Why brands need to be authentic in the era of fake news?
Priya Wadhwa

Why brands need to be authentic in the era of fake news?

In the increasingly digitised world with countless news and content sources, stories can reach thousands of people across the world in matter of seconds. This power has been harnessed to spread a lot of great ideas and knowledge, but also misinformation to destroy reputation of brands. Paradoxically, this age of fake news is also one of the truth — where consumers are increasingly demanding authenticity from brands and their leaders.

Brand authenticity remains a partially defined and vaguely understood concept even today, when there is growing demand and need for it to be actioned properly, in order for business to run well. Authentic brands are those that have values and morals and stands by them no matter what while honestly divulging their practices (flaws and all). In fact, the thing people most want is open and honest communication about products and services, and that finding has been consistent around the world.

Building brand authenticity is essentially making the brand more human and relatable with its audience; authentic brands are perceived as reliable, open, transparent, respectful, caring and real. These are all characteristics people desire in their best friend; and are essential for building authenticity that leads to loyalty, which of course related back to the characteristics when we look into the basics of brand loyalty.

We know that brand loyalty is built when people see the brand they use as an expression of themselves. This undoubtedly means that brands today need to pay more attention to their reputation and personality than ever before.

Consumer behavior has evolved over the past decade, with the increasing proportion of Millennial and Generation Y buyers. This has put pressure on the brands to change their communication and business strategies to appeal to the moral demands of the emerging class of young consumers. From being more transparent in their business practices, divulging information about the raw materials used and their sources, to taking a political stance, business have had to enter uncharted territories to remain relevant to their audience.

Changing times bring challenges of their own. While companies are still only dipping their toes in the authenticity waters and trying to figure out the way forward, it is evident that those perceived to be more authentic have had a lot of successes in building brand loyalty and increasing profits in even a competitive market.

So how can your brand become more authentic? Following are three action points:

  1. Be Transparent: people want to know everything that goes into the product they consume — from ingredients, their sources and manufacturing process, to the ethical practices and social responsibility initiatives of the company. Gone are the days of secret ingredients. We live in an era of knowledge. Plus if you don’t openly share this information, there are many others who will misconstrue them and develop conspiracy theories that can do a lot more harm to your reputation. Similarly, for service sectors, the more transparency in the system, where people can see and understand how their money or service promises are being handled, the more they develop trust in your brand.
  2. Be human: ever encountered the term ‘fake’, ‘dishonest’ or ‘secretive’ used as good adjectives for a person? No, because they’re qualities that make people distrust those associated with it. To connect and communicate with people today, brands need to talk and act more humanly; that means using simple language, humour, excitement, stories and having consistent brand tone of voice, image and message. Developing these as a part of your brand guidelines will go a long way in ensuring all your communication channels build a consistent image of your brand. The last thing you want is to confuse your audience by communicating differently on different media channels.
  3. Take a stand: flying under the radar and keeping yourself neutral on political, social and environmental issues will not earn any brownie points with the young generation of consumers. People today want to be associated with brands that share what they believe in and use power of their power as a brand to make a difference in society.

Loyalty is evolving from brands simply being expressions of consumer’s personality, to being representations of their thoughts and beliefs. This is the latest challenge that brands are facing across the world, even in the Middle East.

At the Future Investment Initiative (FII) held in Riyadh in October 2018, many were skeptic in doing business with the kingdom, as charges were made on links between the Saudi establishment and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi inside the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. While most CEOs maintained careful and diplomatic statements. Amin Nasser of Saudi Aramco expressed his regret, saying the Kingdom recognised the issue and was looking into the case. This bold move saw him coming across as a business leader who was unafraid of stating his point of view — shattering the age-old practice of Tall Poppy Syndrome.

Nike also took a stand in 2018, to support Colin Kaepernick with a campaign that urged people to “Believe in something. Even if it costs you everything.” This move saw sales of the brand rise by 31% in the immediate aftermath and income stood up by 10% in the second financial quarter.

Embracing a more human, emotionally intelligent, yet practical and honest approach is the foundation to build authenticity. The current generations of consumers are empowered with knowledge and technology to question you at any point in time. So, it’s better to be transparent. Build your brand authenticity. The changing demographic is looking for such brands — ones that earn their trust and maintain it, who stand by their values and aspirations and be a reflection of their unique sense of self.