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Redefining Brand Authenticity in Content Marketing

RJ Licata, Sr. Director of Marketing

Key Points

  • Brands have long understood authenticity as an important part of building consumer trust.
  • As AI and technology rapidly evolve, consumers have become more skeptical of authentic content marketing as a strategy.
  • Authentic content marketing must be reconceptualized in response to today’s empowered consumer era.

At the close of 2023, Merriam-Webster awarded ‘authentic’ the coveted spot of Word of the Year, ironically alongside ‘deepfake’ and a few other honorable mentions. If you’ve been contemplating what authenticity means in an increasingly artificial reality, you’re not alone.

As AI innovation booms and information overwhelm feeds consumer skepticism, authenticity can feel more like an abstract ideal than something rooted in marketing reality.

“Authentic has a number of meanings including ‘not false or imitation,’ a synonym of real and actual; and also ‘true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.’ Although clearly a desirable quality, authentic is hard to define and subject to debate—two reasons it sends many people to the dictionary.”

— Merriam-Webster

At a time when “the line between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ has become increasingly blurred” — but more important than ever to identify — what does it mean for a brand to be authentic? What does authentic content marketing look like?

In our industry’s core pursuit of connecting with audiences, brands now face their ultimate test.

Brand authenticity as a marketing strategy

For many leading brands, authenticity is a crucial marketing strategy for earning consumer trust. Brands define and build an authentic content marketing strategy around strong brand storytelling and specific content marketing practices that help shape and distribute those stories effectively.

According to the New York Times, “Authentic content marketing attempts to show buyers what your brand is really all about in a way that helps them form strong and loyal connections with your brand.”

Known for its environmental stewardship, Patagonia is a pillar example of a brand that exceeds in authenticity with its target audience of outdoor enthusiasts, which is evident across several aspects of its marketing strategy.

In practice, this translates to brands treating authenticity like an asset, and focusing largely on how they’re perceived in the market and sending signals to consumers accordingly. 

As such, authentic content marketing typically prioritizes the following brand attributes:


As Merriam-Webster states, “authentic is often connected to identity.” 

By establishing a set of brand values and other aspects of a strong brand identity, brands align themselves with features typically reserved for personhood. This unlocks the ability to connect with consumers on a more emotional level.

In authentic content marketing, a strong, consistent brand identity with a mission and vision beyond profit alone allows consumers to empathize with, relate to, and ultimately trust your brand enough to make repeat purchases or recommend you to others.


In the pursuit of authentic content marketing, brands also typically strive (although not always successfully) to signal a certain level of credibility.

In the case of a 2019 Northface campaign, Northface attempted to leverage the public stature of Wikipedia for free promotion on Wiki pages and communities they knew their audience visited.

As Forbes contributor Richard Kestenbaum writes, “[The campaign] captures the elusive ‘authenticity’ that every other advertiser is seeking to associate with their brand by having the credibility of Wikipedia.”

While the brand didn’t intend to be insincere with its strategy, the move was met with backlash. Ultimately, it did more to hurt Northface’s credibility than to help, and the photos were removed.


In addition to a consistent, credible, and compelling brand story, authentic content prioritizes ethical marketing attributes like accuracy and transparency. This commitment to accuracy and openness enhances the brand’s integrity, establishing a foundation of trust with its audience.

Authenticity in content marketing is traditionally treated as a brand-dictated strategy that aims to connect primarily through shared values, and credible, ethical, and consistent communication of those values.

However, as studies show, while “brand authenticity is now believed to be a core asset in mainstream marketing, confusion surrounds the nature and usage of the term.” If world-class brands already acknowledge authenticity in their branding and content marketing is key to building trust, why does success remain a challenge?

Authentic content is in the eye of the consumer

To begin answering this question, perhaps we should consider how consumers define authenticity. What do they consider authentic content marketing?

Well, these days? Not much.

As technology and AI advance, today’s consumers are increasingly skeptical and discerning. They know all the world’s a stage and they’re not buying the act.

“Ironically, with ‘authentic content creators’ now recognized as the gold standard for building trust, ‘authenticity’ has become a performance.” 

Merriam Webster

In a recent study, researchers considered authenticity through the lens of consumer perspectives, defining it as “a holistic consumer assessment” shaped by what the study calls six “component judgments.” How important each component is varies depending on the consumer’s specific context. 

The six judgments include:

  • Accuracy — How transparent and reliable a brand is perceived in representing itself and its products/services to customers.
  • Connectedness — How engaged, familiar, or even transformed a customer feels by a brand or its offerings.
  • Integrity — How much a brand seems to be consistently and autonomously motivated by intrinsic values rather than just profit.
  • Legitimacy — How well a product or service aligns with accepted norms and rules in the market.
  • Originality — How a product or service differentiates itself from others without unnecessary extras.
  • Proficiency — How much of an expert a brand is considered to be.

Outside the specific “judgments,” this framework reconceptualizes authenticity as a consumer preference rather than a brand asset or content marketing strategy.

This reflects a broader shift in how authenticity is conceived as a marketing concept.

Up to this point, what authentic content marketing looks like has been dictated by brands. They craft their image, narrative, and messaging so they can claim an authentic identity in a brand-driven approach.

But as the study suggests, authenticity is something that consumers interpret and value based on their preferences and experiences, rather than a trait that a brand can assert about itself. 

In other words, it’s a subjective, dynamic, consumer judgment that can change based on their expectations, cultural shifts, and other factors.

From authentic content marketing to authentic connection

While the nature of authenticity may change, consumers say it still plays a crucial role in building and maintaining their trust — despite their skepticism of it.

Trust remains the currency of the digital age, and authenticity is the bridge that spans the gap.

Brands are faced with a paradox: despite consumer resistance towards authentic content marketing tactics, brands must still find a way to connect authentically through content to earn trust. 

Rather than a content marketing strategy in its own right, authenticity is perhaps better understood in the context of reception marketing. This form of marketing calls on brands to redefine how they view their relationship with consumers and their role in the greater online community:

  • Where brands match the frequency of their audience and respond accordingly.
  • Where brands are helpful guides and stewards of information.
  • Where brand expertise earns them the role of a primary, trusted source. 
  • Where brands are collaborators in the online community, not owners of it.

In reception marketing, authenticity is achieved when a consumer connects with a brand via content that’s genuinely helpful and concretely valuable beyond a transaction. No longer a static quality owned by the brand, authenticity becomes a fluid concept dependent on consumer perception.

This shift emphasizes authenticity as a dynamic consumer preference, underscoring the importance of a two-way connection between the brand and its audience.

It becomes a way of being in mutual relationship — a pathway for brands to responsibly share online space with consumers and make a greater impact in the process.

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