The digital revolution has totally transformed the purchase experience. Consumers don’t trust brands anymore, and are increasingly selective as to who they purchase from. They are savvy, and instead of being ‘pushed’ information from brands, they choose to ‘pull’ it from various sources (
What’s more, they know how much power they hold, not only to influence what they buy, but what others buy, too. And as a result, consumers expect more from brands than they ever did before.
So, what do consumers want from brands? Well, they want to be valued for one, to be able to trust the brand and to know the real company behind the brand, not just what is put on show. Take McDonalds for example; according to PRNewser, they come in at number 7 of the top 20 authentic brands in the US. This may sound surprising, but not really if you look closer.
They’ve made a huge effort following the controversies over materials used in their food; the behind the scenes pink slime youtube video was very popular; and McDonalds was also the first chain to display calorie counts on all in-store menus.
A brand’s relationship with the consumer should be simple. McDonalds doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t and neither should your brand. Consumers desire the ‘true’ and the ‘real’. Brand authenticity is the key to attracting loyal customers, and here are five ways that businesses can integrate this into their own strategy.
#1. Strive for progress not perfection
There is a strong case to be made for imperfection. Nothing is perfect. Sure, it can be made to look perfect with the correct lighting, wording and front men, but consumers know the truth. Kids don’t stay clean when eating food, and bananas and other fruit and vegetables are never all the same size and perfect in colour. That is not real life.
A consumer’s connection to anything lies in imperfection, and by displaying or describing an imperfect thing perfectly, brands lose trust from consumers. They relate to those who they perceive to share weaknesses with, much more than those who claim to be perfect. So, instead of aiming for perfection, strive for progress in all that you do. Be honest and own up to your mistakes. Humility goes a long way, and consumers value honesty above all things.
#2. Provide a unique and personal experience
A great brand experience breeds loyalty and consumers today expect nothing less. They don’t want to be treated like every other customer, therefore you shouldn’t treat them that way. You should give them a unique and personalised experience by making them feel special and instilling them with a sense that their individual requirements have been met.
Research by Jack Morton Worldwide suggests the most important factors of brand experience are; the initial impression a brand makes on a consumer; if a brand continues to serve and engage with them after they’ve become a customer; understanding the needs of customers; its ability to differentiate from similar products or services; and employees who anticipate customer needs.
Just think about today’s most celebrated brands. The likes of Apple and Zappos are leading brands that have established both a unique and differentiating experience, whether it’s Apple’s quirky retail concept or Zappo’s legendary customer service.
#3. Encourage dialogue and engagement
Consumers want brands to make them feel valued and cherished. To achieve this, brands should aim for continuous engagement with their audiences. Do this by listening to your customers. Listening allows you to evaluate your customers and understand the kind of issues being raised. A good way of listening is to encourage feedback on any interaction, so that you know what you’re doing right and indeed how you can improve.
Where possible you should also seek out opportunities to engage with customers, whether that’s on social media, forums or blogs. Creating a continuous dialogue with consumers means that your door is never closed, and makes the consumer feel like you have nothing to hide.
#4. Lose the script
Perhaps the simplest way of achieving authenticity is to ditch the script. After all, if your customers aren’t following the same script, it soon becomes noticeable that you’re not being genuine. Forget the word-for-word protocol, and instead opt for improvisation. Of course, follow procedure but leave room for personal judgement and initiative.
Train your staff to deal with people and situations as they see them, by giving them the tools to recognise certain behaviours and respond accordingly. There’s a lot to be said for effective recruitment in the first place, as you can train for skill, but you can’t change a person’s characteristics.
#5. Show consumers the real you
We don’t believe people when they say they have a perfect life, we don’t believe those who say they do everything perfectly, so why would consumers believe in perfect brands? It is much better for a brand to admit its own imperfections than to be false.
Don’t be something that you are not, it will show and the real you will shine through. If the things you are doing don’t match up to the things you say you’ll do or believe in, consumers will sniff it out. And before you know it, they’ll have told friends, family and followers on social media all about how you empty your promises really are.
In this digital age it’s a lot harder to keep up a facade. You can’t hide anymore. So, check your ego, forget any preconceived notions of yourself, your brand and how you market yourself and show consumers the real you. The more your brand performs and aligns itself in this way, the more meaning the consumer ascribes to the brand and the more authentic the experience becomes.
Images: “Be Authentic sign with clouds and sky background/Shutterstock.com“
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