What Does It Mean To Be Authentic In Branding

Authenticity. It’s not necessarily the newest trend and it’s not unique to this year, but it continues to be increasingly important, especially among Millennials and Gen Z. It’s so important that 90% of consumers say that authenticity is a key factor when deciding what brands they like and support. Don’t overlook the importance of brand authenticity.

Grasping for Realness

While it may be true that this idea extends past Millennials and Gen Z, we see a higher emphasis within these two generations. These consumers are not just shopping for the best product or service, they are looking at the total brand as well. The younger generations want the curtain pulled back. They want to see transparency in employee treatment, charitable acts, sourcing of materials, environmental impact, stances on social issues, and more.
Why is this? Are they just a more spirited bunch? It likely has to do with the immediate availability of information today. Millennials and especially Gen Z are acutely aware and have more access to societal issues—political, socio-economic, and environmental—than ever before.
This availability plays into another factor. Because of the digital sphere and online technology, people are oversaturated with advertisements 24/7. Now, they crave realness. When a brand is authentic and transparent, it stands out against the noise. In fact, 66 percent of consumers think transparency is one of the most attractive qualities in a brand. And in a study run by Cohn & Wolfe, 63% of consumers said they would rather buy from a company they consider to be authentic over a competitor.
Some may wonder why there’s focus on Millennials and Gen Z preferences. This because these groups are overtaking Baby Boomers as the most populous generation in the U.S., changing the demographics of retail consumers. Some are even calling it an economic “youth boom”. So, paying attention to their needs will prove to be important as the data shifts.


What Does It Mean To Be Authentic?

This is all great, but authenticity can be somewhat of an abstract ideal. It can manifest itself differently to varying people. What does it mean to be authentic? How do consumers determine brand authenticity?
In a study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, researchers found that perceived brand authenticity can be determined by four factors—continuity, credibility, integrity, and symbolism. These attributes demonstrate that authenticity isn’t just an attribute to list on a branding guide, it has psychological, subjective, and symbolical value. How to be authentic depends on the public’s perception of these categories.


Continuity represents a brands commitment to staying true to itself. This applies to all aspects of branding. Consumers want to know what to expect when it comes to your business. Visuals play a big role in this, since something as simple as a signature color can increase brand recognition by 80%. Therefore, set up brand guidelines—colors, font, symbols, photo style, and more.
Going past design, tone of voice is important. A brand voice is the consistent expression of a brand’s core messages, values, and personality through the purposeful use of words and prose styles. This comes out in avenues such as brochures, tweets, commercials, or product descriptions. Decide what combination best fits your brand’s personality and stick with it across all touchpoints.



Credibility represents how true a business is to its consumers. Can they trust you? Will you follow through on promises made for products and services? A brand needs to prove to consumers they are honest. This can be done by showcasing testimonials and reviews, taking accountability with mistakes, being upfront about the process, and sharing industry knowledge.
Another method to consider is user generated content. Though undervalued by brands themselves, consumers agree user generated content is key. 58% of consumers agree it’s the most authentic form of content, and 79% of people globally say it impacts their purchasing decisions. Utilize user generated content by sharing consumers’ posts, starting a social media campaign with hashtags, or running a giveaway with clear instructions.


Integrity can be defined as the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. In the business realm, in can mean being motivated by responsibility and caring for customers. Consumers want to see that a business has strong morals and sticks to them. On the contrary, a brand that flip flops on what it believes in comes across as disingenuous. Some other considerations that may come into play is if a company gives back to its community in a positive way or how smooth the customer experience is.
Step one is creating a mission statement and a set of key values for your business, while making sure everyone is on the same page. Step two is communicating this to the consumer. Take it a step further and tell your audience a story. Let them get to know you past just your product or service. Share a look into your history. Give personal touches by livestreaming or sharing videos. Make sure the quality of your product matches the promises you make.


Symbolism is perhaps the most abstract of the bunch. What you’re trying to accomplish here is letting the customer see themselves in your brand. Does your company feel like a group of real people, or a cold, faceless organization? Do customers know what values you hold? It’s hard for consumers to connect with you brand past the product if they have nothing to relate to.
You need to show consumers that you care more about making their life easier with a product than you do about making money off of said product. If there’s a political, socio-economic, or environmental issue you feel strongly about, it can be beneficial to share how your company tackles it. Sharing real photos of products, offices, employees, and leaders over perfectly curate stock images helps people see past the corporate norm and makes you appear more honest. Creating a community—even digitally— helps foster loyalty and a sense of identity.

Stand Out For Being Genuine

Confronting the needs of Millennials and Gen Z can feel daunting. But in reality, it’s about learning how to effectively communicate what’s already there. It’s likely you have an idea of what your brand voice is, a commitment to company values, and a way of improving consumers’ lives. Now that you know what does it mean to be authentic, it’s time to nail the delivery.
Check out more of our tips here.

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