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Picture: 123RF/melpomen
Picture: 123RF/melpomen

In a world where influencers on a 30-second video can make or break a brand, many chief marketing officers have been trying to cut through the clutter and differentiate themselves in an overcrowded and noisy online market.

While some brands obsess over how unique their offering is, more and more consumers are choosing to support brands which are honest and transparent and hold up the values they respect.

Within People is a global partnership of business strategists and coaches that is helping people and companies find their purpose to drive growth. Kim Hawke, a partner at Within People, unpacks what authenticity is and how brands can achieve it.  

“When looking to create authentic bands, leaders must first ensure that their brands reflect the businesses’ purpose and values,” she explains. “When a company [has gone] through the work to discover and define its purpose and values, it must reflect the truth about the business. If a brand doesn't reflect the truth about its reality, about what it is passionate about, it can never be authentic.”

Hawke says the second requirement for building an authentic brand is that an organisation – from its CEO to its part-time and contract workers – must live the company’s purpose and values. 

“Too many leaders are chasing uniqueness and confusing it with authenticity. It’s almost impossible to have a totally unique product or service in today’s crowded market, and the constant search for the next new, shiny thing will not retain customers in the long term. Authenticity is about trust. When consumers see you living your values on a daily basis they will support your brand, and it’s this that builds sustainability into your business and helps create brands that outlast and outperform the passing fads,” says Hawke. 

She says a big part of authenticity lies in belief. Customers will only trust your brand if they believe you are authentic, she says. And it’s here that culture comes into play. 

“When you define your culture, leaders must first ask themselves if what they are creating is the truth of their business. Your team will have to live by this every day, and it’s your people who represent your brand in the real world,” she explains. 

She points out that culture cannot exist in the absence of people and says this is where many brand leaders stumble. 

“Authentic brands exist for people, not the other way around. A big challenge we are seeing today is that some business leaders are so obsessed with the power of data that they forget about the people behind the numbers. Big data is exceptionally useful, but there is a risk of abstracting the people from the data, and your target audience will soon wise up to this,” she warns. 

Pointing out that culture is often dismissed by business leaders who see it as intangible, Hawke says a healthy, inclusive culture is an integral part of nurturing an authentic brand.  

“Culture may not sit on a graph, but it exists, whether you acknowledge it or not. While culture can’t be easily measured, it can be effectively used as a tool in your business to drive growth. If you work on your culture, you will soon be able to measure the effects of the improvements,” she says. 

Explaining that the traditional parent -child leadership style can sometimes hinder the development of an inclusive culture, Hawke concedes that there can be challenges when it comes to creating a cohesive culture.

“Like any country, we have companies that are still very traditional, and in some industries this may be appropriate. The very fabric of our society means there are divides that are hard to overcome. This requires finding creative ways to communicate at scale when you have a diverse workforce. Storytelling can be a wonderful tool to overcome language, technological and educational differences. Metaphor and story are powerful in this environment. If communication is kept inclusive it’s the first step to building an inclusive culture,” says Hawke. 

The journey of building and nurturing an authentic brand is not a short one, she says. Get it right, however, and the rewards are significant.

The big take-out:

A healthy, inclusive culture is an integral part of nurturing an authentic brand. 

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