At Element Three, we love a bold, disruptive brand when we see one. But for every brand that cuts through the noise, there are about 100 brands that miss the mark. One of the hardest things for brands to get right? Bringing their true, authentic selves to life.
In the days of fake news and sketchy followers, brand authenticity matters more than ever. Everyone wants to be genuine, but it’s almost a catch-22, right? You want to be authentic, so you try really, really hard at it until you get to a point where it no longer feels...well, authentic.
The good news is that there are some real, actionable things you can do to create loyalty and improve your brand’s authenticity. To get some additional perspective, we looked at a brand we think does this really well—Tommy John—and asked CEO Tom Patterson for some insight.
Let’s get down to it.
First, What Exactly Is Brand Authenticity?
If you looked up brand authenticity in a book (or, most likely, Google), you’d find something along the lines of, “The extent to which consumers perceive a brand to be true to itself and its consumers, while supporting its followers in being true to themselves.”
While this definition technically makes sense, it doesn’t actually tell us how to get there or what to focus on. From our experience, you can directly impact how your audience perceives your brand by leaning into these four areas.
1. Get Your Brand Voice Up to Snuff.
First and foremost, your brand needs to have a tone that helps build trust within your audience. Think about it. As a consumer, you probably want a brand with a familiar tone that’s been there and done that. So if a brand can’t convey that they know what you’re going though in a voice that resonates with you, would you actually trust them?
Brands that understand the importance of tone will use it to their advantage—Tommy John already has.
“Men’s underwear is a very crowded space with both heritage and up-and-coming brands. That said, we believe the other brands in the category have a tendency to come off as unapproachable and non-relatable. At Tommy John, we strive to be as authentic and relatable as possible. We say it like it is and talk about real-life struggles guys have with their underwear like bat wings, wedgies, and adjusting.”
Now, if you’re a dude you can probably relate to a phrase like “bat wings.” Other people (myself included) have absolutely no idea what that’s all about (nor do I necessarily care to know). But how many men’s underwear companies talk as candidly about those struggles? Not many. But because Tommy John is willing to do it with their innovative underwear, it helps build loyalty with their consumers.
2. Address Pain Points Head-on.
Want to gain your consumers’ trust? Solve their problems.
When we asked how Tommy John created a name for their brand, Tom explained, “I learned the importance of being authentic and creating a product that solves an unmet need. That’s really what we do at the end of the day. All our products originate from solving problems I’ve had personally with my clothing. We find that consumers desire credibility from brands. They want the product to live up to their claims.”
Great brands can proactively solve problems for their consumers by putting themselves in their shoes. It might not even be a problem yet, but understanding their pain points hammers home that you understand them, and the struggles they face. Even if those struggles are as simple as wedgies.
3. Use Storytelling to Build Trust.
Humans love a great story. And when it comes to gaining their trust, storytelling could be your foot in the door.
At Element Three, we tell our own bold story: how our president Tiffany Sauder took over the agency at the age of 25 with not a marketing background, but one in finance. How we continue to tell bold stories for our clients today. And how every E3er has a bold story to tell outside our office’s walls.
Tommy John takes a similar approach. Tom founded the company with no retail experience. Rather, he experienced major frustration from his undershirts when he was a medical device salesman. Wanting a better option, he designed one, with a longer, tapered design. He submitted it for a patent for a stay-tucked undershirt and Tommy John was born.
Tell your story in your brand's unique voice.
Telling your brand’s story ultimately humanizes the brand. Most organizations’ journeys are an underdog story because most entrepreneurs are underdogs. By telling that story, you create a hero for your audience to resonate with and root for. Suddenly, your brand looks a little different. Your customers get to peek into your organization’s world. And trust starts to form.
In the end, every brand has a unique, authentic story to tell. Use that to your advantage.
4. Brand Consistency Is Key.
The fastest way to lose trust is to contradict yourself. Which means that brand consistency is vital to brand authenticity. Without it, you’ll fool no one. Let’s look at a really simple example.
Pretend you’re an outdoors kind of person. The type that never buys water bottles, recycles everything, and brings your own bag to the grocery store. You’re looking for a new car to use for your outdoor adventures, so you decide to purchase a new ride from a manufacturer that is known for their eco-friendly design and low fuel emissions.
Now, what would happen if the following week you discover that the same car manufacturer actually lied about their fuel emission data, and that your brand new car is both inefficient and slowly killing the environment? You probably wouldn’t ever trust that brand again.
What’s important to note, though, is that brand consistency doesn’t mean that your brand can’t ever change. In fact, your brand will never (and should never) remain static. But when you do need to pivot, you have to think about how those changes will affect your audience’s perception of you. If it will cause you to lose all the credibility you’ve worked so hard to build, it might not be the right choice.
Brand Authenticity: It’s an Investment
At the end of the day, consumers (for the most part) know they’re getting sold to. And because they’re going to question your motives, brand authenticity has never been harder to build. It takes a lot of work. But by nailing your brand voice, proving to your audience that you understand their pain points, telling bold stories that welcome consumers into your world, and remaining consistent in what you say and do, you just might be able to pull it off. And believe us, it will be well worth the investment in the long run.