Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Brands and Authenticity



Patagonia is authentic. Newman's Own is authentic. Ben & Jerry's used to be authentic. But far too many brands have followed the advise of this often repeated quote, "The most important thing is honesty. Once you can fake that, you've got it made." Another version of the quote is "The secret of success is sincerity. Fake that and you're in."

I remember when BP (British Petroleum) repositioned itself as BP (Beyond Petroleum), the green energy brand. Not too long after that, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill occurred bringing to light BP's total disregard for the environment and lack of investments in green energy. 

The BP example is not atypical. Many companies have jumped on the "green," "organic," "socially responsible," and "clean energy" bandwagons. In fact, now there is even "clean coal," whatever that is. 

My wife recently encountered an automobile dealership that presented itself as "honest" and "straight shooting," with no haggling, just clearly marked prices and an unconditional guarantee of complete customer satisfaction. The dealership turned out to be anything but that. They attempted to overcharge her, tack on all sorts of hidden fees and upsell her on useless services. After she bought the car, she discovered a quirky problem that caused the car to seem as though it had a dead battery at the most inopportune times. Trying to get it repaired was a real hassle.  

While hucksters, con artists and opportunistic business people have been selling "miracle elixirs" for decades and even centuries, it doesn't help legitimate brands that are trying to make the world a better place. When one cannot discern a legitimate organic food product from a fake organic food product, it depreciates the meaning of "organic." When someone is selling fish or produce that has been frozen and shipped from an ocean away as "local," it diminishes the meaning or "locally grown" or "locally caught."

It is not only important for a brand to be authentic, it is also important for it to distinguish itself from the posers. If this is not done, it creates confusion in the marketplace and may reduce the meaning of the authentic behavior. As an example, be clear on what "organic" or "local" actually means and perhaps even create an "organic" or "local" seal that can only be used by those brands that are truly "organic" or "local."

Marketers will always try to come up with descriptors that sound legitimate and even imply a certain behavior or condition but that don't really mean much. Take for example, these claims:
  • Natural farm raised meats
  • Pasture raised meats
  • Fresh
  • Naturally grown
  • Simply raised
  • Nature raised
  • All natural
  • Responsibly grown
  • Animal welfare approved
  • Made with a clear conscience
In your role as a marketer or a consumer, beware of fakes posing as authentic products and brands. Help your brand and its product or service categories clearly differentiate between the "real deals" and "fakes."

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