Why customer experience is the real key to brand authenticity [report]

Authenticity matters to consumers, but most global brands are not effectively connecting with customers.

That’s one of the stunning conclusions from Authentic100, a global report on brand authenticity, conducted by the multinational PR firm Cohn & Wolfe and released this month. The report explores what brand authenticity means to consumers and how customer trust drives revenue.

From the consumers’ perspective, authenticity encompasses seven attributes, according to the study:

  • Delivering on promises
  • Providing high quality
  • Treating customers well
  • Protecting customer privacy and data
  • Communicating honestly
  • Being genuine and real, not artificial
  • Acting with integrity

When clustered together, these seven traits roll up into three drivers of brand authenticity, what the report calls the 3 Rs: reliable, respectful and real.

The company tested these attributes in a survey of 12,000 consumers in 14 markets and found that, out of 1,600 brands, the following 10 are seen as most authentic:

  1. Disney
  2. BMW
  3. Microsoft
  4. Amazon.com
  5. Apple
  6. Intel
  7. Audi
  8. Samsung
  9. Adidas
  10. Lego
The “authenticity deficit” in the global marketplace

consumers are yearning for brand authenticity

Photo credit: authentic100.com

While some brands are connecting well with customers, the same can’t be said for the business world in general. In particular, most brands struggle with the last R: being real.

That’s a problem because consumers are yearning for authenticity: 78 percent of the people that Cohn & Wolfe engaged indicated that they don’t think brands are open and honest. In the U.S., only 23 percent of consumers perceive businesses to be honest.

The study found a close connection between brand authenticity and business results: 88 percent of consumers indicated that they will reward brands that are honest and real. According to Cohn & Wolfe, “if companies were to be more authentic, then consumers say the turnaround would earn their recommendation, loyalty, investment and even a desire to work for the company.”

What brand authenticity is really about

For consumers, brand authenticity is not something abstract. In fact, the report provides a very specific recommendation on how companies can build authenticity.

“To be perceived as authentic, brands can gain more by focusing on what consumers experience, versus what they have to learn,” says the report. “How a brand directly treats a consumer (69 percent) is more important than how a brand treats the planet (55 percent) or if a brand is clear about its beliefs (59 percent).”

Given the focus and investment companies have been putting on CX, that insight should be good news for most companies. While many business leaders see authenticity as a marketing problem, the study suggests that it’s more of a customer experience issue. According to Gartner, 89 percent of businesses already see CX as a top priority. This focus on customer experience is a great first step toward brand authenticity.

That’s not to say that achieving seamless CX is easy. Indeed, companies are struggling to improve their customer experience strategy. For one, many don’t yet have a holistic picture of the customer journey. The bigger issue is that companies lack actionable insight on how to enhance CX. Despite all the big data available to brands, they don’t really know their customers. Many companies don’t have the customer intelligence necessary to cater to today’s connected customers.

Ultimately, Cohn & Wolfe’s study strongly suggests that, to be seen as authentic, companies don’t need a big PR push telling the public that they’re genuine. They don’t even need sappy marketing campaigns to make an emotional connection with their customers. Instead, companies need to get back to the basics: they need to walk the walk and deliver on their promise of better experiences for their customers.

For more tactics on building customer trust, check out The Authenticity Handbook and learn the four principles that will boost customer loyalty and your bottom line.