(and what happens if you don’t)

Your brand’s authenticity has never been more relevant.

According to Zippia, 86% of today’s consumers consider a brand’s authenticity when making a purchasing decision—and these consumers are savvy and research-oriented, so there’s no pulling the wool over their eyes. If you’re not honest about who and what you say you are, today’s modern consumer is going to dig up the dirt and figure it out. Millennials and Gen Z, especially, have little tolerance for posers.

So, let’s start here: What does “brand authenticity” even mean? Simply put, it’s about being genuine and real. When you’re an authentic company or organization, you’re honest and transparent about your mission and values. You walk the talk—and your reputation (how others perceive you) aligns with that as well.

The big question many brands have, though, is how do I do that? How do I show consumers that we’re authentically real and exactly who we claim to be?

Here are five ways to start.

1. Show social proof. Social proof is evidence that customers/donors trust your brand. Think reviews, social media posts, testimonials, case studies and the like. Each piece of social proof is like a little stamp of approval, and they can go a long way in establishing street cred for your brand. The truth is that people are more likely to trust other people’s word over yours because there’s no getting around the fact that you have an agenda—gaining more customers or supporters. Social proof also gives your brand a bit of a human touch. You can use it in your marketing to add authenticity and credibility, on your website, on landing pages, on direct mail, in your social media—wherever people are looking to gather information about your brand. Social proof is a great way to incorporate a bit of brand storytelling.

2. Become a trusted expert in your field. You have valuable knowledge and insight in your industry—has it made its way out of your brain and into your brand’s communication channels? Whether you share insights and education through a blog, on social media, via e-books, in webinars or through speaking engagements, this is a great way to establish credibility and build brand trust. You don’t have to share everything you know, of course—save some of your secrets for paying customers. But you do want to say, “Hey, I’m not faking it.

As an example, take Firespring. We’ve been working with nonprofits for three decades, helping them build an online presence where they can grow their mission and engage with supporters in a seamless way. Thousands of nonprofits have trusted us to do that for them, but it’s not because we have splashy ads and clever slogans; it’s because we have nonprofit, marketing and tech experts who really understand the nonprofit space, inside and out, and how to support organizations of all sizes—and people can see that through the education we offer (much of it free) in our webinars, e-books, blog posts, social media and more.

You don’t have to get cocky about it, but confidently highlighting your expertise and knowledge of your industry or space can go a long way in creating brand trust and authenticity.

3. Be consistent in what you say and do. Does your brand look and sound the same on your website as it does in your email as it does on social media as it does in your digital ads? If the answer is no, you might come across as a brand that’s still trying to figure out who they are—or worse, one that pretends to be something different to different people, which smacks of inauthenticity.

Some tips for creating consistency: Establish a brand voice and stick with it across all channels. Acting jester-y and jokey on social media but then serious and corporate on your website is going to create a disconnect with your audience. Same with your design style, color palette and logo—show up visually the same across all channels and on all platforms. And lastly, consider where you show up. You don’t want to find yourself on a platform or in a space that obviously contradicts your brand’s values. That’s the kind of thing that could scream “inauthentic” pretty loudly to your audience.

4. Create communication that allows for conversation. Remember the old days when brands talked to consumers via TV, print ads and snail mail and consumers couldn’t really talk back? Yeah, those days are long gone.

Modern consumers expect brands to engage in conversation, whether that’s via social media, SMS, email or even in (yikes) the comment section. Marketing is no longer about talking at consumers—it’s about talking with them, in a legit two-way conversation, and if you don’t show up for it, you’re likely to be labeled inauthentic and banned.

Monitor your social media comments. Host webinars or events and engage with attendees. Respond to emails and texts. The more you’re willing to be present, engaging and transparent, the better you’ll build a reputation for being an authentic brand, business or org.

5. Hire according to your brand’s values and mission. Why does this matter? Because you want the people who represent your brand to authentically align with your brand and its purpose. You can train people and help them develop the necessary skills, but you can’t change what they value or who they are at the core. To build brand authenticity, use your brand’s core values to filter job candidates.

Ultimately, people are naturally drawn to leaders, brands, influencers and people who show real human vulnerability, allowing us to connect to them and one another. This is what authenticity is all about: being real with your audience and yourself about who you are, what you value and what your brand stands for out of respect for the people you want to connect with. Anything less these days, and you’ll likely get exposed.

Learn more about how Firespring can help elevate your marketing efforts and boost your brand’s credibility here.