You’ve probably been hearing the word “authenticity” quite a lot recently. The term is used often in business and marketing advice as something your business needs to aspire to, and we hear that consumers are apparently thirsty for authenticity.

A basic definition of authentic is that it means being genuine and true to yourself, but what exactly is meant by authenticity when it comes to business and marketing? Research published by The Journal of Business Research concludes that “consumers see three dimensions to brand authenticity: heritage, sincerity and commitment to quality.” It seems there has recently been an increasing demand for brand honesty, genuine and sincere customer interaction, and a proven track record for quality. If a business can succeed in these areas, then it is on the right path to enjoying a extensive and loyal customer base.

“Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity” ~ Coco Chanel

There is a hypothesis that this demand for a more genuine, honest business began following the global financial downturn in 2008. It certainly makes sense that, following a catastrophic event like this, consumers would look for businesses with more transparency, and that they would have become more cynical in response to more traditional marketing. After all, how many businesses can truly claim to be the best?

However, it seems it is not just a knee-jerk reaction. When looking at the millennial consumer, whose demographic covers around a quarter of the current population and a far greater proportion of the buying power, this group has vastly varying reactions to marketing and advertising than the previous generation.

In essence, this group, which encompasses the younger half of the working population, doesn’t particularly pay attention to traditional forms of advertising. Instead, they trawl social media and review blogs for the best products. In fact, they have very high expectations when it comes to a business’s authenticity.

According to Forbes, “They want to engage with brands on social networks. Sixty-two percent of millennials say that if a brand engages with them on social networks, they are more likely to become a loyal customer. They expect brands to not only be on social networks, but to engage them.”

Because social networks are so interactive between business and consumer, they are seen as the best place to see the true face of the business, its identity, its reputation for quality, its sincerity towards its customers. Consumers are looking for businesses that seek an honest, open, two-way relationship with them.

It is for this reason why brands, more than ever, need to know and understand not only what they stand for, but also their potential consumers inside out. Businesses need to work more than ever on empathy and honesty, and must seek to develop cultural intelligence in their employees.

Authenticity is Magnetic

By developing their authenticity through paying attention to quality of service, transparency and sincerity, businesses can in turn build meaningful relationships with their customer base. This has the effect of elevating the business to a position of influence, gives it a solid identity, and will even, through the power of social media, turn its customers into advocates for the business.

Beware that developing authenticity in this way also means being open to criticism. This is a positive thing, however, since it can be a powerful learning opportunity, and dealing with criticism in a head-on but positive way further increases customer perception of transparency and honesty.

My advice for entrepreneurs: Hold your head up high, be sure of your values, be true to yourself, and be rightfully proud of what you do; the customers will follow.

Salma El-Shurafa is an experienced Executive Coach and founder of The Pathway Project. She is a Professional Certified Coach by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach from The Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and a graduate of CTI’s Co-Active Leadership program.