If you have been monitoring or even strategizing within marketing circles over the last couple years, or event last couple decades, we have seen waves of supposedly potent themes emerge that allegedly held the secret to unlocking markets and validating value propositions.
Interactive marketing, brand activation, endemic partners, disrupters, organic growth, verticals, ROI, CPM, and more…all these concepts have inhabited business strategists thinking recently, and all are worthy of consideration. Yet during our visit to the Outdoor Retailer Winter Show in early January, there was one theme that brand representatives invoked way more than any other…authenticity!
Whether at the massive displays of Columbia, Fjall Raven, Outdoor Research, or Keen, or at the modest booths of REVO, K2, Mission Belts, or Goal Zero, our discussions with all these promoters eventually pivoted to a singular concept that each clearly valued above the rest–how to present and preserve their brand as authentic.
Here is a summary of what we learned during the ORWS…lessons we now offer as the “7 Guiding Principles of Brand Authenticity.”
1. You can manage your brand’s authenticity:
Whether fulfilling your corporate mission through like-minded events, supported athletes, or a synergy with charities, brands can find a balance between creating brand awareness and managing its authenticity. Mission Belts from Utah, not just with their name, but by linking to a micro-loan charity for impoverished nations, stays true to their…well…mission.
2. You cannot manufacture it!:
The antithesis of authenticity is manufacturing a message into which your brand must be pigeon-holed. Honest self-reflection is always necessary for properly positioning your brand. Keen Footwear does not specify how their sponsored athletes give back for the better good, even though they are asked to. Instead, they allow their partners to discover what the best platform is for each of them, and that helps Keen stay authentic.
3. Trust is the cornerstone for an authentic brand:
Whether counting on supported athletes, empowering customers, or partnering with charities, marketing authenticity is ultimately an act of trust that each of the elements will deliver on the promise of your brand’s core message. Outdoor Research trusts their local athletes represent their brand in the field without micromanaging them. Of course it helps to have two ER doctors, with great knowledge and professionalism to pull this off!
4. Authenticity brings loyalty, but not loot:
Clearly, the goal of any successful business is growing a customer base that will remain loyal, while espousing your authentic brand. Yet, whether it be your price point, overall market share, or the high-end quality of your product, authenticity is not the be-all, end-all of growing revenues. Authenticity may be a prerequisite for brand awareness, but not necessarily the impetus for increasing sales. Slackline Industries has one of the most loyal fan-bases in the outdoor industry. Yet, because of their small markets and low margins, they have to keep their product line diverse to drive growth.
5. Authenticity may be derived from a top-down approach:
When many of us think of authenticity, often we reflexively think “grass roots.” However, we need look no further than a REVO eyewear, who uses Bono as a spokesperson, or Red Bull, whose top-level media production is awe-inspiring, to understand that there are many paths to exploit your brand’s authenticity.
6. Events, athletes, and charities are potent platforms for sustaining an authentic brand:
Chosen wisely, these three brand affiliations can amplify your brand’s authenticity. Our work shows that events, athletes, and charities are also most potent with established customers. Growth, on the other hand, will require more innovative approaches.
7. Authenticity may be a trend, but may only serve temporary benefits for brand promotion:
Though this was a universally discussed element of many exhibitors’ strategy, authenticity may only be a trend that may be outdone by some future marketing approach that has yet to even be identified. We have seen marketing trends come and go. Authenticity still might be one of them.
To request our White Paper that includes specific examples of how brands like Keen Footwear, Outdoor Research, Mission Belts, and others play the authenticity card, submit your request below.