Three steps towards brand authenticity

Three steps towards brand authenticity

Brand Authenticity

We define authenticity as a characteristic of a brand that’s soundly based on a stated internal truth and/ or capability. The brand’s story and value set are clear and well grounded, and it delivers against the resulting high expectations it creates among stakeholders.

It’s all about the honesty

This is just one of many definitions of brand authenticity. No matter which one you adhere to, the most efficient first step to establishing as an authentic brand is to be honest and transparent whenever possible. Not only does this behaviour feel right for your employees, it’s also an operational safeguard: say or do something dishonest, and that deed will be memorialized digitally, perpetually poised to bite you on the aspirations someday in the future. Being transparent keeps you honest. It prevents you from claiming to be in service of a renewable energy future when somewhere in your ecosystem a subcontractor is trashing an ocean with an oil spill.


The path to advocacy and loyalty

Authenticity also leads directly to brand advocacy. You create deeper emotional connections with your audiences, through which you can tell powerful stories that reflect your values and purpose. If your brand stands for something that people are passionate about, they will stand for you. They become invaluable third party endorsers. It follows that this all leads to long-term loyalty.

There was a time when we would talk about authenticity as a differentiating tactic. That still holds true today, but we might argue that brands deemed inauthentic will soon be the exception as more and more organizations evolve because of the social justice movement that is holding us all to higher standards of behaviour.

Three steps towards brand authenticity

1.     Be honest with yourself

Whether you are refining your current brand platform or crafting one for a start-up, take the time to get your team together and ask this single question: who are we? And, yes, be honest. This exercise with throw into high relief your people’s feelings about your brand: what it stands for and how it should act authentically to prove its commitment. You should see a clear connection between the outputs of this exercise and your brand promise. Perhaps it needs tweaking as a result. Being honest with yourselves helps ensure you’ll be honest with the world.

2.     Say it through consistent actions

It’s just common sense, right? All the values and purpose expressed in a sincere brand voice get tossed out the window if your brand isn’t actively proving its commitment to what you stand for through an ongoing campaign of authentic actions. Regroup with your people and do a Stop Start Continue exercise to determine what you’re already doing right and what you need to do differently in order to be authentic. If you do the right thing, but only once, today’s savvy consumer will see through any pretense. They are demanding more authenticity from brands, and that’s good for everyone.

3.     Refine and repeat

Things change. If we didn’t learn that from 2020, we’re in for a rough 2021. Set up a schedule with your people to regroup in a defined period of time to essentially repeat step 1. Ask yourselves again, who are we and what are we doing to prove it? Refine your authenticity tactics accordingly.

We deserve a better year

We deserve a better year

Now it’s up to us to make it happen

It’s going to be better because you and I and our brands will do better this year. For all the pain and disruption and loss 2020 unleashed, we’ve learned how fundamental it is to be better to each other and put our thoughts and prayers into actions and commitments.

These kinds of actions can be simple or complex. One simple idea has been going strong since 2013, with little maintenance required from the host brand.

Pay it forward

You drive up to the pick-up window at Tim Horton’s, get your fix, and try to pay. But the person in front of you has picked up your tab. You’re delighted, so you do the same and pay for the vehicle behind you. Does Tim’s get to claim credit for this? The short answer is no, as this is about spontaneous human generosity. But there is a longer answer. Tim’s does get to enjoy a soft build of its reputation as a place where good, kind people congregate for good coffee. This speaks well of the brand experience, and those who’ve been surprise-gifted in line tweet and post loudly about their delight. This is all good for Tim Hortons. After prudently standing back to let this behaviour grow organically since 2013, the brand is now providing people with its Tims It Forwardfeature which lets people send Tim Hortons digital gifts to family and friends.

The point I take from this example is not that brands should launch similar initiatives necessarily, but that they do well to create the conditions for good things to happen. Those conditions are far more likely to happen when they spring from the brand’s DNA, such as through its vision, mission, values, personality or experience design.

The idea of paying it forward dates back to 317 BC, when Meander featured it in his play Dyskolos. Why is the act so enduring?

Your brand chemicals

Try paying for the car behind you or holding the door for someone when social distancing eases. Chances are you’ll notice a small, tingly high course through your body. That’s a mix of neurochemicals rewarding you for what your brain perceives as survival behaviour. You are, in essence, building a social alliance with someone who may help you in the future. Brands that facilitate such behaviour also enjoy the benefits.

Thanks, 2020

We can at least thank the year for this: the bar has been raised. People are demanding more of their brands. More kindness. More empathy. Just keep in mind that any such acts of kindness must be genuine and authentic. If they’re perceived as overly self-interested, they won’t produce the desired results for your brand. This is a good thing. Our customers are keeping the bar high as we all think about how to be better in 2021.

Let’s make it a great year. Learn more about how you can shape your workplace strategy for 2021:

Brand Readiness facilitates growth

Brand Readiness facilitates growth

Setting the stage for growth using your brand

For many organizations, brand is an under-utilized tool for growth. Where to start? By assessing your brand’s performance across individual components, you can isolate precisely where attention is needed to foster growth and what actions to take. In doing so you will also be achieving a new level of brand readiness, arming your organization with the ability to pivot on threats and act on opportunities more quickly and strategically.

A more precise way to consider brand readiness

We’re all familiar with the notion brand is more than your logo. What does more actually mean? We think of brand as comprising seven individual components to be considered as you set out to assess your brand’s performance and its readiness to support growth.


Authenticity Is your brand soundly based on a stated internal truth or capability? Its story and values should be clear and well grounded. Your brand and its people deliver against the resulting high expectations you’ve created among your stakeholders.
Relevance Does your brand occupy a place in stakeholders’ lives, days and moments? It should satisfy pre-determined needs, desires and decision criteria.
Differentiation Do your stakeholders perceive clear differences between your brand proposition and experience and those of your competitors and comparatives?
Consistency Do stakeholders experience your brand and its people as intended, without fail, across all experiences, touchpoints and formats?
Prominence Does your brand feel omnipresent to audiences? Is it considered an authority in current and developing media and social platforms?
Dynamism Are your organization and people prepared to evolve gradually or pivot in the moment to rise to challenges or capture opportunities? Can you make change without abandoning your stated internal truth?
Impact Do your brand and people do the right thing according to your stated values and internal truth? Can your actions be considered selfless, particularly under difficult circumstances?


Hearts and minds plus days and moments

In addition to assessing your brand’s readiness across these seven components, another question brand owners can ask is, “where does our brand belong in our stakeholders’ lives?”

This brings greater specificity to the notion that brands should establish a place in audiences’ hearts and minds, elevating that goal to securing a place in the customer’s days and moments.

The era of empathy

For all the challenges COVID-19 presents, it is also providing organizations with the opportunity to rethink their brands’ commitment to feel, think and act with empathy.

Being an empathetic brand is not dressing CSR in new clothes. Nor is it espousing an ephemeral purpose that’s difficult to make real and relevant to people on a day-to-day basis. The empathetic brand takes to heart its responsibility to see people as people, understand their feelings and requirements, recognize and value their agency, and help them flourish according to their own unique capabilities and preferences.

The empathetic brand thinks and acts this way not because it has to, but because it wants to. In doing so, it attracts likeminded people as employees, partners and prospective customers. By authentically aligning with their values, empathetic brands are rewarded with growth.

Empathy: a new era

Empathy: a new era

Empathy: How to assess your organization’s level of empathy and strengthen your brand


Empathy is a concept that’s easily described: the practice of imagining, or trying to understand, how someone is feeling and what it’s like to be in their situation. It’s not difficult to see how critical empathy would be for brands in any industry. Here is the notion of empathy reframed by Isadore Sharp, Founder and Chairman, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts.

“The reason for our success is no secret. It comes down to one single principle that transcends time and geography, region and culture. It’s the Golden Rule – if you treat people well, the way you would like to be treated, they will treat you the same.” 

If this sounds too simplistic to be effective for your brand, know that Sharp accompanies the non-secret with an experience principle that sets expectations among employees and guides them in delivering Four Seasons’ famed service.

“One way to characterise Four Seasons service would be to call it an exchange of mutual respect performed with an attitude of kindness.”

Now we have empathy in action. Four Season’s people work very hard at understanding how their customers are feeling and what it would be like to be in their situation. Employees are given wide latitude to address guests’ feelings as they see fit, historically without the need for excess permission from above.

The Golden Rule has been the foundation of the Four Seasons experience for 50 years. Today, empathy remains important for all brands, and even moreso in the context of recent dramatic social change. Service-industry brands aren’t the only ones that need to prioritize empathy.

How empathetic is your brand? 

Today we want to help you begin to assess your organization’s level of empathy in the context of specific components of your brand that can be strengthened.


Empathy can reside in your stated internal truth. Is it evident in your brand’s story and values? Do your brand and people deliver against high stakeholder expectations with genuine empathy?


Does your brand occupy a place in stakeholders’ lives, days and moments? Empathetic brands are more likely to satisfy pre-determined needs, desires and decision criteria.


Do stakeholders experience your brand as empathetic without fail, across all experiences, touchpoints and formats?


If your organization pivots to rise to a challenge or capture an opportunity, can it do so without abandoning your commitment to empathy?

The rewards of genuine empathy

Being an empathetic brand is not dressing CSR in new clothes or espousing an ephemeral purpose that’s difficult to make real and relevant.

The empathetic brand sees people as people, understands their feelings and requirements, recognizes and values their agency, and helps them flourish according to their own unique capabilities and preferences.

The empathetic brand is better equipped to attract likeminded employees, partners and customers. It can build stronger emotional connections and result in more brand loyalty and advocacy and customer referrals.

According to HBR, “the top 10 companies in the Global Empathy Index 2015 increased in value more than twice as much as the bottom 10, and generated 50% more earnings defined by market capitalization”.

To explore your brand’s empathy, think about its performance using the components above and bring your people together to run scenarios that put them in the shoes of others. Go beyond how it might feel to suffer bad service from a brand. Help them understand how exclusion, whether blatant or insidious, actually feels. Generate actions you and your people can take right away to ensure your brand is attuned to how people feel and what they need.

Empathy. It feels good and delivers the goods as well.

Six steps towards Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in your workplace

Six steps towards Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in your workplace

As this article is being written, the front-page headline in the New York Times reads, “Former Louisville Officer Is Indicted in Breonna Taylor Case”. It portends a long night of unrest in Kentucky.

In a year defined as much by Black Lives Matter protests as a global pandemic, we are as a society rising up against the inequality and exclusivity that have long characterized our social systems. Organizations have been reacting with statements of support, pledges to evolve, and action leading to change.

Many are, for the first time, considering a new role in their organizations: Chief Diversity Officer. Such a role demonstrates a commitment to move beyond passive statements, take strategic action against racism, and foster more inclusive ethnic, gender and ability diversity within their organizations. The role alone cannot solve problems, however. It must be supported by a budget, talent, and sustained commitment.

For some organizations, a role solely dedicated to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) may not be an option. But that does not mean your organization can’t take significant and immediate steps towards becoming a fully inclusive, anti-racist organization.

Six steps towards EDI

1.    Start with a redefined EDI

The very definition of EDI needs reworking. We will expand on this further in our next article, but the main thrust of an evolved definition is to include the idea of ability. All too often, the rights, feelings and practical requirements of differently-abled people in the workplace are treated as an afterthought. This results in having to accommodate for differently-abled people after the fact, because their practical and emotional needs were not accounted for in initial EDI planning. Organizations must also abandon words like “disabilities” and “disabled”, which are inherently exclusive and discriminatory. These simple actions will help us all cognitively rewire the notion of EDI to seamlessly include differently-abled people.

2.    Look to your brand

Consider the corporate values you’ve identified in your organization’s brand strategy. Do they point towards EDI as defined above? They may not need to state equity, diversity and inclusion overtly, but they do have to support those notions in order to facilitate actions in their service. What about your organization’s personality traits? Do they support storytelling, imagery and behaviours that advance EDI? Does your employer brand promise and provide a culture and experience that are genuinely welcoming and equitable?

This could be an opportune time for you to revisit these characteristics of your brand to ensure your organization is built for EDI at a fundamental level.

3.    Lead with empathy

Whether through personal experience or specific training and workshops, your leaders need to know how it feels to be excluded, forgotten, rejected or left behind. While many of us can remember times when we have been excluded, it is difficult for most to imagine a lifetime of such treatment. Make sure your leadership can connect genuinely with these feelings. Invest in specialized training that illuminates the emotional toll of exclusion.

4.    Culture, not command

Real inclusion is not a mandate issued from your organization’s leadership. Nor is it a hopeful movement that springs magically from your company’s grassroots. Rather, think of EDI as an outcome of a healthy, vibrant corporate culture. Take the time and do the work to ensure you are building a long-term culture that respects and embraces everyone for their differences. Build in ongoing employee training, and design daily actions into the employee experience to ensure everyone is contributing to a culture of genuine belonging.

5.    Count your change

Be specific about what you want to accomplish. Collect and analyse data rigorously, and see how your EDI performance stands up against other organizations. Share data and insights liberally with your organization’s key stakeholders. This will help you maintain transparency, identify issues and act to rectify them. Ensure this is not a one-off activity. Efforts around EDI should be an ongoing commitment that requires constant attention and resources in order to be meaningful and effective.

6.    Reap the rewards

The benefits of ethnic, gender and ability diversity are quantifiable. Research by the American Sociological Review identifies a workplace’s diversity as among the most important predictors of an organization’s sales revenue, customer numbers and profitability. A 2018 study by Accenture, partnering with the American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability:IN reported businesses that employ differently-abled people have revenues 28% higher, net income two times more, and profit margins 30% higher. The report also identified that employers who embraced differently-abled employees saw a 90% increase in employee retention.

With their varied life experiences, a diverse workforce brings myriad points of view, insights and specific capabilities to an organization’s challenges and opportunities. This facilitates freer thinking throughout the organization, heightens innovation, and results in more engaged, loyal employees.

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of associating with an organization committed to a newly-defined EDI is the feeling of knowing you are part of change that is long overdue and desperately needed around the world. Contributing to EDI can be the greatest source of pride people will ever feel throughout their experience with your brand.