Build Your Brand with Authenticity

  •    Freelance journalist covering women, business, policy and social good.

It's one thing to build a brand, but another thing to make it last. One of the best ways to give your website or small businesses staying power is to be authentic.

“In an age of abundant choice, consumers are drawn toward brands with an original story, an engaging identity and a sincere commitment to deliver what they promise," states The Authentic Brand Index (ABI), which measures authenticity across different industries.

The stronger a brand's authenticity, the more likely it is that people will become advocates for it — and the better your site or small business will perform, research shows.

Over 90 percent of social media consumers want the brands or sites they follow to be authentic, according to Bonfire Marketing. And 63 percent of consumers say they would buy from an authentic brand over one that doesn't seem to be honest.

Below are three tips on how to keep it real as your site or small business evolves.

Be Sincere

Consumers are not just buying a product or service. They are connecting to a set of values that matches their own beliefs. That's why authenticity means being crystal clear about who you are and what you do best, states the ABI.

But sites and business also have to show that they mean what they say. Demonstrate a sincere commitment to your clearly defined values by using them as a guidepost for everything else that you do.

Take Levi Strauss & Co., for example, which has been in business for 162 years. Several years ago, the company's “Go Forth" black-and-white videos highlighted the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans. The videos pitched Levi's as the “brand for pioneers who are in the process of building a new America," reports Entrepreneur. It was a consistent message from a company that got its start by selling built-to-last pants to pioneers during the California gold rush -- and one that audiences took to heart.

Serve a larger purpose

To help establish your own authenticity, help your audience understand how the core values of your site or business serve a larger goal.

“Consumers quite rightly believe, until they're shown otherwise, that every brand is governed by an ulterior motive: to sell something," wrote Bill Breen in a 2007 Fast Company article. “If a brand can convincingly argue that its profit-making is only a by-product of a larger purpose, authenticity sets in."

The same advice holds true to today. At Nike, Chief Executive Mark Parker keeps a portrait in his office of cofounder and University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman, who had a passion for providing tools to give athletes an edge. A runner who started out as a shoe designer, Parker carries on Bowerman's passion for improving athletes' performances. As a result, Nike is perceived as authentic even as profits grow.

Show Off Your Heritage

A sense of place is important to creating a perception of authenticity – whether that place is real or imagined.

Diners, for example, are more likely to choose menu items with either geographic or nostalgic labels – like “traditional Cajun" red beans with rice, or “Grandma's" zucchini cookies, according to a marketing study from Cornell University reported in the New York Times.

A separate study by the Yale School of Management found that products created in original factories were also seen as more authentic. In fact, study participants were willing to pay a premium for products built in an original factory over the same product built in a newer factory, according to the Times.

As consumers search for more meaning and sincerity from the brands they choose, smart sites and businesses can increase authenticity by being sincere, connecting to a larger purpose, and sharing a sense of heritage or place. In other words, be original. Your audience will thank you.