I recently had an interesting conversation with a friend who is finishing his architectural degree at TUKS, and writing a thesis on the ‘authenticity of the South African architectural landscape’. In this study he poses the question as to whether South Africa could be narrowed down and defined by a specific ‘style’. If you think of New York City, you think of the sky scrapers, with Europe you think of Roman arches and intricate detailed buildings. But when it comes to South Africa, even if you looked around right now, you would see a whole range of building styles completely different to one another even though in the same vicinity, however very few are based on the true cultures such as Ndebele or Zulu dwellings, although aspects may appear here and there.

There are a number of buildings that can be named such as the MichaelAngelo hotel , or the Hyatt, that are meant to be based on Western Cultures, but no recognisable building or hotel comes to mind when you think ‘truly South African’. This made me think: is South Africa simply following trends from the rest of the world and adapting them to suit our lives when we have so much to offer in terms of our true authenticity?

This also poses the question… Does where/how you live define who you are?, and if so, do the brands that you are loyal to, define you as a person? It comes down to this, everyone wakes up every day to face the same South Africa. Ultimately they are faced with similar choices everyday (in various shapes or forms), and they don’t have to go very far to get what they are looking for. In the past, people didn’t venture many miles from where they were born, and therefore were not challenged with new experiences, they ultimately knew what they were ever going to know. But nowadays things are very different and not only can you go round the corner from your front door to see something new, but you can visit any destination throughout the world through virtual travel, and receive anything you wish through the likes of online shopping etc.

This begs the question then, if you have everything at your fingertips, but choose one product/experience over another, how then does a brand connect in such a way to make you think that using that brand defines you, and makes you feel that you are remaining true to who you are? (I.e. I’m a mini cooper person over a BMW person). Ultimately a brand may not exist at all, but rather becomes a thought, or further to that, an emotion. It is here where the opportunity exists for a brand to connect with the target market. It comes back to the original topic of authenticity: “Authenticity is the new threshold for marketing. There has to be a natural fit between a brand and the consumer. That match can highlight existing brand attributes and values, or underpin genuine new ones, but it cannot bestow positive attributes you don’t already have” (Kim Skildum Reid, the Corporate )

In a market where there is no limitation for choice, consumers move towards brands with an original story, that relate to something the consumer already believes in, that engages in a way that simply extends their self-image, and ultimately that shows a sincere commitment to deliver on what they promise. If you think of a brand like Nando’s, from the very start it has known no fear, and people connect with them for being so true to their brand values. Ultimately it’s story telling – and getting consumers to be a part of its story.

Presenting the brand’s true authenticity to its consumers is where a brand will see success or failure in today’s over-traded markets, as consumers search for greater meaning and sincerity from the brands they choose, fuelled by a desire to connect with things that feel safe, certain and unambiguous. “People love being a part of an authentic brand because they aren’t just buying into a logo — but also “buying into a set of values.” (Truth Will Out-NY times 2011)
At its heart, authenticity is about practising what you preach; being totally clear about who you are and what you do best. When a brand’s promise gets out of sync with customers’ actual experiences, the brand’s integrity and future persuasiveness suffers. Authentic brands inspire and prosper… a bold statement, but one that is very hard to argue with. Ultimately it comes down to this: “With true authenticity comes a sense of freedom, and liberation, which can have a huge impact on your brand, so make the change now and make your brand a real power to be reckoned with.” (Truth Will Out … NY times)

Written by Jacqui Puchase.