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What Consumers Mean When They Say Products Are Authentic

What Consumers Mean When They Say Products Are Authentic

Joseph C. Nunes, Andrea Ordanini and Gaia Giambastiani

Consumers crave authenticity. Yet marketing itself typically is considered inherently inauthentic. Hence, firms must learn to understand, manage, and excel at rendering authenticity that consumers find credible. The critical question is: how? Marketers who wish to deliver authentic consumption experiences would benefit from guidance regarding ways to enhance consumers’ assessments of the authenticity of their offerings. The starting point is knowing what consumers mean when they talk about authenticity, a nebulous concept.

A new study in the Journal of Marketing defines authenticity as a holistic consumer assessment determined by six types of loosely related judgements involving: accuracy, connectedness, integrity, legitimacy, originality, and proficiency. Accuracy refers to the source being transparent and reliable in what is conveyed to consumers. Connectedness describes feelings of engagement and at times a sense of transformation. Integrity means the source is intrinsically motivated, while acting autonomously and consistently. Legitimacy refers to conformity in terms of adhering to norms, standards, rules, or traditions. Originality refers to a product or service standing out from the mainstream. Finally, proficiency refers to the display of skills, craftsmanship, and/or expertise in the offering.

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Knowing that judgments of accuracy, connectedness, integrity, legitimacy, originality, and proficiency comprise the holistic consumers’ assessments of authenticity, managers can more efficiently and effectively deduce actionable strategies in terms of positioning specific to their markets. From this research, practitioners can also tell which of these six judgments to emphasize and when in their customer marketing and communications. For example, companies selling hedonic products (characterized by affective and sensory experiences) should see relatively large returns perception-wise from emphasizing proficiency because it matters more for hedonic products than for utilitarian products (cognitively driven, instrumental, and goal-oriented). The mattress company Tuft & Needle (what is more hedonic than sleep?) leverages this concept by making it very clear on their website that they believe in “quality craftsmanship without the gimmicks.” 

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From: Joseph Nunes, Andrea Ordanini, and Gaia Giambastiani, “The Concept of Authenticity: What it Means to Consumers,” Journal of Marketing.

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Joseph C. Nunes is Professor of Marketing and Joseph A. DeBell Endowed Professor in Business Administration, University of Southern California, USA.

Andrea Ordanini is BNP Paribas Professor of Marketing and Service Analytics, Bocconi University, Italy.

Gaia Giambastiani is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands.