Part One: Brand Authenticity

This article is part one of a five part series entitled “Building A Successful and Authentic Brand.”

A Competitive Marketplace

The only truly defendable brand position is an authentic one. Any brand that tries too hard, feels forced, or seems to be a stretch can stand out—in a bad way. Potential customers can spot a brand that’s over-promising from a mile away.
— PeopleDesign

The more competitive and saturated the fashion marketplace becomes, the more important it is for brands to be authentic in how they engage with customers. Brand authenticity must be considered from a 360 degree perspective, including the physical (products, store experience) and the digital (web store, social media), always ensuring customer needs are being met. These needs are both functional (access to product, product’s utility) and emotional (sense of community, customer service), and goes beyond group identification through logos and icons. In short, it requires brands to consider the whole brand experience from the customer’s perspective.

The Traditional Model

Dapper Dan with Joshua Williams

Dapper Dan with Joshua Williams

For heritage brands, especially those at selling at luxury price points, being authentic can be somewhat tricky in today’s market, as each brand must find a balance between engaging their loyal, aging customers, while also reaching out to new, younger customers. Even at the luxury level, these brands can no longer simply rely on the strength of their brand visuals (logos, icons) or their storied histories to attract new customers in such a diverse market.

Recent shifts by brands such as Gucci, are an effort to reach more tech-savvy, millennial customers, who have more brand choices than previous generations. With the help of Dapper Dan of Harlem, Gucci has successfully repositioned themselves, in the short term, for millennial customers who are seeking streetwear-driven styles, and are willing to pay a high price for them. And yet, the long-term ramifications of this short term success are yet to be seen. The brand has already alienated many of their core customers who prefer the traditional Gucci aesthetic. Other luxury brands, such as Balenciaga, Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton, are following Gucci’s lead, and are also dealing with the same long-term issues. The question then becomes, is there is a way to meld the past with the present, to interweave long-standing customer needs with new customer expectations, in a way that’s authentic, and positions the brand for the future?

Emerging Brands

At the luxury level, the cost of change is high, and the risks are great. However, for brands just getting started, there is no need to change a customer base that doesn’t yet exist! New brands can survey the current market and enter it with fairly low risk, unencumbered by the past. This gives emerging brands a potential competitive edge. Not all new brands get it right, but those that do have seen seismic growth. Examples include Everlane and Bonobos. Both brands were careful in determining their core customer, so as to develop products, services and overall experiences that directly aligned, or authentic, to the customers needs. This strategy has helped these brands weather the growing pains they later experienced.

—Joshua Williams, Chief Branding Officer, QueerCut

More reading:

Part Two of this series explores how brands can define their core customer.