Almudena Alonso – General Manager of Cohn & Wolfe Spain
In recent years, intangible assets have been growing in significance to the point of becoming an indispensable part of the equity of a brand, surpassing even the rest of its assets. Therefore it is essential to know what it is that determines the positioning of a brand in the minds of consumers.
To answer this question, a few years ago at Cohn & Wolfe we decided to undertake the study ‘Authentic Brands’, which gathered the opinions of more than 12,000 consumers from 14 markets, seeking to discover their perception of brands and their degree of authenticity.
But first and foremost, it is necessary to clarify the concept of authenticity. It is a concept closely linked to the ability to fulfil promises made and which, applied to the business sector, is identified with the satisfaction of expectations raised among the stakeholders. In other words, it is the key to establishing a relationship of mutual trust between brands and audiences.
The study also removed any doubt about the importance of authenticity. In fact, nine out of every ten consumers would reward the authenticity of a brand, either through their loyalty or even by recommendation to other customers. This is a differentiating factor that brings an enormous competitive advantage.
Consumers, who, thanks to technological advances, now assume the role of “prosumers”, have become accustomed to expressing their opinion and to influencing others and brands. In this way, their role has changed and, in response to the huge amount of information they have access to, they have increased the level of their demands, forcing brands to strive not to be left behind.
In fact, only 7 per cent of consumers in Spain believe that brands are open and honest, which places Spain as the second European country in which less is expected from brands, second only to Sweden. Therefore, there is no doubt that authenticity presents itself as a great opportunity that very few are taking full advantage of.
So what then should a brand do to be perceived as authentic by the public? What factors are the most important to consumers? These questions hold the key to ensuring that a brand gains the confidence of its customers and makes authenticity one of its principal intangible assets.
Nevertheless, authenticity is a concept that is too broad to be defined in terms of a single attribute. In fact, according to the consumers surveyed, there are three values that determine the authenticity of a brand: reliability, respect and being real.
That is, in order for trust to exist in the relationship between brand and customers, it is imperative that this brand be synonymous with reliability and security. That is to say, there must be a definite value for consumers, which is manifested in the quality of the products or services and the fulfilment of promises made.
On the other hand, one of the greatest consumer demands on brands is that of respect. An inescapable commitment demonstrated by treating customers well, but also through an aspect that has been gaining importance, thanks to digital advances in society: the protection of the customer´s data and privacy.
The last, but by no means least important value, is being real. Consumers want brands that are natural, close and, ultimately, real. In fact, in our country, this aspect is the most problematic, given that, according to the consumers who participated in this study, brands do not manage to communicate honestly.
Thus, to achieve a good balance between these three pillars it is essential to win the loyalty of consumers and achieve a relationship of trust with them. The benefits are beyond all doubt, since the direct experience of the consumer has a significant effect on their perception of a brand. Therefore, improving and investing in this experience may offer very good results.
However, as this study demonstrates, brands must still work to achieve effective and honest communication with their audiences. And in this sense, the role of Public Relations in the marketing mix is fundamental because it allows the public to be approached in a more open, close manner and overcomes once and for all the barrier that exists between clients and brands.
Therefore, brands must not be afraid to open up to consumers or to be transparent and close. The path to authenticity necessarily passes through accessibility. If a brand manages to transmit its values and projects to their audiences, it will increase the direct experience of their customers. And the key to being considered an Authentic Brand lies in this experience.