We explore what truth and reality means for success in luxury branding in the seventh article in our series of ‘Brand Matters’ for Luxury Briefing: the renowned international magazine for the luxury industry.

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‘I'm sick and tired of hearing things, from uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrites, all I want is the truth, just gimme some truth’.

An angry John Lennon in 1971, and things have only worsened. Fake news. Fake content. Fake products. Fake bodies. Fake personas. Pew Research says it’s going to be a social condition, like crime, that we must constantly monitor and adjust to. Tech used to make things more trustworthy. A photo, (remember Polaroid Instamatics?). To be fair, never the ads. Admen were ranked lower than window salesmen, lawyers, and politicians on the trustometers. I go to a site now and I ask, do I trust it? Who’s funding it, who are the backers, are the writers known, legit. Where is their source, their intel from? How do they make their money? We all go to Google. But we all know it’s SEO’d to the hilt.

In response, we now live in an age where authenticity and truth are enormously influential cultural ideals. We seek truth in public and personal life. We are exhorted to lead authentic lives - as if life itself was not real enough already, to be purposeful, to live the most honest life possible, the life truest to ourselves.

Oh, the pressure of it all! (Suppose a life is led slightly inauthentically, slightly less truthful in a social white lie sort of way, but more fun and better for one’s sanity – and it pays the bills?)

But, in luxury, authenticity is a necessary, worthy, strategic goal. The marketing world, framed by eco-consciousness and the lack of trust we have in so many other areas of our lives, demands transparency. It is a constant struggle and one can see why brands are forever going back to their roots, reinventing or sharpening their better selves, their propositions, their essence, purpose, staying true to a founder’s vision, wondering who they thought they were. Frankly, it’s a tiring business.

But it’s necessary business.  Credibility and honesty help make a brand unique; it’s part of the narrative.

Ideally brands’ history and craftmanship makes customers think and feel the product isn’t false, that it hooks into something deep in our natures. Something that is the very opposite of mass market.

Ideally genuine ideas and messaging might touch people’s hearts and so bind people to a brand emotionally. Consider how powerfully blues or country music emotionally connects with its audience. Three chords and the truth.

At its best, I’d like to think a great hotel, wine, watch or jewellery piece, like art, makes my world better, more comprehensible, and restores it to some glory, some new dawn, no matter how vague or tattered.

Building brand authenticity takes various forms: like using nature to signal quality, commitment, and resources from faraway places using rare raw materials; traditional craftsmanship to signal heritage; and sincere stories of innovations and sustainability. Founder stories are especially important.  By celebrating them, a brand can show consistency and, as a result, trust.

With the rise of Stealth Wealth, we are seeing another way of brands communicating authenticity. Fashion that is ‘real’, with less badging, it is subtle, inconspicuous, hinting at wealth and social status. Clothes murmur, they don’t shout their value.  The wearer makes a statement without having to try to make a statement.

‘Artification’ – the transformation of non-art into Art - of luxury is another way to look authentic. You know how this works: art and luxury have been family since ancient times. Art brings truth, cachet, it offers a high aesthetic pedestal, brings non-commercial values whilst (brilliantly) legitimising its high prices. And it speaks of human craft which is considered more ‘real’. As if on cue, the V&A Museum has just put on a huge new Chanel exhibition exploring the designer’s life and influence.

It all makes perfect sense because the very heart of luxury is its symbolic value over the functional value of its goods and services. It's all about genuineness. The first question we will ask – on seeing, reading or hearing anything – is it ‘Man or Machine’?  Real or Unreal? Is that a real Patek or a counterfeit? Authenticity comes from its emotional and emblematic proof. Luxury costs more because it means more. So, heritage and real craftsmanship, rooted in a specific time period and geographic place counts. You can’t fake it.

Many think authenticity is one of the major challenges for luxury.

But the industry is putting better measures in place to prove a product is what it says it is. For example, companies are working with blockchain tech to authenticate products, which may boost confidence generally, especially in the pre-loved market. In marketing, transparency is of course the holy mantra and we focus on works (e.g. originator’s vision, craftsmanship, build quality, service excellence), but also communication on values/roots, using ‘real’ content, such as user-generated stories, ‘shop-floor stories, or ‘non-photoshop’ pictures.

I feel the issue of real authenticity is deeper with luxury brands than others since the sector, like no other, carries so much expectation. You drive the car, drink the wine, wear the dress, buy the property, brandish the ring, sail the yacht – well, get your crew to, and it’s laden. Freighted with desire to satisfy. Much promise. Much to deliver. Psychologically, financially, its performance, its feel, its aesthetics …the spaces it must fill the buyer internally and externally. But if luxury brands don’t stand up for its own truths, the meaning of the luxury sector will change.

So ‘Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.’  Said Oscar Wilde. And he was right.

Read more from our Brand Matters series:

  • The enduring importance of craftsmanship here
  • Why craftsmanship's vulnerability will win in the tech world here.
  • Creativity: From Origins to AI here
  • Luxury is ageing gracefully here
  • Thinking luxuriously here
  • How distance creates desire here

A little more on Anew - a London-based luxury branding Agency

Anew’s two founders deliver: insights from market research, strategic brand thinking, new brand names, luxury logo design, messaging, online and offline content, coffee table books and luxury brand websites. We help companies increase brand profitability through sharper insights, distinctive propositions, creative ideas and faultless execution.

To get in touch do drop us an email. We'd be delighted to meet for a coffee, either face-to-face or virtually to discuss your brief.

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