To be a truly authentic brand, you need a number of characteristics. For starters, you can't be an authenticity leader without being a brand that is quite widely known. This is essentially the first law of branding: you need to have visibility and presence in a market.

But people knowing your brand and having a grasp on who you are and what you do isn’t all it takes to be truly authentic. You also need to provide a sense of value for customers, whether that’s monetary value or being appreciated for doing something well in people's lives, ideally, to a level where people would struggle to live without your brand or products.

In addition to that, brands need a sense of vitality to grab people’s attention and keep it. Today’s brands need personality and that is increasingly differentiating brands in the market.

And more and more these days, people are choosing brands that care about more than just making money, brands that have some sort of greater purpose beyond commercial success.

Authentic brands cannot be one dimensional. They need to be multifaceted. Bearing this in mind, the attributes of authentic brands can be boiled down to four key drivers:

  • Visibility
  • Value
  • Vitality
  • Virtue


To be a true authenticity leader, brands need to have enough visibility in market that when people hear the name, they know what the brand does. Ideally, the brand needs to be top of mind in terms of serving a particular role in people's lives. For example, if you have a hardware job, you think of Mitre 10, or if you have a need for transport, you think of Uber.

But brands cannot simply be visible. Brands that are will eventually experience a decline in market share – it doesn’t pay to simply be famous for being famous. The big banks are good examples of this. People know the names but they can't tell you much beyond that. That's the trade-off for any brand, regardless of the category it is in. If all that’s going for the brand is visibility, over time they'll just end up a sort of hollow icon. They may be well known, but they won't have a vibrant meaning or personality.


Value is about providing good value for the customer's money on one level, but it's also about being valuable in someone’s life. Take the example of chocolate brand Whittaker’s. Whittaker’s has a particular kind of value in people’s lives: it represents a treat or a special moment and if that was to be taken away, there would be a genuine sense of loss, particularly for die-hard chocolate fans.

This type of value ties directly to brand loyalty. What brand doesn’t want to be valued emotionally by people as the one that does a very specific job for them above all others?


As people shift more toward brand experience, they are gravitating toward brands that are colourful, new, novel, interesting and vibrant. They have a personality that stands out which helps the brand to differentiate itself.

Vitality is particularly helpful in crowded categories where products don’t see a lot of innovation or difference. By putting a unique face on the brand, it provides an edge. This is an approach a number of modern brands have taken. However, just being young and new doesn't necessarily place you in the high-performance zone.

A brand such as Lewis Road Creamery is a poster child for vitality through its efforts to develop prestige, even though the business has niche volumes. Brand leadership once correlated with market share; now niche brands such as Lewis Road and Icebreaker increasingly redefine markets by bringing vitality to tired categories.


Today, people are increasingly choosing brands on more than functional performance. The sense that businesses care about something other than making money and instead have a greater purpose can be a truly meaningful point of difference.

There’s plenty of research to suggest the younger generations – millennials and Gen Z – have a greater focus than ever on brands that stand for something. They want to identify with businesses that have values they can personally get behind. They want to buy into brands that mean something and represent more than a label.

This authenticity attribute is tied strongly to brand identity, the notion of an organisation having robust beliefs or views. What’s perhaps most interesting is how these four drivers come together to unlock leadership for brands in certain categories.

Based on Principal's yearly Brand Alpha study to find out what it takes to become an authentic brand leader in New Zealand.