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How To Build An Authentic Brand

The leading marketing gurus of the world express it in different ways, but all agree that the current market is ripe with theories, cases, and success stories centred on human brands. The key words within this growing market are authentic marketing and human brands.

Different Generations: One Voice

Philip Kotler, one of the Grand Old Men of marketing, dubs the phenomenon Marketing 3.0In his book with the same name, he refers to marketing managers and communicators who have “the ability to sense human anxieties and desires.”

The voice of the younger generation is communications guru Seth Godin, who states that “We no longer want to be spammed with information about a product or service. We want to feel a connection to it. Being human is the only way to win.” In his famous golden circle model and TED Talks, Simon Sinek points out that the why upon which a company is founded has to be so strong, that the company can sell any type of product from this platform.

In spite of different generations and starting points, these gifted marketing professionals are all talking about the same thing: Human Brands.

Nothing new is at stake. It isn’t new for companies to seek out authenticity – and it isn’t new for companies to focus on listening to their recipients and admitting to their mistakes rather than spending all their time trying to convince and seduce their customers.

The paradigm shift can be seen in research such as The Lippincott-LinkedIn Brand Power Score, which stands to prove that a more personal, vulnerable, and human approach to communications and branding is well-received by the clientele. Research has shown that consumers have overtaken the predictions set out by experts, making human marketing the undeniable way forward.

The question is this: Can your brand keep up?

The Human Brand

Authentic marketing hasn’t just appeared out of thin air. Various movements and trends have inspired it through the years, such as hyper transparency, co-creation, open-source, crowdsourcing, the learning brand, anti-branding, etc.

But two things have caused the simultaneous marketing paradigm shift:

1. Authentic marketing is an expression of movements – not brands

The phenomenon is centred on companies, through conscious and consistent work on their personalities and responsiveness, becoming wholesome movements rather than flat brands.

PepsiCo Toddy Brand Logo

Take Pepsi’s Brazilian Toddy campaign as an example: 

In Brazil, sales for the Toddy chocolate drink had begun to stagnate and the market began to demand something new. Pepsi already had a mascot, loosely admired on a superficial level, especially by younger consumers. They considered him cute and entertaining, which is how we tend to perceive brand mascots.

Pepsi went out on a limb and made their mascot a spokesperson for an external movement. Pepsi had identified a strong movement on social media. A range of organisations and individuals was carrying this movement forwards, focusing on the prevalence of action-less statements. The movement focused on a nation characterised by corruption as well as broken and empty promises.

Pepsi suggested that the younger generations used online dialogue initiatives to make a statement out of the mascot’s moo every time an empty promise was heard – and the campaign was successful.

In no time, moo because synonymous with cut the crap. The younger generations implemented the moo-message in their conversations, both online and offline. All of a sudden, Toddy was part of a trend. Sales of the product spiked and Pepsi transformed their brand to a movement.

2. A shift from customer to human focus

Rather than focusing on methods for convincing the recipients, such as campaigns, strategies, spins, etc., marketing will gradually begin to focus more on discovering why people make purchases. In the future, this will be a starting point for product development.

This is part of the reason why authentic marketing is about people (not customers) and our most fundamental needs. These needs include:

  • Being heard
  • Feeling understood
  • Finding meaning
  • Showing personality

An example of this second aspect of the paradigm shift can be seen in the American chain Dominos.

At the start of the noughties, Dominos was under fire for food quality, worker satisfaction, and worker enjoyment. Rather than becoming defensive and launching campaigns to convince the customers of the opposite, Dominos chose to implement a humble and responsive crisis strategy. Dominos equipped several of their pizza boxes with QR codes, asking customers to scan the code and take it to Twitter to express their opinions.

This was a successful strategy, as all people feel the need to be heard and feel understood.  

The strategy resulted in the collection of large amounts of data that the company put to good use in a variety of different ways:

Dominos in Times Square
Credit: Fast Company
  • As part of their internal marketing and employee care, Dominos set up computer screens in the areas where pizzas were being produced to provide bakers with real-time feedback. This effectively bridged the gap between employees and customers.

The campaign resulted in an increase of 80,000 Twitter followers in under a month. Other results included a spike in PR attention, an increase in worker satisfaction, an all-around improvement in the reputation of the brand, and an increase in humanity. This is authentic marketing at its finest!

Marketing That Promises Just Enough

There are many wonderful examples of companies opening their eyes to the advantages of authentic marketing. The result is success stories brought about by unique campaigns that sit well with the clientele.

At my MarTech company JumpStory we’ve specialized in curating authentic stock photos & videos, so you don’t have to use all the cheesy-looking ones that are out there. We use AI to get rid of all the inauthentic content, and we focus on two keywords that are also the essence of authentic marketing: humanity & personality.

These cases are meant to inspire you to make the transition into a more responsive and human brand – and with this transition, reap the economic benefits along the way.


One American retail chain was under fire for often running out of their most popular products. In response to this criticism, the company launched a new slogan – and with it, a new mindset: If it is in stock, we have it. This hard-core self-irony had a positive impact on both sales and brand reputation.

In God’s own country, you could come across a Chinese restaurant chain that advertises under the slogan Original food. Poor English. Aside from this humour and self-irony, the punch line articulates a classic issue within the restaurant industry. For a customer seeking authenticity, one of the worst things that can happen is going to an Italian restaurant only to be served by a fully Danish server. What we want is a swarthy beauty to serve our pizzas with passion.

On the other hand, we want to be able to understand every word on the menu and communicate well with the staff. This sometimes proves difficult if authenticity is our priority. The Chinese chain articulates this exact dilemma and takes a stand on the matter.

Both cases are examples of the phenomenon that Trendwatching dubs flawsome. The term is a portmanteau of the words awesome and flawed. In much the same way as Dove’s Real Beauty campaigns, these two American cases show that you can explore your humanity and at the same time limit your promises to those that are truly achievable. In fact, these chains almost promise less than they offer.


In theory, all brands have a unique personality, in much the same way as human beings do. Fact remains that some personalities are more appealing than others. Some stand out in a positive, radical way. In some cases, we can pinpoint the exact reason and in others, it seems to lie just beyond our reach.

Within the world of marketing, there are a few noticeable examples of this phenomenon. Miracle Whip stands out with its We’re Not For Everyone story; Innocent Drinks are famous for their humour and frankness. An example of this personality is the text that can be found on the bottom of the majority of their juice cartons, which reads: Stop looking at my bottom.

Within the USA, most people know of the Southwest Airlines case. The company has adopted a policy that states, that no security announcements should be identical. Go to YouTube and see the example of a young flight attendant rapping his way through the security procedures on-board the aircraft. Notice how this approach is practically met by standing ovation.

Developing And Measuring Humanity

Humanity is one of the few characteristics with the power to move customers, products, and sympathy. It truly pays off within all the right parameters.

In order for humanity to pay off, it has to be put to use in a structured and goal-oriented manner. This helps identify the areas where change is needed and gives us the final push to start the process.

One of the best ways to prompt this work is through these four questions:

  • How can we listen louder?
  • Why does our brand exist?
  • What makes our brand human?
  • Does our brand have character?

Based on reflections and discussions centred on these questions, you can dive into the different parameters and feedback processes that make up human strategy, platform, and communication. Good luck and remember to have fun along the way. 

Jonathan Low

Jonathan Low is one of Denmark’s best known entrepreneurs and business authors. Løw is the co-founder of JumpStory, an AI-based stock-photo platform that has been called the "Netflix of images." JumpStory currently has customers in more than 150 countries and is growing rapidly.

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