The best brand design and branding strategy won’t be of much use if the brand promise isn’t trusted. Brand integrity, credibility and authenticity are important, no question. But what exactly do those terms stand for? Here is what academic literature has to say about integer, credible and authentic brands and branding.
- Why perceptions of brand integrity matter;
- The challenge of credible place branding;
- Brand authenticity.
Why perceptions of brand integrity matter
Because brands are as much an open invitation to complain as they are a promise to deliver (Anholt, 2003), the success of a place brand stands and falls with its perceived integrity, that is, the public sentiment of a brand’s proven and trusted ability to fulfill its brand promise (Campelo et al., 2011; Humlen, 2012).
This is particularly relevant where brand promises rest upon a place’s environmental credentials (green brands and sustainability branding).
Credible place branding: no easy task
Active collaboration among key actors, such as the business sector and national, regional and local governments, is needed to leverage from a place brand (Fan, 2005; Giannopoulos et al., 2011; Roper, 2010). As brand ambassadors (Aronczyk, 2008), a country’s citizens and businesses need to act in alignment with the brand. Driven by their own interests, each of those can support or detract from the ambitions of establishing and maintaining a certain place brand (Insch, 2011).
As Roper (2010) has demonstrated, issues arise where brand promises of environmental integrity clash with political agendas that prioritize economic growth and development.
Ultimately, a green brand positioning will be successful in the long-term only if the proclaimed attributes and benefits are perceived as environmentally sound (First & Khetriwal, 2008; Hartmann et al., 2005).
This is easier said than achieved, however, since place and national brands can develop “a life and meaning beyond and, to some extent, independent of that intended by their initiators” (Berthon et al., 2011, p. 45). For example, “a consumer’s knowledge, experience, expectations, beliefs, values and motives…[can]…produce a meaning or an interpretation that may be quite different from the one intended by the producer of the message” (Aitken, Lawson, & Gray, 2008, p. 293).
Further, because place brand images are in the public domain, they can be manipulated and exploited by “any party with an interest…to achieve its own ends” (Fan, 2005, p. 8). In other words, brand images are dynamic, unstable and influenced by factors impossible to control (Morgan, Pritchard, & Piggott, 2002; Murphy, 2010).
The consequences of lost brand credibility are not to be underestimated. As Moilanen and Rainisto (2009) argue, trusted place brands add to the attractiveness of a place’s companies and investment opportunities, its tourism and export industries, provide its citizens a sense of identity and self-esteem, and serve public diplomacy.
In addition, just like the image and reputation of nations and places, the meaning of brands can change and evolve over time (Aitken & Campelo, 2011), not least due to changes in cultural context and language (Berthon et al., 2011), or societal expectations (Roper, 2012).
Branding as a reputation-building measure, then, is essentially a long-term cumulative effort (Anholt, 2007; Roper, 2010), with no guarantee for success.
As Anholt (2010b) stresses, people’s trust and respect of a brand have to be earned by action, not words.
Not only do promotional promises need to be fulfilled in order to achieve credibility and demonstrate integrity, but destinations should also be marketed and branded in a way consistent with the larger place, such as the country of which they form a part.
Campelo et al., 2011
Because people “live, work, and trade almost exclusively among clouds of trust” (Anholt, 2010a, p. 23) and due to the growing distance between buyer and seller, consumers increasingly rely on the credibility and integrity of a brand promise (Anholt, 2010a; Delmas & Burbano, 2011).
If the gap between the projected image and the reality of the customer experience widens, customers smell hypocrisy. Ballantyne and Aitken (2007, p. 366)
Brand authenticity is also crucial for the credibility and integrity of a place brand, as only if local communities identify with it will they be committed to support it (Aitken & Campelo, 2011).
Two important factors in people’s judgement of authenticity are:
1) whether a brand is true to its heritage in the sense that it is connected to time, place and culture; and
2) whether a brand lives up to its espoused values and commitments (Beverland, 2011; Napoli, Dickinson, Beverland, & Farrelly, 2013).
Ensuring authenticity requires “managing the tension between commercial imperatives and the espoused values of the brand” (Beverland, 2011, p. 288). Most importantly, authentic brand stories need to be at one with the local community (Beverland, 2011).
Beverland (2011) summarizes the benefits of authentic brands as follows: “First, consumers desire it. Second, research indicates authenticity increases brand equity. Consumers view authentic brands more favorably. Authentic brands have a higher status among consumers, thus resulting in greater loyalty and price premiums” (p. 269).
Moreover, “authentic brands…often garner more press attention than their size merits, and therefore can increase their awareness at little expense” (Beverland, 2011, p. 271).
Aitken, R., & Campelo, A. (2011). The four Rs of place branding. Journal of Marketing Management, 27(9/10), 913-933. doi: 10.1080/0267257X.2011.560718
Aitken, R., Lawson, R., & Gray, B. (2008). Advertising effectiveness from a consumer perspective. International Journal of Advertising, 27(2), 279-297.
Anholt, S. (2003). Brand new justice: The upside of global branding. Oxford, United Kingdom: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Anholt, S. (2007). Competitive identity: The new brand management for nations, cities and regions. Houndsmills, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan.
Anholt, S. (2010a). Places: Identity, image and reputation. Houndsmills, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan.
Anholt, S. (2010b, April 15). Why ‘nation branding’ doesn’t exist, The Economic Times. Link
Aronczyk, M. (2008). ‘Living the brand’: Nationality, globality and the identity strategies. International Journal of Communication, 2, 41-65. doi: 1932-8036/20080041
Ballantyne, D., & Aitken, R. (2007). Branding in B2B markets: Insights from the service-dominant logic of marketing. The Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing, 22(6), 363-371. doi: 10.1108/08858620710780127
Berthon, P., Holbrook, M.B., Hulbert, J.M., & Pitt, L.F. (2011). Brand manifold: Managing the temporal and socio-cultural dimensions of brands. In M. Uncles (Ed.), Perspectives on brand management (pp. 40-60). Prahran, Australia: Tilde University Press.
Beverland, M. (2011). Brand authenticity. In M. Uncles (Ed.), Perspectives on brand management (pp. 266-290). Prahran, Australia: Tilde University Press.
Campelo, A., Aitken, R., & Gnoth, J. (2011). Visual rhetoric and ethics in marketing of destinations. Journal of Travel Research, 50(1), 3-14. doi: 10.1177/0047287510362777
Delmas, M.A., & Burbano, V.C. (2011). The drivers of greenwashing. California Management Review, 54(1), 64-87. doi: 10.1525/cmr.2011.54.1.64
Fan, Y. (2005). Branding the nation: What is being branded? Journal of Vacation Marketing, 12(1), 5-14. doi: 10.1177/1356766706056633
First, I., & Khetriwal, D.S. (2008). Exploring the relationship between environmental orientation and brand value: Is there fire or only smoke? Business Strategy and the Environment, 19, 90-103. doi: 10.1002/bse.619
Giannopoulos, A., Piha, P.L., & Avlonitis, G.J. (2011). ‘Desti-Nation Branding’: What for? From the notions of tourism and nation branding to an integrated framework. Paper presented at the Berlin International Economics Congress 2011: An international conference on the future of nation branding, tourism and international investments in a globalized world, Berlin, Germany. Link
Hartmann, P., Apoalaza Ibáñez, V., & Forcada Sainz, F.J. (2005). Green branding effects on attitude: Functional versus emotional positioning strategies. Marketing Intelligence & Planning, 23(1), 9-29. doi: 10.1108/02634500510577447
Humlen, A. (2012). Why ‘humanizing’ brands begins with a state of mind. Emotional Branding Alliance Blog. Retrieved March 19th, 2012, from http://emotionalbrandingalliance.com/
Insch, A. (2011). Conceptualisation and anatomy of green destination brands. International Journal of Culture, Tourism and Hospitality, 5(3), 282-290. doi: 10.1108/17506181111156970
Moilanen, T., & Rainisto, S. (2009). How to brand nations, cities and destinations. London, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan.
Morgan, N., Pritchard, A., & Piggott, R. (2002). New Zealand, 100% Pure: The creation of a powerful niche destination brand. Journal of Brand Management, 9(4/5), 335-354. doi: 10.1057/palgrave.bm.2540082
Murphy, P. (2010). The intractability of reputation: Media coverage as a complex system in the case of Martha Stewart. Journal of Public Relations Research, 22(2), 209-237. doi: 10.1080/10627261003601648
Napoli, J., Dickinson, S.J., Beverland, M.B., & Farrelly, F. (2014). Measuring consumer-based brand authenticity. Journal of Business Research, 67 (6), pp. 1090-1098. doi: 10.1016/j.jbusres.2013.06.001
Roper, J. (2010). CSR as issues management. Paper presented at the 60th Annual International Communication Association Conference, Singapore.
Roper, J. (2012). Environmental risk, sustainability discourses, and public relations. Public Relations Inquiry, 1(1), 1-19. doi: 10.1177/2046147X11422147
Sevin, E. (2011). Thinking about place branding: Ethics of concept. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, 7(3), 155-164. doi: 10.1057/pb.2011.15
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