Building Brand Authenticity. 7 Habits of Iconic Brands

David Bishop (Department of Marketing, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand)

Journal of Product & Brand Management

ISSN: 1061-0421

Article publication date: 19 July 2011




Bishop, D. (2011), "Building Brand Authenticity. 7 Habits of Iconic Brands", Journal of Product & Brand Management, Vol. 20 No. 4, pp. 327-328.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

In a world where brands are coming under more and more public scrutiny, as with BP in 2010 for example, it is useful for businesspeople and students of marketing, to have an easy introduction to, or refresher on, what makes iconic brands real, authentic, beyond being merely symbols of a business or product. Brands which are iconic, having great cultural significance, are real living things in the minds of individual consumers, and their futures depend on being accepted as authentic in people's perceptions of them.

Building Brand Authenticity demonstrates what makes some brands “Iconic” in ten chapters, any one of which can be read and absorbed in less than an hour. The whole book could possibly be read in a day, but this reviewer spread it over several. Even if read in “one go” it will likely be retained as it gives handy lists of actions that any businessperson would find useful to refer to if they were working to improve the performance of their brands. The actions and behaviours identified in the management of iconic brands are distilled from the author's wide reading of academic and other literature and discussions with people who have actually created or maintained iconic brands. It is particularly refreshing to see the inclusion of in‐depth descriptions of examples from Australasia. This may encourage global readers to look beyond their national frontiers rather more!

After an introduction to the New Brand Reality in Chapter 1 readers are told what the word “Authenticity” means in its most common usage. A key feature of the new brand reality is that authentic brands become “worthy of acceptance, authoritative, trustworthy, not imaginary, false or imitation, conforming to an original” (p. 15). Authenticity for iconic brands draws on consumers' imagination, collective myths, and stories which they listen to, often adapt, and relate to others.

Chapter 2 further defines authenticity, how it is determined, why consumers look for it, consciously or unconsciously, and how it can easily be undermined. The recent global financial meltdown will have shaken people's trust in many once respected organisations and their brands – the managers of which would do well to read Beverland's thoughts on how marketers build and destroy brands!

Chapter 3 explains what is often behind and underpins the equity in iconic brands and tells the stories behind ten authentic brands. Chapter 4 then introduces the concept of “Artisanal”' amateurs, something which may shock academic writers (They may just ignore this section!) because it describes how old‐fashioned craft traditions may be more important than sophisticated modern marketing techniques; many iconic brand creators are not formally trained and many claim not to do marketing anyway. People like Steve Jobs do not do marketing? Of course they do but they do not call it that. They love what they do, and it shows. Some critics may say they are lucky, but these artisans seem to be more than lucky. They just ““Want to have fun” (p. 77). They have their successes and their failures. Clearly, for iconic brands, the successes far outweigh the failures.

The good sense of “Sticking to your roots” is underscored in Chapter 5. Managers of iconic brands let them evolve with their communities, not forgetting their origins or the people who really underpin their brands. This concept of community is important: It is not literally the country, state or neighbourhood a brand lives in; rather, it is a complex interaction which creates meaning “derived from three sources – consumers, marketers and social forces” (p. 18) and myths and stories are created about the brand not just by the marketers, but people and groups from across the brand's community. Another shock for dyed‐in‐the‐wool marketing theorists comes in Chapter 6 where the idea is floated that iconic brands can develop from production‐oriented origins. While the textbooks say that marketers should find out what consumers want and deliver it to them, consumers usually do not know what they want until it is presented to them. By immersing themselves in their markets the creators of iconic brands watch, talk with and listen to their brand community:

Because the products or service breakthroughs that characterise iconic brands can swear with hand on heart that their creations derive from intuition, inspiration or the creative spirit – powerful markers of authenticity. In contrast, market tested products will always be tainted by commercially motivated compromise […] (p. 123).

The refusal to follow a conventional marketing product development path will have readers nodding in agreement when they read:

We can imagine what would have happened if Apple had used focus groups prior to developing the iPod […] we would have got a mini disc player with more functions and a better battery life – and consumers would not have bought it (p. 124).

The importance of an iconic brand's connection with its community is discussed in Chapters 8 and 9, and it extends in to the marketer's organisation so that it exhibits features that underpin the reality of the brand's origins. This ensures that people who value the brand know that the essence of the brand, based on stories they hear or maybe invent for themselves, is based on reality and not the invention of a disconnected advertising agency copy writer. Well, that was the meaning this reviewer took from these chapters. Further, top management needs to care about their brand community, not become disconnected like the CEOs of the US Motor Industry whose primary concern in the recent recession was “Flying to Washington in private jets to beg for taxpayer bailouts to fund [their] “performance” bonuses” (p. 174). No doubt in a future edition of this book Beverland will recall how, in 2010 the CEO of BP, facing his Brand's greatest challenge ever as it flooded the Gulf of Mexico with crude oil, said that his top priority was to ”Get his life back'! This undermining of the brand's authenticity as an organisation that cares for the environment was reflected in the company's share value, a lot of which evaporated overnight. If only the oil had!

Finally, Chapter 10 summarises what a reader may have learnt from reading this book. “The seven habits of iconic brands” identified are:

  1. 1.

    story telling;

  2. 2.

    appearing as artisanal amateurs;

  3. 3.

    sticking to your roots;

  4. 4.

    loving the doing;

  5. 5.

    market immersion;

  6. 6.

    being at one with the community; and

  7. 7.

    indoctrinating staff into the brand cult.

This is a useful addition to the literature because it relates up to date stories based on conversations with people who have “done it” as well as reports of people's research to give a richer deeper view of the reality of what makes for iconic brands. The final chapter, Chapter 10, is entitled “What can you do?” and the answer is: a lot, and this book will help you.

Michael Beverland's book is a very easy read but that is not to say that it is in any way superficial. He combines the ability to tell a good story with the necessary substantiation and provenance for what he tells his reader.

Students at all levels, teachers and practitioners will find it a refreshing and informative source of insights.

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