Authenticity, Heritage, And Business Outcomes

We live in an age of skepticism and mistrust. Perhaps this is why marketers are constantly on a quest to find and capture “authenticity” — the 21st Century Holy Grail. Authenticity is one essential brand component that can distinguish a leader from a laggard.

Consistent with the quest to establish authentic, meaningful, emotional connections between a brand and its consumers, several iconic beverage brands have recently announced interesting product and marketing moves. Belgium-based mega brewer A-B InBev announced it is temporarily replacing its iconic “Budweiser” brand name on 12-ounce cans and bottles, replacing it with the word “America.” The campaign will last through the November Presidential election, and is presumably designed to evoke the values of patriotism so deeply rooted among traditional Bud drinkers. 

This comes on the heels of Pepsi’s recent launch of “1893,” a new formulation of its traditional cola product, inspired by growing interest in “craft” drinks, and hearkening back to the company’s 1893 founding by Caleb Bradham. 

The jury is out as to whether either initiative will be accepted as an authentic expression of the brand that is able to spark increased consumer engagement or sales but in the case of “America,” the approach may bring publicity but it may be too opportunistic to build a lasting, authentic connection. 

In our experience, marketers and communicators seeking authentic connections do well when they find what is unique, relevant and inspiring that can be brought forward through authentic storytelling. Unfortunately, many don't realize that they are sitting on the well-spring of authenticity in the form of the organization’s inventory or experience — its heritage.

We have learned over nearly 40 years that heritage is a valuable and authentic tool for elevating a brand, engaging employees, bringing together two distinct organizational cultures in a merger, or telling an old story in a new way to captivate and inspire employees, and attract potential hires. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior so heritage can be used to reassure demoralized employees that their company successfully overcame similar challenges before, and can do it again. Heritage can be a powerful mirror to reflect the truth about an organization’s track record on diversity, or whether its customer-first positioning is simply a slogan or part of its DNA. 

In some cases, an organization’s heritage inventory spans hundreds of years, as is the case with Brooks Brothers. In others, such as with a hedge fund, it may only go back two decades. And, at a Silicon Valley Unicorn company, where the arc of history is short, decisions made last week are part of that organization’s unique and authentic brand narrative and heritage. With today’s accelerating pace of business change, fast-moving companies like Apple, PayPal and Amazon have already built robust inventories of heritage assets. 

In our experience, when "authentic" content and stories are not supported by an organization's true inventory of experience they are quickly seen for what it is--creative but hollow.  Today’s consumers and employees – especially Millennials – seek relationships with organizations with purpose and character. And, while you can’t make up your past, by embracing your history as a means of defining your brand, authenticity becomes more than just a mantra.

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