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You've probably heard companies and brands described as "authentic." But what exactly does this term mean? Do you have to make handcrafted artisanal jams to be authentic, or can a suburban sporting goods store be authentic, too?

However you define authenticity, consumers are going crazy for it. In a recent survey, 91 percent of consumers around the world ranked “communicating honestly about products and services” as the top influence on whether or not they do business with a company.

Americans are tired of feeling ripped off or lied to by large, faceless corporations. By purchasing from an authentic brand, they feel they are expressing their own values about what's important in life. In fact, 63 percent of consumers say they’re more likely to buy from a company they perceive as authentic.

So just what is authenticity? The Authentic Brand Index, which measures global brands' authenticity, defines seven core characteristics:

  • Originality: the extent to which your brand has brought something new and different to market
  • Personal Utility: the extent to which your brand delivers real utility to users that they feel they can't live without
  • Declared Beliefs: the extent to which your brand stands for more than just making money
  • Sincerity: the extent to which your brand tries hard not to let people down
  • Familiarity: the extent to which your brand is well known
  • Momentum: the extent to which your brand has an aura of becoming more popular
  • Heritage: the extent to which your brand has a relevant and engaging story

Know that you know what an authentic brand is, how can you develop one?

It starts with a story. History and heritage are vitally important to authenticity. A startup business that uses time-honored manufacturing methods will be perceived as authentic because those methods have a history. To create an authentic brand, focus on the story behind your business:

  • Why did you start your business? Why are you passionate about it?
  • Who helped you grow your business? What did they bring to the company that changed it or helped it reach your goals?
  • What challenges has your business faced, and how have you overcome them?
  • What’s your ultimate vision for your business?

Share your story with your employees, with new hires, with customers and with the community.

Honor the past. Do you own a third-generation family business? Is your business located in a building constructed during the Civil War? Do you sell baked goods made with your great-grandmother's family recipes? Honoring your past enhances the authenticity of your business by creating emotional ties to history. If your business is new, that’s OK--you're creating your past right now, so start collecting those memories.

Share your brand personality. You and your employees are part of your business brand, so don't try to put on a false front. Post photos and short biographies of your employees on your website-- but don't make them boring; have some fun with it. Share photos of the team at work on social media. Write a personal message in every email newsletter you send. Be real, and encourage your team to do the same.

Be part of your community. Whether your community is local, or a far-flung web of people connected by the Internet, you need to be invested in that community to build an authentic brand.  People like to buy from people they feel a connection with. Find out what your community cares about, what they want from your business, what their passions are. Then deliver on it.

Be honest. Your authentic brand seems so authentic if customers find out you're not living up to the standards you promote. You can't make ending exploitation your cause, then sell products made with child labor. What if customers find out you've been less than truthful? Admit what you've done wrong. Owning up to mistakes can actually make customers trust you more, not less. You're showing vulnerability, and that makes you authentic.

A business doesn't have to be small to be authentic — large brands like Samsung and Apple have topped several lists of “the most authentic brands.” However, as a small business, you do have a head start at conveying authenticity. Use the tips above to build on that advantage and share your authentic brand.

About the Author(s)

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