Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Why Brand Authenticity is Important

Think about brands that you admire; one trait many of those brands likely share is that they seem authentic to you. Those brands deliver against the promises they make and are driven by a deeper meaning than their latest ad slogan. We appreciate brands whose performance and actions reinforce our perceptions of them. However, brand managers walk a fine line between being authentic and managing brand touchpoints.

This issue surfaced late last week for NASCAR. Reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski gave a candid interview with USA Today two days before the Daytona 500. In it, he made remarks some people interpreted as critical of sponsors, track operators, and TV broadcast partners. Keselowski spoke from the heart about his feelings for what NASCAR needs to do to strengthen fan relationships. His interview earned him a trip to the principal's office; Keselowski met with top NASCAR executives Brian France and Lesa France Kennedy. Apparently, the purpose of those meetings was to "inform" Keselowski on points about which he may have lacked insight or knowledge.

The dilemma facing NASCAR or any brand is how to balance giving free reign to people associated with your brand (e.g., drivers or employees) with maintaining a consistent brand message. Many racing fans liked Keselowski's candid take because it was consistent with the personal brand image he has crafted. NASCAR executives must weigh the extent to which they want individual drivers to be authentic against "corporatespeak." Does authenticity like that exhibited by Brad Keselowski benefit the NASCAR brand, too, even if it occasionally means less than flattering opinions are expressed about it? 

Building a great brand is not about striving for perfection; it is about being perceived as being authentic. Brands, like people, have flaws and make mistakes. It is how brands respond to their shortcomings that either cements relationships or sabotages them. 

USA Today - "Brad Keselowski Won't Slow Down On Track or Off"