IDEAS

Why authenticity matters for
brands in the built environment

It’s no secret that today’s consumers are more discerning than ever.

With research showing only one third of people actually trust the brands they buy or use, authenticity has emerged as a powerful new currency to build and maintain customer loyalty. More than just an attractive add-on, brand authenticity and integrity are now at the fore of consumer decision making – with 86% of people citing this as an important consideration in choosing what brands they like and support (Stackla 2019).

While businesses are receiving this message loud and clear, there still seems to be a lot of confusion around how to successfully embed and communicate authenticity effectively. Having become somewhat of a buzzword, what does real authenticity mean for contemporary brands and why is it so important to incorporate this at each stage of the customer journey?

At its core, brand authenticity means delivering on what you say you will do – whether that’s the promises made around the quality, durability and function of a product, the delivery of a service, or wider social and environmental commitments. It is one thing to engage customers with an emotive brand purpose and vision, but another thing entirely to demonstrate this commitment with honest actions.

At its best, authenticity helps to build long-term trust, relationships and emotional investment from customers or end users. When we know something is authentic or true, we feel more comfortable – which, in the context of human decision-making, means we’re more likely to believe in and engage with that brand.

Placing this human experience at the centre, we believe that no touchpoint is more important in demonstrating authenticity – or exposing inauthenticity – than a brand’s representation in the built environment. Much like a marketing strategy, a brand’s physical presence must reflect its core purpose, beliefs, values and everyday actions.

Ultimately, this comes down to the fact that we are innately social and emotional creatures. The built environment is where we connect most meaningfully with a person, place, brand or product, and therefore presents the greatest opportunity for brands to demonstrate they are who they say they are. A brand might have articulated a vision that perfectly speaks to the aspirations of its customer base or curated an excellent digital presence, but if these services don’t translate in the built environment this is the negative experience customers are likely to remember most strongly.

This is where ‘whole of journey’ design is so important – establishing not only brand consistency across both digital and physical channels, but also identifying what experience a brand is trying to project and where this might be falling short.

In all our projects at Diadem, we adopt a user-centric approach to build a holistic understanding of the customer journey. Breaking down each stage to find where there might be friction or a disconnect between a brand’s words and actions, we’re then able to offer creative solutions through design.

For us, authenticity means providing wayfinding and signage solutions that ultimately enable our clients to consistently deliver on the promises and claims they make. Looking at an organisation’s brand and business strategy at the highest level, we search for ways that this can be realised in the built environment through good design.

In 2016, Diadem was engaged by Uniting Aged Care over a 4 year period to assist in the rebranding of the not-for-profit organisation’s 260 vehicles and 300-plus sites across New South Wales and the ACT. With far-reaching services from aged care and independent living through to early learning and chaplaincy, Uniting required signage that would improve and optimise for a diverse range of user experiences including residents, staff, visitors and contractors.

Taking a user-centric approach, we identified that providing familiarity and inclusivity in the design would be a key part of making Uniting’s residents feel comfortable and catered for in this environment. Pragmatically, clear legibility and quick access for emergency services was also essential in ensuring residents felt safe. While the emergency-specific directional signage Diadem created in response to this wasn’t ground-breaking in its design, it was carefully considered – with functionality for the end-user (emergency responders) of critical importance.

This was ultimately put to the test in 2019, when a blind resident at one of Uniting’s retirement centre’s became trapped in his room during a fire, while the rest of the building was evacuated. Uniting’s new signage was instrumental in guiding police officers quickly through the building to rescue and save the resident.

This was a design that went beyond simple signage – placing the human experience at the centre of an intuitive, considered wayfinding solution that emphasised the importance of universal design. By building an understanding of how users physically and emotionally engaged with the space, Uniting could ensure it delivered on the service and safety that is at the centre of their brand.

As this case study shows, authenticity means reliability. By ensuring that your brand’s manifestation in the built environment not only aligns with your wider brand strategy but purposefully enhances the customer or user experience, brands can effectively demonstrate their commitment to providing an authentic and reliable service or product.

Like any brand strategy, this starts with pinpointing your overarching vision, values and purpose and considering how these can be communicated at each customer touchpoint. Embedding authenticity in this way means building customer trust and understanding, while safeguarding the integrity of your brand for the long-term.

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