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How to Maintain Brand Authenticity in an Increasingly Skeptical World What does it mean to be truly authentic, and how do you convey authenticity to consumers? Here's what you need to know.

By Christine Alemany Edited by Chelsea Brown

Key Takeaways

  • In today's crowded digital marketplace, authenticity is a crucial for brands to stand out amidst competition.
  • Trust is the foundation of consumer-brand relationships. To build trust and cultivate authenticity in the digital world, brands should establish boundaries, build credibility through transparency and maintain consistency in messaging and actions.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The digital world has made it more challenging than ever for brands to stand out in what is fast becoming an increasingly competitive, overly crowded marketplace. These days, what truly makes or breaks a brand is authenticity. It is an important factor in determining which brands to support for 88% of consumers, according to Stackla, with another 46% saying they would willingly pay more for a brand they trust, according to Salsify.

Trust, in particular, is the foundation of all relationships, including those between consumers and brands. It helps establish a connection, and that connection can build loyalty. The problem is that a growing number of scandals and corporate wrongdoings have eroded people's faith in many institutions. And in an era characterized by bias, misinformation and inflated corporate profits, brand trust is not what it used to be. Edelman found that about 30% of consumers believe that businesses spread false or misleading information. That is troubling.

How brands can build trust in a digital world is still a matter up for debate, largely because what it means for a brand to be authentic is hard to pin down. What does it mean to be truly authentic? How exactly do you convey authenticity to consumers? Cultivating and maintaining brand authenticity is tricky, and each brand will do things differently. However, there are a few steps that all brand leaders can take to get started:

Related: How to Build an Authentic Brand

1. Establish boundaries

Trustworthy businesses stay in their lane. They understand who they are and come to market with a distinct brand commitment. More importantly, they never stray from that commitment, which can go a long way in building consumer trust online. Setting boundaries for your brand not only helps you navigate the digital realm but also focuses your time and resources on what matters.

LEGO understood this out of the gate, setting its boundaries within the play ethos. The brand focused on its impact: to create a toy that prepares a child for life. This ethos extends beyond the product. Even its charitable arm, the LEGO Foundation, was established with a mission to empower children to become life-long learners.

Keep in mind, however, that boundaries are meant to be formative rather than restrictive. Use these boundaries to inform marketing efforts, business decisions and the like. Rely on them to institute guidelines on how employees interact with consumers on social media channels. Each channel is a large sandbox with lots of people playing. Be careful that anyone who represents your business does not contradict your brand ideals.

2. Build credibility

Credibility takes years to build, and it can be lost instantly. Transparency helps, especially when it comes to the "why" of your brand. With transparency, few questions remain about your purpose or value. Many newer brands also go so far as to show how the "sausage is made" or bring their target audience into a beta in the hopes of encouraging word of mouth and consumer trust online.

Even after credibility is built, you can never take your eye off the ball. Consumers are one Google search away from finding out if you are being disingenuous or spinning a story for your benefit. Once they see you overstep, they are going to question every step you take going forward. Perception is reality, after all. Keep your messaging free of spin, and never sidestep an inconvenient truth.

If you're unsure how consumers view your brand, monitor social media. Put out a survey. Hold a focus group. Get to know what customers consider important. Engaging allows you to gauge sentiments and get a read on whether your brand is actually staying in the lane you have chosen. Then, implement changes that address consumers' feedback and monitor the impact. Showing customers that you value their opinions can lead to long-lasting relationships and a stellar reputation.

Related: How to Build Credibility and Trust With Effective Content Creation

3. Be consistent

Consistency is one of the hallmarks of authenticity, and it entails more than visual branding. No matter the channel, all the messaging from your business should align with your brand identity, mission and values. Otherwise, mistrust, if not suspicion, will quickly set in.

Dr. Bronner's is an excellent example of how a brand can take consistency to another level. Its founder believed in creating products that have a positive impact on the people who make them and the greater community, leading to the brand's cosmic principles. These principles are not just words on a label but the foundation of the business. Whether expanding public awareness of environmental and social issues or sourcing fair trade ingredients, there is never doubt about what Dr. Bronner's stands for.

This is not to say your brand can never evolve. Consistency and adaptability can coexist, but a brand evolution should be deliberate and public when it involves changing your position or purpose. And though you might lose customers, keeping mum is a far cry from how to maintain brand authenticity during periods of brand transitions. If you do make a change, however, keep your finger on the pulse of your customer base. Are you following through on your promises? Are you prioritizing the issues most critical to them?

Related: Why Consistency Is Vital to Your Branding Efforts

The fight for consumer trust is ongoing, and it will not end any time soon. How brands build trust in a digital world begins with authenticity. Savvy leaders understand the need to leverage this concept to build profitable, sustainable businesses that stand the test of time.

Christine Alemany

Chief Marketing Officer at i2c Inc.

Christine is the driving force behind i2c’s global marketing and corporate communications efforts. An engineer by training and a marketer at heart, she has consistently delivered top-line and bottom-line growth for technology startups and Fortune 100 companies including Dell and Citi.

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