Seven secrets of authentic brands

Barely a week goes by without a corporate scandal, recently the billion pound fines for foreign exchange rigging. From public outcries around corporate tax avoidance to personal data security breaches, any wrongdoing by businesses – no matter how inadvertent – is now impossible to hide from. This is having a profound effect on the way consumers around the world interact with companies and has fundamentally changed their expectations of them.

As excited as PR practitioners tend to get about these issues, it is also important to put it in context. Not all corporate scandals have led to a drop in sales or profits. It is the saliency of the issue with the public that matters. Most of us do not know if Libor manipulation affects our own savings or investments. But we do recognise a bailout from taxpayers or contaminated food products and these more tangible issues do appear to directly affect short term behaviour.

PR agency Cohn & Wolfe’s report, ‘Authentic Brands’, looks into exactly what consumers across 12 global markets want from businesses, the role of authenticity in doing business today, the attributes associated with an authentic brand, and the impact of authenticity on consumer, investor and employee attitudes and behaviours.

The research showed that the concept of “authenticity” is underpinned by seven behaviours the vast majority of consumers want to see businesses and brands demonstrating. Called the “Authenticity Anchors” they consist of:

1.   Communicating honestly about products and services

2.   Communicating honestly about environmental impact and sustainability measures

3.   Acting with integrity at all times

4.   Being clear about, and true, to beliefs

5.   Being open and honest about partners and suppliers

6.   Standing for more than just making money

7.   Having a relevant and engaging story

The report showed that nearly nine in ten global consumers (87 per cent) say it is important for businesses to act with integrity at all times, surpassing the number who rate striving to innovate (72 per cent) and bringing unique products to market (71 per cent) as factors in their buying decisions.

When it comes to the all-important impact on the bottom line for businesses, close to two-thirds of global consumers would buy from a business that displays authentic characteristics over and above its competitors, while a similar number said they would stay loyal to this type of brand.

A further 59 per cent of global consumers would recommend authentic businesses to friends and family. In addition, authentic behaviours don’t just affect consumer buying behaviour: nearly half of global respondents would be happy to work for an authentic business and a quarter would invest in this type of company.

So what does this mean for UK businesses or perhaps for the two British banks among those receiving the record fine this week from the Financial Conduct Authority?

To give some global context, the UK navigates a difficult path of being a large, mature economy – home to some of the world’s biggest multinationals – while still bearing the scars of the banking crisis and subsequent economic downturn. This can often lead to an uneasy relationship between companies and the public. The research found that just 3 per cent of individuals in the UK believe big businesses are very transparent and honest, revealing the gulf between what brands are currently telling the audience and what they believe.

The UK market is also one of the most demanding in the world: “Not letting customers down” is the most important business behaviour for Britons, with 95 per cent of those surveyed agreeing – the highest across all 12 markets in the study.

With this in mind, Britain’s businesses and brands don’t have an easy task. But they can make it easier on themselves. Today’s leaders can recognise that consumer expectations are high, trust is low and crises can bubble up from the most unexpected places – from their own trading floors to a distant supplier – and there is now nowhere to hide when bad news breaks.

Instead, business leaders must resist the urge to batten down the hatches and embrace disclosure through authentic communications in their day-to-day operations, as well as in a crisis situation.

Adhering to the “Authenticity Anchors” could be the best form of crisis prevention.

Top ten most authentic brands in the UK

  • Marks and Spencer
  • Tesco
  • John Lewis
  • Sainsbury’s
  • ASDA
  • Waitrose
  • Virgin
  • The Co-Operative
  • Amazon
  • Morrison’s


The report is based on quantitative and qualitative research of 12,000 respondents across 12 markets, which was conducted in an online study by research company Toluna in July 2014.

The results were then interrogated by a number of business, branding and market experts:

·      Adam Elman, Head of Global Delivery for Plan A, Marks and Spencer.

·      Ioannis Ioannou, Assistant Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, London Business School.

·      Jim Prior, CEO of WPP-owned brand consultancies The Partners and Lambie Nairn.

·      Sue Unerman, Chief Strategy Officer, MediaCom, and author of Tell The Truth.

As part of the research Cohn & Wolfe asked the 12,000 respondents who took part to explain what their idea of an authentic brand was. For more information see here: Authentic Brands

Written by Andrew Escott, managing director, at Cohn & Wolfe Corporate Affairs

If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our twice weekly event and subscriber alerts.

Currently, every new subscriber will receive three of our favourite reports about the public relations sector.

PRmoment Awards Winners 2023 PRCA Creative Moment Awards Final Deadline CIPR Creative Moment Media Point