Six tactics to build brand authority

Authority sells. When consumers need or want to shop within a category, they go first to the brand they trust as the primary source of expert information and best-in-class merchandise in that category. The brand’s influence will often override even the lure of a similar, lower-priced item available elsewhere.

How do you build brand authority? It starts with meaningful, precisely defined positioning (customer promise) and brand personality statements. These are the compass points that make it possible to demonstrate your brand’s expertise and understanding of its unique bond with the customer.

But you can always take steps to improve your brand’s authority. These six tactics will help you do it.

  1. Let others speak for you. Make ratings count

    Assuming you have a web-based rating system (and if you don’t, get one), are you doing everything possible to make it visible, readily accessible and super easy to use?

    Personalize testimonials

    Testimonial quotes are always powerful, but they’re most effective when they go beyond identifying a customer by name and state. Showing their photos with their proud purchases or the fruits of their labor further boosts believability.

    Quote other authorities

    Positive references or reviews from magazines, newspapers, sites and bloggers rank only below customer reviews when it comes to believable reinforcement of your company’s and products’ authority. Mentions in trusted consumer media that share your specialization, like enthusiast magazines, can be incredibly valuable to your target audience.

    Promote your awards

    Recognition for superiority from authoritative associations or consumer groups that have expertise in your product categories is the marketer’s equivalent of the Oscar.

  2. Showcase your expertise. Take information to the next level

    Your product copy should provide every key piece of information a customer needs to make a purchase decision. Brands with the strongest authority go the extra mile, offering additional information that’s highly relevant and useful, or intriguing and compelling. How?

    Teach it

    Nothing says “expert” louder than live courses taught by your expert brand representatives. Orvis is synonymous with fly fishing, in no small part because of its schools. Other examples include Williams-Sonoma’s cooking classes and demonstrations at retail, and REI’s in-store offer rock-climbing and kayaking classes.

    Help them choose

    Best-in-class marketers actively help consumers make the purchase decision, rather than risking losing a sale by making them do all the work.

    For instance, Lands’ End’s practice of providing “good, better, best” product comparisons not only assists in the consumer’s decision process; it reinforces authority. It shows that the apparel company understands its customers.

    Dell and many other companies in complex product categories provide tools that enable consumers to select the product attributes that are important to them; product comparison charts, for example, can be generated with a few simple clicks.

  3. Leverage design to spotlight your innovation.

    Savvy marketers know that branded product labels reinforce the allure and perceived status of their exclusive products. For example, Patagonia’s label tells the world that the wearer is a serious outdoor adventurer.

    Some companies go further by stratifying their labels to signal that a product is the company’s most elite version. Or they offer elite, expert or would-be expert customers “ultimate” product versions or accompanying VIP services. The Wine Enthusiast, for example, creates custom home cellars in addition to selling wine accessories.

    Using visuals and copy to showcase designers in marketing is another way to underscore expertise and exclusivity. Design Within Reach spotlights its furniture designers, Sundance its jewelry designers, and SmartScrubs the designers of its nurses uniforms.

  4. Show them you know how they’d like to live, or the pay-offs for their purchases. Create an aspirational world

    Multichannel marketers thrive by presenting their products within a media world that reflects how their consumers would like to live. But generating desire strong enough to motivate a purchase at that next pricing/aspirational level is no small feat. Capturing or “staging” the desired lifestyle requires a real understanding of customers’ psychology, combined with serious creative design talent and vision.

    But the brands that master this can establish differentiation and aspirational allure that results in sales and profitability rewards that far outweigh the greater investment in their presentations.

    Frontgate’s success, for example, reflects its skill in reflecting the high-end living space/lifestyle to which its customers aspire as much as the design and quality of its upscale products.

  5. Showcase quality and construction. Show it, don’t just say it

    With the exception of low-cost fashion goods buyers, most people want to feel confident that they’re spending their money on products that offer quality and durability for the money.

    Whether your brand seeks to appeal to consumers who are willing to pay a premium for “the best,” or people who just want a practical, well-made product, there’s real creative skill involved in conveying that your products meet your customers’ quality expectations.

    Copy, including bulleted call-outs of what goes into a product’s quality, is key, but graphics often close the sale. Strong visual tactics include calling out construction highlights with arrows and providing close-up shots of features like reinforced stitching or exceptionally strong material.

    For products that live or die on consumers’ trust in their durability or safety, dramatize those attributes. Showing their ability to stand up to even the most exaggerated or worst-case scenarios can be a great way to demonstrate that superior construction and design expertise set these products apart from the pack.

    Showing consumers how a product and/or its components are manufactured is a great strategy for making consumers “get” your brand’s expertise and commitment to quality. For example, hospital scrubs merchant SmartScrubs details its unique process for dying batik fabrics to ensure their durability and color-fastness.

  6. Differentiate with service. Guarantee it

    An unconditional or superior guarantee underscores confidence in your product’s quality, thereby reinforcing your company’s or brand’s competence, knowledge and authority. Just as important, it conveys trust in your customers’ honesty.

    But you obviously must be prepared to honor that guarantee, and in an efficient, no-hassle customer service environment. That’s true for Lands’ End and L.L. Bean, which make it easy to take them up on their respective “Guaranteed. Period” and “Guaranteed to Last” promises.

    Provide superior selection in your category

    One-stop shopping not only provides convenience; it keeps your customers focused on your company and its offers. Zappos, REI, L.L. Bean and Doctors Foster and Smith are strong examples of companies that keep their customers close and retain their category authority, in part, by making sure that they are meeting all of their customers’ needs.

    Offer free or discounted delivery

    Shipping and handling fees always rank among customers’ top complaints, and smart marketers are responding. Zappos never charged for S&H, L.L. Bean just dropped these charges, and Amazon offers free shipping on orders over $25.

    And if you can, offer round-the-clock service

    If that’s not an option, perhaps you can work on providing a higher level of personal assistance during “normal” business hours to set your brand apart.

Glenda Shasho Jones ( is a New York-based catalog creative and branding consultant.

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