How important are founders to brand authenticity?
A university study finds that, although brand essence, or authenticity, ideally comes through an association with the creator, one other proxy to measure essence is the recipe and manufacturing process.
The study from the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business explored the brand essence of Ghirardelli Chocolate, whose founder, Domenico Ghirardelli, died in 1894.
Survey respondents were asked what kind of Ghirardelli Chocolate they would consider more authentic. One made:
- Using Mr. Ghirardelli’s original recipe at a manufacturing plant built in 2000; or,
- At Ghirardelli’s original 1852 factory in San Francisco with a different recipe.
More respondents went with the original recipe manufactured at a new plant because Mr. Ghirardelli developed that recipe and the process himself.
“Consumers are telling us that essence can be transferred from the creator by using the process they developed, which is a codification of the founder’s essence,” said Chelsea Galoni, assistant professor of marketing at Tippie, in a statement. “It connects the product to the founder and represents what the founder intended.”
Past research has explored how founders’ stories influence consumer brand perceptions.
Researchers from Boise State University and Virginia Tech in 2019 concluded that sharing a founder’s stories promotes engagement and can enhance the authenticity judgments of a brand. Specifically, stories that highlight how a founder was motivated by self-transcendence, or interested in the welfare of others, enhance brand authenticity more than a founder motivated by self-enhancement.
The researchers added, “Understanding the values of the target market also plays a role: consumers higher in self-transcendence values are particularly more receptive to stories featuring those values.”
In his book, “The Authentic Brand,” Chris Rosica, president of Rosica Communications, writes that the “combination of quality, caring, accountability, and human touch” constitutes an Authentic Brand” and offered Dave Thomas, the late founder of Wendy’s, as an example of a founder using storytelling to drive authenticity.
Mr. Rosica wrote, “There are many faceless companies that can be successful by utilizing the techniques of authenticity; telling a compelling story, and having the founders of the company or the principals of the organization be the face/s of that company.”
- The Inventors May Be Long Dead, but Consumers Still Crave Their Essence – University of Iowa Tippie College of Business
- It’s About Our Values: How Founder’s Stories Influence Brand Authenticity – Boise State University
- Who’s Telling Your Story? – Rosica Communications
- Are brands and retailers defining authenticity on their own terms or consumers’? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think about telling founder stories as a tool for elevating brand authenticity? Which companies stand out for using their founder’s legacy to drive value messaging?