The third rule of brand authenticity: Be yourself.

Lori Bahnmueller 08/31/15 - 6:35 pm

The third rule of authenticity is brought to you by mom: Just be yourself. Whether you’re trying to make new friends, venturing into the unknown or jockeying for a promotion, mom’s advice typically fits the bill. The same applies for brands. And in a marketplace brimming with fakers, cheap knock-offs and me-too brands, being true can be truly profitable.

Being real is a critical component of brand authenticity, a value that consumers hold near and dear when considering products and services. In fact, authenticity is the fourth most important consumer value today, according to CEB Iconoculture.

John Grant, author of “The New Marketing Manifesto,” puts it this way: “Authenticity is the benchmark against which all brands are now judged.”


Earlier in this blog series, we address the first two rules of brand authenticity: (1) Know your audience and (2) Acknowledge imperfections. The final rule is predicated on staying true to the company’s origins and mission.

It can be a difficult rule to follow—maybe even the most difficult of the three. That’s because being true to oneself isn’t always popular with friends, coworkers and the community. That’s why so many people avoid divisive topics at dinner parties and water coolers. Brands don’t have it that easy. They can’t readily shift the consumer conversation away from product safety, sustainability and human rights, to easy breezy chatter about the weather. Brands that have a strong sense of self weather trends and controversy by being anchored in heritage and purpose.

Consider Lululemon Athletica.

Founded in 1998, the athletic clothing brand, born in a yoga studio, grew up with the intent of “elevating the world from mediocrity to greatness.” Its mission statement explained how it would execute this vision: “creating components for people to live longer, healthier, fun lives.”

In 2013, the brand was ubiquitous beyond yoga studios. Fashionable moms sported them to work-out and hang out, as did their teen daughters. But when a pair of popular pants proved too transparent, company leadership responded by blaming its consumers, suggesting that “some women’s bodies just don’t actually work” for Lululemon products.

So the aforementioned people for whom the components are created are limited to “some women?” That’s not very fun. The off-brand quip did more than offend consumers, it ultimately hurt sales and overall market confidence.

Some business may have headed down the road to REI, a 75-year-old coop that sells yoga pants and a whole lot more to support healthy fun. The company lives its mission of “inspiring, educating and outfitting its members and the community for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.” Really.

REI employees aren’t only sales folks, they’re hikers, kayakers, skiers, cyclists and yogis. They’re not selling clothing and equipment, they’re selling a lifestyle that they really and truly love and want to share. Ask an REI employee about climbing equipment, and you’ll leave outfitted with gear and her top 10 favorite places to sport climb. Come back after your journey to return a used harness that performed below your expectations and they’ll refund your purchase. They won’t grill you for proof, rather apologize that it didn’t pass muster. An unconditional return policy is the closest thing you’ll get to unconditional love at a retail store.

Talk about being yourself.

Faygo: The one true pop!

In “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing,” authors Al Ries and Jack Trout cite The Law of the Category as the second law of brand mojo. If you can’t be the first to market, add a new category, Ries and Trout say. (Think Apple, Southwest Airlines, Charles Schwab, Aldi and craft beer). Faygo did this and more, asserting itself in the competitive soft drink market for more than a century.


Faygo gets high authenticity marks for many reasons—heritage, transparency and commitment to quality. Its staying power is rooted in a strong sense of self.

In 1907 Russian immigrant bakers, Ben and Perry Feigenson concocted the summer sweet beverage in Detroit to the tune of frosting flavors. The plucky entrepreneurs delivered door to door in the 20s, emerged from WWII with new flavors and iconic shield emblem, and bought TV time in the 50s (“Which way did he go? He went for Faaaaaaygoooooo!”), taking the brand outside of Michigan. In 1985, the Feigenson family sold the Faygo Beverage Company to National Beverage Company, based in Florida.

Instead of indiscriminately folding Faygo into its house of branded beverages, National Beverage made a conscientious effort to honor the “one true pop.” Its more than 30 flavors are still bottled in Detroit under the careful watch of the Faygo faithful, seasoned employees with more than 30 years’ brand experience. Visit the website to get a closer look at this brand. Better yet. Grab a Redpop first and then check it out.

When CEB Iconoculture asked consumers to name a few of their favorite authentic brands, here are a few that rose to the top: Apple, Tom’s, Levi’s, Everlane, Southwest, Ikea, Free People and Amazon. What say you? Which brands do you feel are most authentic? Need a little help remember the criteria for brand authenticity? Start with the first blog in this series: Let’s get real:  3 rules to creating an authentic brand.

Blog Category: Branding

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