Crafting an authentic brand experience goes beyond the surface level of marketing slogans and polished visuals. The statement “a brand is what it does not what it says it does” has long stuck with me. Authenticity is created through a commitment to delivering customer experiences that genuinely resonate with people. This involves a holistic approach encompassing culture, process, policies, incentives, and customer feedback. Delivering to a brand promise in an authentic way can and should be measured in sales revenue and profitability. This has now been made much easier with digital capability and reporting. There really is no excuse for leaving customers at the sharp end of a poor customer experience when good communication, planning and internal commitment avoids this.
The Role of Internal Culture
At the heart of an authentic brand lies its internal culture. Companies that prioritise authentic behaviours cultivate an environment where employees embrace and live the brand values. Culture extends beyond a mere set of guidelines; it becomes a shared belief system. When employees genuinely embody the brand ethos, it translates into more authentic interactions with customers. Every touchpoint, from customer service to online, product development, marketing, finance and back office, reflects the values ingrained in the company's culture. Why does it matter?
Leadership drives culture and in turn culture drives performance.
Processes Designed for Humans
Authenticity in customer experience is often rooted in processes designed for human beings. How often are we asked to go through a process that makes absolutely no sense?! This is because processes are often not designed around customers, they are designed to deliver a business outcome around an internal protocol (“that's how we do it around here”). A better way to do this begins with a thorough understanding of the journey we are expecting our customers to go through. Brands that take the time to map out how customers are impacted by processes can identify opportunities to inject brand authenticity into each interaction. For instance, personalisation can be woven into the process, making customers feel seen and understood. Streamlined and transparent processes contribute to a sense of trust which is a cornerstone of authenticity.
Policies Shape Customer Experience
The policies a brand adopts play a pivotal role in shaping the customer experience. Authentic brands are transparent about their policies, ensuring that customers understand what to expect. If an employee can’t explain the rationale for a process to a customer, then something is wrong! Policies aligned with the brand's values contribute to a consistent and authentic experience. For instance, a commitment to sustainability can be reflected in eco-friendly packaging or ethical sourcing policies. Whilst policies are often designed to protect the commercial interests of the brand, they can be communicated in such a way that customers understand why they are there and, brands should prioritise changing policies where they do not align to the stated values.
Measurement and Customer Feedback
To ensure the delivery of authentic experiences, brands must establish metrics that align with their authenticity goals and leaders need to be accountable to their role in delivering to those. Measuring customer satisfaction and loyalty is crucial, but it should go hand-in-hand with assessing how well the brand's actions align with its stated values. Metrics can include customer sentiment analysis, customer satisfaction, and qualitative feedback to gauge the emotional resonance of the brand. Large language models offer new and expedient ways of delivering comprehensive feedback on a wide range of customer experiences. The key is to ensure there are ways to listen to that feedback and action it.
Importance of Incentivisation
Authenticity can be incentivised internally and externally. Internally, employees who embody the brand's authenticity can be recognised and rewarded for their aligned behaviours. Externally, brands can create loyalty programs or incentives that align with their values. For instance, a company committed to social responsibility might offer discounts for customers who engage in eco-friendly practices. Such incentives not only encourage authenticity but also strengthen the emotional connection between the brand and its customers.
Authenticity in Digital Experiences
Brand authenticity needs to shine through all digital experiences and at the heart of digital transformation. As an example, if a brand is “honest, approachable” and prides itself on being easy to deal with, then this needs to manifest in the digital experiences made available to customers. If we stare into the word “honesty”, and then the price shown is not the price paid, or the service level agreements are stated but not upheld, there is an authenticity gap. This will show up in public customer reviews which, over time, tarnishes the brand.
Some examples of brands that align their values to their behaviours :
Patagonia: Known for its commitment to environmental sustainability, Patagonia's internal culture reflects this ethos. The company provides employees with environmental internships, encouraging a shared passion for preserving the planet. This commitment is then evident in the brand's products and messaging.
Zappos: The online shoe and clothing retailer has built its brand around exceptional customer service. Their process includes a 365-day return policy and a strong emphasis on customer satisfaction, creating a seamless and customer-centric experience that aligns with their brand promise.
Warby Parker: This eyewear company has a "Buy a Pair, Give a Pair" policy, emphasising their commitment to social responsibility. For every pair of glasses sold, Warby Parker donates a pair to someone in need. This policy not only contributes to a positive brand image but also reflects their values in action.
Airbnb: The online platform measures its success not only by booking numbers but also by the sense of community and belonging it fosters. Metrics include the number of positive host and guest experiences, showcasing a commitment to creating authentic connections.
Starbucks: The coffee giant encourages loyalty through its rewards program, offering digitally personalised incentives and freebies based on individual customer preferences. This not only keeps customers engaged but also reflects an understanding of their unique tastes, contributing to a more authentic and personalised experience.
In summary, authenticity in customer experiences is a company-wide mission that involves deep internal commitment. It starts with cultivating an internal culture that lives the brand's values and extends to processes, policies, measurement, incentives, and customer feedback. When these elements align, a brand doesn't just sell products or services; it sells an authentic, meaningful experience that resonates with customers on a personal level.