The Importance of Keepin’ it Real

March 2020 | By Lauren Kimball

Over the last few years, there has been a considerable shift in what consumers expect from the brands they interact with. We hold brands to a higher standard where quality, convenience and competitive pricing are table stakes. Sure, value is important. But what’s more important? Values.

We’re no longer influenced by a company simply having great products and services; we’re influenced by a brand’s authentic story and its willingness to be transparent about it. A recent study by Stackla puts an exclamation point on this very statement. Millennials are without a doubt a key driver of the new authenticity era – not only are they spending more money than any other generation (in 2020 they are projected to spend $1.4 trillion – yes, $1.4 TRILLION), they gravitate towards brands which are authentic and real. But guess what? As Gen Z grows into its spending power (estimated at $143 billion this year) they have even more of a desire than millennials to support brands they see as authentic and socially engaging – they also spend about half the money they have available.

Both groups consistently ask themselves questions before buying a product… What’s behind this brand? Does it actually deliver on what it says it stands for in a real way that inspires me? Do I feel a part of the brand and its mission when I buy this product? Do I feel better about myself and my contribution as a consumer?  Millennials and GenZ can easily sniff out a brand that is faking its authenticity, and when that happens it could create a major storm for your a (cut to Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner commercial) – so be warned.

Brands who are doing it right and killing the authenticity game live by seven key rules:

Understand your Brand Purpose: Why do you exist?
Be Steadfast in your Vision & Mission: What future do you want to help create? How?
Showcase your Values: Who are you? How do you work?
Launch your Brand: Tell a consistent, cohesive brand story.
Put it to action: Prove you are who you say you are.
Showcase what you’re doing: Turn your culture into content.
Embrace real people: Tell real stories and facilitate UGC. Don’t be afraid of scrappy content.

CTP launched year four of Eastern Bank’s Join us For Good campaign last week, which leans on real people, real stories and the impact the brand is having in its communities. The brands that are going to succeed in the future take a similar approach, like the three standout brands listed below. They all have a clear mission and purpose, and each delivers on it repeatedly. Most importantly, it’s clear they’ve won people over based on their success. And in challenging times, like the one unfolding right before our eyes, these brands are actively supporting their employees, committed to continuing to pay them even if through store closures, and extending time off policies beyond the standard.

AllBirds: This brand lives and breathes sustainability throughout the entire sneaker’s circle of life. Their shoes are made with top quality natural fabrics, and AllBirds uses 90% post-consumer recycled cardboard that serves as a shoebox, shopping bag, and mailer all in one. The best part is when it’s time to put your old shoes to rest, they take them and give them new life, helping communities in need thrive in the process. Their content is consistently quirky, authentic and drives home the idea of natural materials and quality. AllBirds knows what it does well and owns it. The brand is fully transparent around what each shoe is made of, and it keeps the shopping experience simple. I’m currently putting their natural gray Women’s Runners in my shopping cart… No, really.

REI: Walking into this store makes me smile – it also makes me want to go camping. The love for getting people to enjoy what the outdoors offers shines through, especially considering the company close its retail stores on Black Friday, choosing to give every employee the day off to #OptOutside with family and friends. This company clearly stands by its brand purpose at every turn – hosting classes and events, offering expert advice, publishing its own journal, and even planning REI Adventures, detailed trips to places like Machu Picchu. To top it off, every year about 70% of its profits are invested back into the outdoor community through dividends to REI members (just got mine last week), employee profit-sharing and retirement, and investments in nonprofits dedicated to the outdoors.

Night Shift BreweryNight Shift’s promise to customers is to empower all of the night owls out there to pursue their own passions. And the company helps to do that by bringing groups of people together through its various taprooms, its Owl’s Nest pop up and by deeply embedding itself in community events. Night Shift expanded its brand promise to brewery peers when it began Night Shift Distribution, which helped craft beer startups avoid legislative and contractual hurdles, empowering them to continue pursuing their passion to brew great beer. Time to crack open a Whirlpool.

When there are shared values between a brand and consumer, a company is best positioned to succeed. And as time passes, we expect this to grow in importance. We’ve learned that with any major crisis comes the demand for brands to be honest, have integrity, and be transparent. And given the uncertainty of all that’s on the horizon right now, what we do know is consumers are looking for brands to show up and make a difference. Push yourself to be one of those brands. You’ll attract people who love what you do, what you stand for, and the stories you share. Most importantly, you’ll keep it real.

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