You’re Never Too Big to Be Authentic
February 16th | 2016

It’s easy to think of authenticity as exclusive to small businesses – the kind that handcraft their wares from a family design and have made them the same way for a hundred years, or that developed a new recipe for a microbrew and put their whole operation together themselves in a basement in Brooklyn.

But, while companies like that can certainly have a lot to offer, that kind of bootstrap authenticity is, by definition, incompatible with scale. And, while it may be our knee-jerk mental association with authenticity, when it comes down to it, it’s not what modern authenticity means at all.

The list of the top 10 most authentic brands in the U.S., according toCohn and Wolfe’s 2014 Authentic Brands Study, starts with Wal-Mart. That list also includes Apple and Chik-fil-A. Not exactly what you’d expect, but revealing of far more about authenticity than 1,000 articles about the craft beer movement will ever be.

The bottom line is, when you ask people what authenticity means, as Cohn and Wolfe did, they’ll tell you that it’s not about size, or handcraftedness, or family ownership. It’s about expressing values and taking actions that support those values. It’s about being honest and transparent in everything you do. And, above all, it’s about delivering on your promises.

That’s why brands like Wal-Mart end up at the top of the list – consumers are very clear about what Wal-Mart stands for: low prices and family values – and they consistently deliver on those promises. Apple is simply a shinier version of the same principle. They offer a product that delivers clear value, and they consistently maintain that value. Even Chik-fil-A, though many disagree with their espoused values, sticks to their guns when it comes to delivering a consistent message (and product).

The lesson for big brands across the country then, is this: don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Don’t try to act like a small brand – instead, own your size. It’s who you are.

That means, if you’re a big brand acquiring smaller brands, tell it like it is. Don’t keep it on the down-low and then announce it months later – that’s a recipe for resentment and distrust from your consumers, whether they’re devotees of your larger brand or the smaller acquired brand.

Acknowledge your size and your role in the world and talk about what that means for the impact you can make – use your values to your advantage to show that you’ve got access to the best product development and research in the world, and that you’re putting it to work for your consumers.

Any company can be authentic. It’s simply a matter of understanding your own values, communicating them to your consumer, and then delivering on them. Every single time.