The Treadmill Test and the 3Cs of an Authentic Brand

Be authentic.” We have all heard it before. This statement, sadly, ranks among one of the most over-used pieces of advice for brands. But what does it really mean?

I saw a treadmill.

A few days ago, as I was scrolling through my Instagram feed, I noticed something terribly worrying. A fitness influencer I follow was endorsing a fitness company (no surprise there), but it was the product he was pushing that bothered me.

It was a treadmill.

Why am I so bothered, you might ask. You see, this influencer happens to originally endorse (and still do) machine-free functional training. The kind of fitness philosophy that I subscribe to. His photo with the treadmill bothered me because it was a betrayal of what he and I both believed in.

He is now, in my eyes, inauthentic. And thus everything and anything he now ‘supports’ faces not just skepticism, but outright suspicion, on my part.

The Treadmill Guy, I believe, represents what it means to be inauthentic.

The three Cs of authentic brands.

I believe that for a brand to be truly ‘authentic’, it must embody and publicly express what I would like to call the Three Cs of authenticity:

Clarity. It must be very clear why a brand deserves our money, brains, and time. Treadmill Guy used to be authentic for me because it was clear and present what he stood for: a certain philosophy on fitness and wellness. Everything he said and did up to that Instagram photo was clear to me; I believed him and I was ‘loyal to his brand’ because I could relate to what he believed in. The message he was telling the world – through online content and offline actions – all told the same, exact thing.

Commitment. It must be a conscious point of action to commit to the message we want to tell the world. As I would often say when it comes to making decisions: “Are my chips all in?” It’s about deciding to stay true to the soul of the brand no matter what. If the brand itself isn’t willing to believe in why it does what it does, why would we – the audience/consumers?

Consistency. It must be a complete and cohesive experience from A to Z. There are gold standards for this: Apple, Under Armour, GoPro. A brand’s message to the world, in my opinion, should be 100% consistent with why it exists in the first place and what meaningful role it wants to play in people’s lives. Treadmill Guy, I think, existed to inspire us to make time for fitness in our daily lives without the help of machines, but he lost his message consistency by promoting a means that directly contradicted what he (once) stood for.

Your brand may have already a strong message to the world in place. Are you willing to throw that away – and risk losing the trust of your audience and consumers – for a shiny, new treadmill?

Hack Sheet:

  • Be clear. Is what you stand for clear and present, and properly communicated to the world?
  • Be committed. Are your chips all in, when it comes to your meaningful purpose to play in people’s lives?
  • Be consistent. Does everything you do provide a complete and cohesive experience?

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