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Trust, Purpose, and Authenticity in Modern Branding

Marie de Foucaud

Jul 1, 2023

Early in the last century, the quality of a product was the final say in its success. From coffee to cars, the market was a capsule collection of a few well-made items. Fast forward to today, and the marketplace isn’t just teeming with options, it can often be overwhelming to consumers who have so many options to sift through when deciding how to spend their limited resources.

Add to that a digital environment that offers not only e-tailers and an entire online economy, but advertising galore.

Simply put: standing out in today’s marketplace is hardly simple at all.

So how to rise above competing brands? Some companies will tell you it’s still all about the quality of their product. Some will say it’s their purpose that connects them to their consumers. The truth is of course
somewhere in between. So what could be the rules for successful marketing in the 21st century? Should we even keep speaking about Marketing or would we want to find a different wording?

According to the expert Seth Godin, “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” Never has this been more true than today, when brands depend on the creation of communities of ambassadors. Building human connection is key to success, and this is largely due to the rise of social media. Traditional marketing simply doesn’t cut it anymore – not when over 65% of the world’s population has internet access. The rise of influencers and influencer marketing means that today’s models are more than just a 5’10 leggy woman on the page of Vogue, she’s a next-door neighbor, a fellow mom, or even a high school student breaking down dance moves.

These everyday individuals have transformed the way we engage with a brand, making the clothes we wear, the beauty products we use and even the food we eat part of an aspirational – yet attainable – ecosystem of human connection. Because influencers are often much more like us than the celebrities brands used to depend on, a company’s ability to create lasting bonds with audiences can be much stronger than traditional advertising. The accessibility of today’s spokesperson also means lowering the overall barrier to market entry.

This lower bar has certainly resulted in a plethora of brands entering an already crowded space.

So with so many new brands, how do the most successful ones stand out? Purpose has emerged as a way to engage an increasingly socially minded audience. Research shows that, in the United States, over three quarters of voting-age adults believe companies have a responsibility to better society. This is an incredible data point that successful brands are tapping into in their effort to connect with consumers.

On top of an evolving social license to operate, brands must also respond to a sophisticated audience who can spot a ‘say-do’ gap and wants to understand impact. It is no longer enough to claim support for an issue, companies must live up to the trust placed in them and show results. People need credible elements and accountability for commitments made and this is where combining storytelling with data, i.e., story proving, comes in. Many companies are no stranger to the concept: those that publish annual sustainability reports often pair metrics with stories of impact to demonstrate their commitments. But brands can – and should – be doing so much more to engage with their stakeholders. Combining story proving with the power of purpose and the reach of social media, brands have an opportunity to differentiate themselves in a sea of competitors by building trust with their audiences. Becoming a trusted brand not only helps short term sales, it creates long-term loyalty.

In the same way that transparency begets trust, authenticity begets more meaningful connections between brands and consumers, no matter the product. Where instant access to information has created more fear and uncertainty, brands that manage to thoughtfully engage based on what they stand for as a company have a lot to gain when it comes to human interest and faithfulness. Sometimes the most trusted institution, business can be at once a security blanket, a partner, even a part of the family, all because of trust.

Companies operating in today’s fast moving environment are all grappling with the evolution of traditional branding. No matter what the product or service, quality is just one factor in a consumer’s choice these days. An increasingly crowded marketplace means brands must stand out, and today’s discerning consumer knows a gimmick when they see it. To truly connect with a customer and gain their loyalty, a successful company will leverage the power of story proving and authenticity to build meaningful
relationships. The 21st century brand is no longer just about Product and Marketing. It is the relationship with people and communities it serves.

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