What do customers today really want and expect from your business? Do you even know?
My communications agency, Cohn & Wolfe, just released the 2014 Authentic Brands report, a study that examines consumer perceptions about the authenticity of brands around the world. Now in its third year, the Authentic Brands series examines the role of authenticity in business, the attributes associated with an authentic brand and the impact of authenticity on consumers, investors and employees.
We polled 12,000 consumers from 12 countries around the world and started out by asking them which brands they consider most authentic. McDonald’s, Samsung, Apple and Carrefour took the top spots globally. In the U.S., Walmart, Starbucks, Amazon and Apple landed at the top.
These are mega-brands for sure, setting trends in marketing and consumer engagement, but there are lessons learned here for all brands, big and small. An emerging trend took even greater shape that has great application to entrepreneurs and small-business owners, perhaps even more so than for big business.
We left it up to our 12,000 respondents to tell us, in the size of a tweet, what an authentic brand meant to them. From there, we distilled their answers down to seven anchors of authenticity:
- Communicating honestly about products and services
- Communicating honestly about environmental impact and sustainability measures
- Acting with integrity at all times
- Being clear about and true to beliefs
- Being open and honest about partners and suppliers
- Standing for more than just making money
- Having a relevant and engaging story
We know from the anchors that consumers want businesses to act authentically, and for entrepreneurs it boils down to two fundamental aspects: purpose and protection.
We found these two attributes to be closely linked to authenticity and to consumers’ emotions towards brands. Perhaps these should be added to the fundamental 4 P’s of marketing (product, price, place, promotion), specifically to entrepreneurial marketing.
As an entrepreneur, you know you need to stand for something more than just making money or grabbing fame. You need to put a higher order to your business and have a greater reason for being, aside from just selling your product or service.
And our research confirmed this. Just over three quarters (76 percent) of U.S. consumers want brands to stand for more than just making money -- to have a purpose.
This means companies should have a belief system, a story, and must stick to it. You need to find a greater purpose to help guide your decisions and follow through by communicating that purpose. While it may feel like you’re putting profits in the back seat, a higher purpose will serve you well and will ultimately drive sales and profits from those who believe in you.
The data from the study provided further proof: 83 percent of those surveyed in the U.S. want brands to be clear about and true to their beliefs, and 93 percent of consumers think it’s important for brands to act with integrity at all times.
Consumers have come to expect businesses to protect them, whether it is their privacy, data, food supply or comfort level. In fact, if you’re not protecting your consumers than you may have another emotion to deal with: anger.
Related: The 120 Most Trusted Brands
Our study revealed that American consumers would be angriest if a company produced unsafe products (81 percent), sold their personal information to other companies (74 percent) or produced food in an unsanitary way (84 percent).
But it’s not just about being angry or upset. Consumers are willing to follow their emotions and change their behaviors in reaction to not being protected. In the instance of producing unsafe products, 78 percent would stop buying from the company, 70 percent would tell their friends and family to stop buying and 70 percent would support laws being passed to make sure no other companies could get away with it.
Protection is paramount now, thanks to the myriad of business breaches that have put consumers in harm’s way. Consumers not only expect that to stop, they expect businesses to prevent it. They are putting their foot down and putting their money where they feel most protected.
And they are getting angry when businesses and brands don’t protect them.
In the age of authenticity, you must examine what you are doing to protect your customers. Your customers are looking for you to safeguard their information, bring integrity to your product or service and to take care of their interests.
So you need to show them how you are protecting them. Show them the processes you have in place to guard their security and their privacy, and show them you are on their side.
What do your customers expect from you, and are you providing it for them?
According to the study, if you want to be around for the long term, then you have to prove to your customers that you are acting in an authentic manner, communicating clearly and being transparent in your business practices.
To keep them loyal, you must show customers your greater purpose, and to keep them from getting angry you must show how you are protecting them.
Then, and only then, will you win in the age of authenticity.
Click here to review the entire 2014 Authentic Brands report.