Build authentic brands

Lord of the Rings brought Kiwis together. Mothers give Edmonds Cookbook to children leaving home, and Buzzy Bee is a Kiwi birthright. Why are these brands so enduring? The secret is authenticity—a rare realness in a world of global brands. Authentic brands do seven things well

Lord of the Rings brought Kiwis together. Mothers give Edmonds Cookbook to children leaving home, and Buzzy Bee is a Kiwi birthright. Why are these brands so enduring? The secret is authenticity—a rare realness in a world of global brands. Authentic brands do seven things well:

1. Reject marketing mantras

Peri Drysdale has tried brand consultants, yet the results would have stripped her Untouched World brand of its richness. One suggested tagline was “Go anywhere, do anything.” Drysdale was advised to drop the beloved Maori kite logo. Such textbook marketing can’t capture the essence of Untouched World, which represents the symbiosis between people, art and nature, and the freedom New Zealanders enjoy. 42 Below’s tongue-in-cheek ads communicate the essential no-bullshit nature of New Zealanders and poke fun at focus group-driven ’play it safe’ marketing. The Antipodes Water Company’s commitment to purity flows into its marketing—the beautiful bottle is designed to fade into the background of the dining experience. Water, although a necessary complement to a fine meal, plays second fiddle to the dining experience and thus the bottle is designed to blend into the tablecloth. These are all examples of ‘show, don’t tell’ marketing where authenticity is conveyed through actions alone.

2. Play the amateur

While marketers revel in their professionalism, authentic brands play the amateur. According to Palliser Estate’s Richard Riddiford, truly great wines come from the soul of the craftsperson. Similarly, Flight of the Conchords and the Naked Samoans exude a charming naivety with offbeat humour, small-town attitude and audacity—but the operations behind these brands are far from amateurish. Despite being at the forefront of safety and innovation, AJ Hackett Bungy’s enduring image is of daredevils illegally jumping off the Eiffel Tower. No one reading Peter Jackson’s biography could fail to appreciate his skill, yet we still view him as a shambling auteur lovingly devoted to his craft—a powerful image in today’s age of formulaic blockbusters.

3. Get immersed in the market

Authentic brands reject formal customer research, yet often lead the market. How? First, the people are passionate enthusiasts, immersed in their social networks. For example, winemakers often judge shows in order to identify trends. Second, companies like Untouched World use staff to test prototype products, gaining valuable insights into performance. Third, firm owners are constant observers of change. By working on the frontline, Atomic Coffee staff use observed changes in customer profiles, tastes, and concerns to innovate. Such strategies led to the creation of Atomic’s ‘third place’ atmosphere long before Starbucks arrived. Market immersion allows owners to swear hand-on-heart that their products derive from the indefinable creative spirit rather than formal market research, which is critical for conveying authenticity.

4. Assimilate with the culture

Real Groovy music store is synonymous with much of New Zealand’s musical history—and its Auckland store is a local landmark. The history of New Zealand fashion can’t be written without mention of Zambesi and Tanya ‘Misery’ Thompson’s artwork and products reflect Auckland’s graffiti culture, while Paeroa is known primarily for a brand—L&P.

These brands draw on, and give back, to their respective communities. By selling New Zealand music at wholesale cost and supporting the early incarnation of bFM when it faced closure, Real Groovy helped establish a local music scene. Merino NZ encourages its overseas buyers to visit high country farms, thus allowing them to gain a unique insight into the community that provides raw materials. Authentic brands draw on the respective cultural capital of their communities in an authentic way—take for example, the toi iho brand initiative to protect Maori cultural capital. As well, these commitments form part of the brand’s evolving story and become cultural myths in their own right.

5. Focus on the product

Just sip Te Mata’s Coleraine, view a Peter Jackson film, wear an Untouched World garment or gaze at the perfection in miniature of an Imperial Productions toy soldier. We respond passionately to authentic brands because passionate enthusiasts run them. These people are never happy with the final product and such perfectionism drives them to improve. Such is the belief of these owners that they believe customers who desire quality will ultimately seek them out—and they usually do. This approach represents a wholesale rejection of textbook marketing, yet it works for authentic brands.

6. Be true to your roots

Our best wine brands started the commitment to regional expression; Antipodes and Untouched World are resolute in their environmental commitment; Misery remains a conduit for artistic expression; and Zambesi co-founder Liz Findlay still makes garments from the wonderful fabrics that first inspired the label. When brands do stray, such as the decision to close Montieth’s West Coast brewery, owners must learn the lesson to weave a good story which enhances authenticity, rather than engaging in spin.

7. Value staff

The devotion of the employees to their authentic brands is difficult to fathom, especially since they often put up with difficult bosses and sometimes poor conditions. Authentic brands give their staff identity and public recognition. Palliser Estate’s Richard Riddiford offers staff share ownership. Recent limited edition wine releases—The Great Bear, George and Harry—pay homage to staff’s deceased pets, acknowledging the joy these pets brought to staff and the sense of loss felt at their passing. These stories are unique and valued.

To build authentic brand stories marketers need to keep every document, press clipping, successful and failed product to document the brand’s living history. They must tell human stories that celebrate the good times and the bad, and acknowledge the players along the way to create a brand that one day may feature in Te Papa (or bro’ Town).

Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).