Our goal is not to be Hermės or BottegaVeneta. Britishness is so much a part of what we’re about – now let’s do thatbetter than anyone in the world.”She understands the nature of authenticity – or as some would put it, knowingyour roots and sticking to them.Authenticity is what makes a brand relevant to customer needs -yet unique in its appealAuthenticity is about what sets one brand apart from another – in a mannerthat is relevant to its customers. Being authentic means a brand is unique inthe way it satisfies consumer needs – in a way that no other brand can. Beingauthentic also means the brand owner knows what makes the brand unique,which enables him/ her to deliver that uniqueness to the market, time and timeagain. And even though times - and people’s needs - change, authenticbrands retain what makes them unique.In Seven Habits of Authentic Brands Beverland states that authenticity is the“manifestation of the search for what is real”.This authenticity can take many forms. The point is to create it - or to knowwhat it is - and to manage it to retain its authenticity. It assumes a deepunderstanding of your brand, not just the easy or superficial parts like itsidentity elements.Sadly, we often only understand brands by looking at their easy parts – whatwe can see. This fundamentally undermines brand authenticity and assumesconsumers are ignorant enough only to look at the visual aspects of a brand.A brand is hardly ever just an image – and if it is only that, it will not last forlong.Beverland states that authentic brands “stick to their roots” and revere theirheritage and traditions. They share unique traits that enable them to retaintheir relationship with their customers, with integrity and honesty. Mostly thestaff members within authentic brands are passionate about what they do –for them it is not just another job. Beverland states that authentic brands havea unique consumer dialogue: they have excellent quality, they are devoted toa craft, they respect their heritage and traditions, they have a sense of place.In fact, authentic brands are serious about what they are.
  2. 2. Harley-Davidson offers uniquely designed motorcycles, and has created aglobal cult following based on this uniqueness. And despite havingsophisticated technology, they appear “old-fashioned” – which sets them apartfrom their rivals and further endorses their uniqueness. Zippo lighters lookdeliberately industrial and devoid of any aesthetic or “designer” elements. The”crude” elements of these brands set them apart (in fact, they look “real”; notin a given way).Traditional marketing often undermines authentic brands by its “averaging”and globalisation. The ultimate result is brand commoditisation: when allbrands seem the same. Once this happens in an industry, the lowest price willdetermine sales. Sadly, only one can ever be number one; the other brandsdepend on being different in (hopefully) an authentic way.Some authentic brands have such a strong dialogue with their consumers thatthey almost become the “property” of consumers, which is both good and badin the era of “information democracy”. Yet, if it works positively for a brand, itis very powerful. When a brand is completely honest, it does not even matterif it is criticised at times. If managed well, criticism can even better “root” abrand and make it more credible!Beverland states that consumers know when a brand is not authentic – muchof authenticity lies in consumers’ feelings about brands, not only as they seethem perform. Authenticity is therefore “grounded” in intuition.Multinationals often buy authentic brands and then – by default or by planning- “kill” them! He states how Quaker Oats failed to retain the authenticity of theSnapple brand. Most large companies tend to “kill” brands that sit on the“fringes” – their systems, operations and ways of working cannotaccommodate outlying brands that do not leverage the economies of scaleassociated with large multinationals (i.e. standardised packaging,standardised franchising, standardised sizes, standardised design,standardised distribution).Authenticity implies differentiation: what makes a brand so unique thatit occupies a unique space in the minds of its stakeholders. It is fair tosay that a brand cannot be authentic if it is not unique in at least onesignificant way.Authenticity stems from an inherent uniqueness that is oftenfounded in a person’s aptitude or a company’s cultureAuthenticity often stems from a person’s personality and his/ her craft, acultural group or the culture of a community or country. This is the goldenthread that runs through any authentic brand. The motif socialises everyoneassociated with the brand into a particular way of thinking and doing.Many brands started their lives as the products of highly skilled craftsman –brands like Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Dom Perignon, Prada and Versace. Inthese instances, the very high level of skill, the materials used and the
  3. 3. particular design elements required to manufacture these products make thebrands unique and have enabled them to retain their authenticity overgenerations – even after some have been sold to other owners. Theauthenticity is manufactured “into” the brand.Some companies use societies to create brands, like the unique way in whichthe Benetton company uses subcontractors to manufacture its basic grey rawmaterials, giving it several competitive advantages such as flexibility in supplyand demand, flexibility in fashion colours, an advantage in pricing, andflexibility in the type of designs and garments it can offer (and the speed withwhich it can do that). Their way of operating has created a unique brand witha unique culture that creates authenticity.Some brand owners have created a unique culture within their companies,which enabled their products and services to retain an air of uniqueness.Compare brands like Singapore Airline, Emirates, Apple and Orange. Acompany like Sony, after the Second World War, did the same, as did WaltDisney and Sam Walton – in all these instances, the founder had a very clearidea of what he wanted to achieve. To a greater or lesser extent, futuregenerations have been able to retain that culture.Beverland states that authentic brands will “not sacrifice quality for economy”.In many instances, the uniqueness of countries permeates many of theirfamous products and services, such as: • The Italians in fashion, food and design. • The Scandinavians in product design. • South-East Asia in standardised production efficiency. • The United States, with its cultural diversity, in software and entertainment like movies and music. • The highly structured Germans in heavy engineering and pharmaceuticals. • The unique taste sensation of Mexican, Indian or Thai cuisine. • Italian cars have historically been more sensuous in their design.Other than authenticity implying uniqueness, it must also satisfy a consumerneed in a substantive manner.Dieter Rams, keynote designer for many iconic products manufactured byBraun, believes that products must appeal to real human needs, and must notbe superficial or trend-driven. He states that products must not “impose”themselves upon consumers, “the aesthetic quality of a product is ultimately apart of its utility” and “I hate everything that is driven by fashion.” To him,integrity – that creates authenticity – is central. “A product must not claimfeatures – more innovative, more efficient or higher value – it does not have. Itmust not influence or manipulate buyers and users.”
  4. 4. Rams outlines the key elements of brand design as being: • Innovative (functionality and design must be in tandem); • Useful (function predominates and must not be overshadowed by aesthetic); • Honest (it does not misrepresent what it is); • Unobtrusive (they must fulfil a purpose, so their design must be neutral and restrained); • Understandable (be self-explanatory on usage); • Aesthetic (integral to its purpose); • Long lasting (will survive short term fads and fashions); • Thorough to the last detail; • Environmentally friendly; and • As little design as possible (pure, simple, concentrating on the essentials).The very basis for his many award-winning consumer products thatdominated the Braun company for many years, lies in authenticity. Hissignature was clear; everything he did remained true to his philosophy.Steve Jobs sums up good design as, “Design is not just what it looks like andfeels like. Design is how it works.”Authenticity comes from within.The sources of authenticityThere are many layers of what makes a brand unique - we outline some ofthem here. The important thing is that unique and authentic brands are “true”on many layers of meaning. They generally “have a story to tell” that is notentirely fictitious.Beverland states that authentic brands “tell stories” that have “many layers ofmeaning”. He mentions many sources of brand stories, notably: • The founder or family who founded it; • The challenges the brand had to overcome to become successful; • How the brand was conceived or created; • How the brand impacts on the community; • Where the brand comes from – locality (in wine, it matters); • Stories about the people who use the brand; and • Stories about the product or service itself.Successful brands have stories that straddle many of these layers. Whensomething is authentic, it attracts stories that build its reputation and “layers”its “meaning”. In Africa, much of this will lie in the pioneering spirit of firstmover brands (into a “dark” continent) and their unique connection with
  5. 5. society that empowers many people; this is what makes for legend, not onlyauthenticity!In a cluttered brand world, authenticity creates exponential brandvalueProduct and service parity is one of the major challenges facing brands inevery conceivable product or service category. It has become almostimpossible to distinguish one brand from another in the same category, albeitmotor cars, shampoo brands or airlines. This is not good for the very conceptof branding, and it is certainly not good for business. While all companies arenow excited about the growth they gain from emerging markets, a time willcome again when markets stagnate and brands become commoditised.If you conduct consumer research into brands in most product or servicecategories, you will find a very high degree of “same-ness”: brands in thesame category are perceived the same. Based on pure performance factors,the brands are the same. Over time, this same-ness underminesdifferentiation and leads to commoditisation. Once this happens, consumerswill simply buy the cheapest brand they can get. This is true for industries likeairlines, hotel rooms and many other product and service categories.How to manage brand value is a fundamental challenge for marketers. To doso, consumers have to believe one brand is better than another.Authenticity reflects back to what makes a given brand different – as withinthis difference, lies its ability to service its customers better than any otherbrand.Consumers know that a Harley-Davidson is different from any othermotorcycle – it looks different, performs different and it also makes its ownersfeel different. It is this difference that consumers pay for when they buy thebrand. Relative to other brands like Yamaha, a Harley-Davidson looks “oldfashioned” in its design – yet it is what makes the brand stand out and retainits franchise. If the brand owner undermines this difference, it will underminethe value the consumer places in the brand. This very same principle appliesto brands like Mini, VW Beetle and many others.How significant this authenticity is, was illustrated when Coca-Cola changedits recipe/ taste to be closer to the taste of Pepsi (“for a new generation”) – ithad a major impact upon the sales of Coca-Cola, and they immediatelyreversed the decision. Consumers associated a given taste experience withCoca-Cola. If they wanted a sweeter cola, they would have bought Pepsi-Cola.Chanel No. 5 is still made exactly the same way, and the bottle looks thesame. Despite much that has changed in the world, it is still a classic.
  6. 6. To sustain a brand beyond the founder, demands a deepunderstanding of what makes it authenticIn most instances what makes a brand authentic is the culture that is createdby a founder within a given company.Richard Branson has a certain mind-set and a certain attitude that believes hecan offer better value to customers within given product and servicecategories. He does that in a way that challenges the status quo and theprevailing way of doing things. He has done this in many industries, from airtravel, train travel, car hire and soft drinks to gyms, financial services andtelecommunications. In every instance the Virgin brand offers a betterexperience and better value.The same principle applies to Apple – so much so, that the value of thecompany waxes and wanes on the basis of the health of Steve Jobs. Will anApple company without Steve Jobs be able to replicate the significantinnovation it has made in so many industries?The answer has to be simple – unless the founder has inculcated the DNA ofthe company into its leadership and staff, it will not survive. If the culture isinculcated into the DNA of the company, it will survive. But as history tells us,that is very difficult.Managing authenticity while retaining actuality and relevance: howto balance what is unique with what is currentThree layers of brand understanding are required to understand and be ableto manage authenticity. This view is loosely based on two theorists, Levin andRokeach.A brand owner has to understand what is core to retain the brand, while alsomanaging what keeps the brand current.What is core to the brand?Fundamentally, there are aspects to a brand that are so inherently part of itthat dropping them will kill the brand. It is important for a brand owner to knowwhat these aspects are because its authenticity can be retained by carefullymanaging this uniqueness.For a brand like Harley-Davidson, this will include its unique design-language:it is styled differently than any other motorcycle, and has attained a uniquefollowing because of this uniqueness. As a brand, it has a particular irreverentattitude that goes with its design. It is not a brand everyone feels comfortablewith. The brand is created in the dialogue between people and brand. It is likea living organism. On the one hand, it expresses the desire for freedom and
  7. 7. the “rebel within”; on the other, users engage the brand and add their ownuniqueness to it in the way they look, dress, what they say and where they go.Even the role of the sexes is ambivalent – different yet similar. The brand islayered uniquely. One can say that much of the brand relates to the interfacewithin individuals, among individuals “within the fold” and between “the fold”and society. There is a tension that creates a unique solidarity for the brandusers. The brand has therefore, long ago, straddled manufacturinguniqueness – and if the brand owner should ever change that, it is notinconceivable that some consumers would manufacture their own Harleys!Harley is a brand for “conforming non-conformists”. It would be fair to say thebrand long ago stopped being “owned” by its owner!While Harley is an exceptional brand in the number of layers it has created,many other brands have some layers so they at least started on the journey ofauthenticity. Here are examples: • From its advertising and its colours to the way passengers are treated on board and what the on-board amenities look like, Virgin Atlantic enables a unique customer experience; so different that it is conceivable that certain passengers will be uncomfortable with the brand. • Many of the strongest brands have become iconic, having created unique associations over the years, like Zippo (with its utility “look” and functioning), Timberland (with its particular degree of “ruggedness”), Muji (with its very authentic convergence of form and function), Cartier (with a particular design legacy and integrity of craftsmanship, with a unique red and gold colour combination), The New Yorker (with painted front covers, a different format, a unique cartoon and pictorial style, a particular editorial slant) and Google (being a very friendly, simple, less-serious brand that engages the consumer with topical adaptations to its logo). Armani clothes and furniture share a unique signature: you can see where they come from. Phillipe Starke products challenge you, tease you, are in your face and use hyperbole. • Bang & Olufsen and Bose are designed very differently from other sound and music systems. They look different and even work differently (B&O with active speakers and Bose with its unique small size of speaker technology). • Walking into an Apple store is different from walking into a normal computer store. Staying at an Aman Resort is very different from any other luxury resort brand. • Iconic characters in brands like Jack Daniels and Peter Stuyvesant. • A Leica camera does not look like any other camera. • In advertising, brands have had particular styles that came to define their uniqueness: the exacting expectations and standards of those
  8. 8. who wear Rolex watches, the cartoon style and irreverence of Red Bull, the graphic style of The Economist, the attitude of Nando’s, the attitude of Virgin Atlantic, the walking man for Johnny Walker. • In an entirely different way: the design of the Absolut Vodka bottle, the unique design of the Coca-Cola bottle, the shape of the Toblerone chocolate bar, Lindt chocolate being thin and square, the unique operating system of the Research in Motion Blackberry.Authenticity can be in many places; it is important to know what it is. A trulyauthentic brand value appeals very deeply to human emotions – hence itsinherent “truth” that transcends even the industry it is in.An authentic brand stems from an authentic culture, enabling the brand toperpetuate itself generation after generation. The collective consciousness ofa company becomes like the DNA that can replicate the same brand, inexactly the same way, over and over again. This is why it is so important fornew staff to be inducted into the culture of an organisation. But to do that, onehas to be clear on what this authenticity is!And authentic brands have many layers of meaning.What is expected of the category?There are some values that are inherently required in brands, even if they donot differentiate.In most categories, brands need to adhere to certain key requirements.Today, a car needs to be safe to be considered an option. Today,specifications that come standard in even small cars are very different fromten years ago. Airlines need to adhere to an acceptable level of safety andregular flight schedules to be considered.These aspects are termed “category values” – they do not differentiate, butthey are the “ticket to the match”. Without them, you cannot competeeffectively in a given industry. Even if you do not own such facilities (manybrands outsource manufacturing capabilities), you can still design and supplyyour brand in a seamless manner.Generic brands are brands that dominate a given industry by having thelargest numbers of customers; they generally “own” the generic attributes andbenefits of the industry they are in. This means that when questioned, mostconsumers will associate the industry benefits with a given brand. If a brand isthe market leader, this is appropriate. Even if a brand is challenging themarket leader (which means it is associated at a slightly lower level), it is oftenhighly associated with given attributes.In most industries, category values are used widely to feature usage, likeshowing flowing hair in shampoo commercials, or driving performance in carcommercials, or food or seats in airline commercials, or mobile phones in
  9. 9. telecommunications commercials. Generally, such category values are notable to differentiate one brand from another. The only legitimate use theyhave is when a new market is being educated or a given brand is the leaderwithin its industry.What can be adapted and changed to remain relevant to newgenerations of consumers?Any brand needs to adapt to current generations, fashions, ideas and marketchanges to retain its appeal and not become outdated.The changes may be simple, such as a brand adapting to fashion trends,using new music or models or using new fashion accessories or even newbuildings or props. These elements enable the brand to retain its place amidstthe changes its consumers are exposed to every day. Without these changes,the brand will soon look outdated. Often this is also reflected in modernising abrand identity which changes with the environment. Greater environmentalconsciousness is impacting on brands in the same way; no brand can fullyignore it - even if not all exploit it in the same way.The other change that takes place is in consumer needs, wants andperceptions. For a brand to remain in contact with its customer needs isendemic to its success. What is important, though, is that a brand knows howfar it can stretch itself before it loses its current franchise by trying to adapt toall new trends out there. Despite changes and a very different consumersociety today, McDonalds still sells hamburgers; KFC still sells fried chicken,even if it changed the name to KFC partly to escape its “deep fried” historywhich is less popular in today’s healthy-eating universe. A brand needs toknow its limits.Strongly authentic brands engage with their customers ongoing: they talk toenthusiasts, they ask for comment. Instead of just having a blog for the brand,they actively seek out - and implement - suggestions.To concludeAuthenticity matters with so many brands competing for the same consumer.The key is to find such authenticity and once you have it, retaining it.To effectively manage your brand, know what makes it authentic. Leverageand retain this core value within customers most like the ones you alreadyhave.Understand and leverage the layers of authenticity, gradually deepening theappeal of the brand. That is a key challenge for a brand – but it can only starton this journey if the core is real and understood.Know what to change to adapt to market change, but also know the limits. Besure to adapt, though, as a dated brand will fast lose its franchise.