How to Be an Authentic Brand in an Era of Information Proliferation

Information Overload

There is a reason why people are feeling overloaded with content these days: There is more content being created and published than ever.

Consider the following: Just three years ago, The Washington Post was publishing 500 posts per day; today it is publishing more than 1,200.

Social media adds 840 first-time users every minute. Every day, 6 billion hours of YouTube videos are watched, 4.3 billion Facebook messages are posted and 22 billion texts are sent.

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A whopping 90 percent of the information on the Internet has been created in the past two years alone.

This trend is likely to continue as SEO agencies increasingly become content marketing shops, copywriting agencies turn into content farms, and video production companies rebrand themselves as rich content creators.

Publishers of all stripes are remaking themselves into content marketers.

In this 24/7 connected world, where anyone with a connection to the Internet can create and publish content, it is no wonder that words like “fake” are gaining relevance.

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Anyone with sufficient motivation and resourcefulness can promulgate their agenda, besmirch a brand, sabotage a celebrity or, apparently, even undermine an election.

The democratization of the Internet, along with the rise of tools of mass publication, has done much good, but also given a powerful voice to those with less than honorable intentions.

So, what can brands do to protect their reputations and economic position?

The stakes are high, as 90 percent of consumers expect more from brands than pushing sales and would boycott a brand if they learned it was behaving irresponsibly or deceptively.

(For more information on why authenticity matters today more than ever for brands, see this post entitled: Authenticity and Social Currency Are the New Brand Marketing Basics)

Building Authentic Brands

There are three steps authentic brands follow to help insulate them from potentially devasting attacks.

Step 1. Identify and live a higher purpose for why you do what you do. Ideally, one that transcends your brand’s functional benefits and speaks to common human interests and concerns, one that reflects your position on some such issue. For example, if you have a brand of landscaping equipment, consider embracing a vision (and attendant behavior) that reflects ecological stewardship or biodiversity. If you have a financial services brand, take a position of frugality with money or financial education of young people. In a competitive environment, people are more likely to choose to do business with an organization that cares and does more than peddle products and services.

Step 2. Tell your story to attract a community that shares a belief in your vision/mission. These people will not only be your customers, they will be your advocates and defenders. People have an innate need and desire to belong, and brands are a proven way for people to express this. But it takes more than a good product for this to happen. You will need that commitment to something bigger. Your story may be an expression of why you started the brand, or it may be about how you came to see the bigger picture and acted. Benetton and Nike are older examples of brands that did this well. Newer examples include TOMS Shoes, Tuft & Needle and Warby Parker.

Step 3. Stay true to your vision and mission. View your decisions and behaviors through that lens and don’t be seduced to violate your principles for a short-term gain. In our 24/7 connected world, someone is always watching and able to call you on it … and it can go viral from there. You do not want to be the self-proclaimed ecologically responsible BP in a post-Deepwater Horizon world, or the friendly skies of United after the forcible removal of a passenger due to overbooking. Those brands ended up looking like they just promulgated a slogan for PR rather than really “believing it,” an outcome arguably worse than not publicizing their vision/mission to begin with.

Nurture and support your brand advocates (inside and outside of the organization) as they are your defenders. Rather than paying the biggest influencers you can afford to push your brand on social media or elsewhere, identify those who truly align with your brand vision and mission. Remember when Tiger Woods was the spokesperson for Buick? Did anyone believe that Tiger Woods would have chosen a Buick if left to his own devices? What was the real value of that paid sponsorship to Buick?

It has never been easier for brands to be called out than today, a trend that is unlikely to abate. Those brands that are consistently authentic have the least to fear.

Ready to discuss your next branding project with Six Degrees? Contact us today.



2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study

IBM Marketing Cloud Study

TNW: The Global State of the Internet in 2017

MicroFocus: How Much Data Is Created on the Internet Each Day?

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Frank Schab
An experienced marketing and branding strategist, Frank has been helping clients optimize the value of their brands through insightful analysis and effective strategy for more than three decades. Along with holding positions at General Motors and Pfizer, Frank served as a Managing Partner at Interbrand New York and VP of Global Brand Research at Opinion Research Corporation before co-founding Six Degrees. His brand-building work in various sectors including hospitality, medical device, pharmaceutical, automotive and technology has taken him to 17 countries on four continents. Frank holds a doctorate in psychology from Yale University and speaks fluent German.

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