Simon John of Brand Matters and Ian Haughton of Handsome Brands
Simon John of Brand Matters and Ian Haughton of Handsome Brands
A view from Simon John and Ian Haughton

Think BR: Brand authenticity comes to the fore

For a brand to truly stand out it, has to express authentic values, write Simon John of Brand Matters and Ian Haughton of Handsome Brands.

Recent high-profile brand relaunches, including those of British Airways, Greene King and Pizza Express, have all focused on the authentic values of the brand.

British Airways has resurrected the ‘To fly. To serve’ line that originally appeared on its tailfins, Greene King’s rebranding is built around ‘Authentic Hospitality’ - defined as a genuine, warm welcome, excellent service and a total commitment to meeting customers’ needs, while Pizza Express has refreshed the brand by drawing on imagery from the pizzaiolo of the 1960s.

In the past it was possible to launch and even succeed with brands that were somewhat superficial and didn’t always deliver on their promise - but today’s much greater openness and transparency mandates that brands have to be authentic.

Most of the world’s leading brands are authentic, and authentic brands tend to become leaders in their category.

Disney, IBM, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Singapore Airlines, VW, Apple, First Direct and The Body Shop are all authentic brands - and leaders.

So what makes for an authentic brand? Originality, a genuine heritage, sincerity, familiarity and a real purpose are all key components.

The power of social media means that brands that try to claim one of these territories without good reason will get found very quickly.

Perhaps most importantly, to be authentic a brand has to deliver what it says it’s going to deliver.

McDonald’s might not be to your taste but the brand does deliver what it promises most of the time.

If by definition, leading brands are authentic, then it may be more interesting to look at inauthentic brands.

We’ve found four types of inauthentic brands: firstly there’s the simple copy-cat brand.

Think of the many KFC look-alikes found in inner city high streets - Texas, Dixie, Tennessee Fried Chicken and so on.

These are hardly authentic brands, although their local sales may be good. They are straightforward copies (and indeed KFC’s legal teams are becoming much more vigilant in addressing these look-alikes).

Then there are brands that aren’t actually copying anyone else but lack originality, heritage and a sense of purpose - we’re thinking of the many financial price comparison sites, for example.

Comparethemarket’s meerkats get lots of attention, but what's the brand really about?

How is it different from other price comparison sites? What will happen when we tire of meerkat jokes?

The same is true of the many loan consolidation and injury compensation ‘brands’.

These brands often rely on heavy media spend, careful targeting and direct response for their sales - familiarity, heritage and originality are usually absent.

The third category is those brands which have familiarity but seem to lack a clear consumer-focused purpose - we’re thinking of DFS, Swinton and One World.

We’re not sure what they stand for. They aren’t copy-cats but they don’t feel authentic to us.

Finally there are those brands that are authentic on many levels but overclaim - and don’t deliver.

BP is authentic in many ways, but the ‘Beyond Petroleum’ claim was a step too far for a company that was primarily a petroleum company.

Post Deepwater Horizon the brand has dropped the Beyond Petroleum line.

It's clear that authenticity is key and something all brand custodians must focus on if they’re to build brand value and loyalty over the long term.

Simon John, Brand Matters and Ian Haughton, Handsome Brands