Consumers are drawn to brands that are genuine, that have a unique story and that deliver on what they say. Organisations with a narrative approach to branding are able to engage better with their audience (who are, after all, natural story tellers/listeners). They are also better able to defend their brand as copied narratives conversely appear definitely inauthentic.


Authentic brands are often happy to display their supposed amateurism. Behind the scenes it might rival an army for professionalism, but up front, brands often like to display their lack of professional training. (Side note, being an outsider is always cool. Steve Jobs, for example, used to remind people that he couldn’t write code). Authentic brands combine the skill of the artisan with the outright passion of the amateur. They should “evoke the commitment to excellence and passion of the artisan with the sincerity, earnestness, and importance given to the activity by the amateur”.


The truly authentic brand is also transparent. If what a brand says is synchronised with what it does (and how consumers experience it), there are hard commercial gains to be made: the more authentic a brand is, the more likely it is to be recommended by its customer base.


Of course, customers who become advocates is every marketing departments dream. So what can the brand designer do to stimulate authenticity? Is it even possible to design the authentic into a brand?


Let’s take a look at some popular elements of authentic design and what they can help to achieve.


Authentic brand design


Authentic brand design needs to encourage the audience to relate the brand with the backstory. Coca-Cola (the ‘real thing’) offers a classic example of this. Their brand design is so established and storied that they are able to experiment without fear of anyone not recognising the authentic product.


Authentic brands often want to be related to ‘honest’ craft work (as opposed to anything mechanical or mass produced). As a result authentic brands revel in craft traditions, presenting themselves as passionate artisans who do things the way they are supposed to be done. An example of this is the design work done for Domino’s Pizza during their big clean out a few years ago. It is a clear, and beautiful it must be said, throwback to a period when you would expect your pizza to be made by hand, by someone who knew what they were doing.


Authentic brand design for the digital age doesn’t always equate with an emphasis on craft tradition. For a company like Microsoft, who want to be recognised as authentic whilst still being leaders in a highly technological industry, their design needs to look elsewhere to evoke the authentic. The Windows 8 design was a bold step in this direction, removing superfluous skeuomorphic design and replacing it with a clean, digitally honest flat style that has since been copied by everyone – precisely because it is seen as more authentic.


As we can see authentic brand design is hugely important to the perceived authenticity of a brand. It helps the brand to tell their story and to make sure it is trusted. Design alone can’t make a brand authentic, but without design to match the authenticity, the brand won’t fulfil its potential.