Authenticity is about keeping it real. From a brand perspective we expect our favourite brands to practice what they preach. We expect them to stand for something and be true to that purpose. Disney, Lego, Johnson & Johnson and Greenpeace are examples of brands with a purpose.
The attention on authenticity is a reaction to the heightened expectations we have of businesses and brands. It’s not 1959 anymore so we’re more sceptical of advertisements that tell us how to improve our lives. 2014 audiences are savvy, they’re informed and they talk. People are also trying to make sense of what’s real in an environment where plastic surgery and Botox offer ways to be ‘better’ versions of ourselves. Today it’s easy to wear a mask and much harder to take it down. As we become more enlightened, we appreciate that vulnerability is good for us and good for business.
In our childhood we’re told to be ourselves in order to make friends. Then we go to work for businesses that don’t stand for anything, that are purely profit motivated and devoid of any soul. It’s hard to connect with these businesses and stay committed. These businesses attract a revolving door of talent because they don’t stand for anything beyond the dollar. They find it hard to attract the right people to share in a mission that doesn’t exist.
In Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras explain that companies with a higher purpose stay stable when market conditions become unfavourable. A decade later, Simon Sinek makes a strong case for finding your purpose in his book Start with Why. Don’t fake it until you make it. Just define your purpose and your business will have a real mission, no pretending required. Your business will find its real friends.
Brand relationships are personal
Brands become our favourites because of their authenticity, not their image. When brands reveal something of themselves they make it easy for us to connect with them. We want them to be genuine so we can have a relationship with them. We assess their values against our own and decide if there’s a match.
Strong brands are clear on their vision, mission and values. In service based businesses, people deliver the service and personify the brand. When employees understand your purpose this is reflected in their dealings with your customers and each other. Profits will come if your purpose is customer centric. Customers support the brands that support them.
There’s no mistaking it’s personal. That’s why we get so annoyed when brands let us down.
High stakes fakes
Popular culture loves celebrities. This has allowed celebrities to build their fortune on their personal brands, via endorsements and products attached to their identity. It’s a high stakes game for any celebrities that purport to be something that they’re not. If they create an image that’s proven untrue, the fallout is huge. Tiger Woods is a perfect example. He was content to accept sponsorship dollars and endorsements based on the public image he stage managed. The private Tiger ran contrary to that and when it became public it was his undoing. No one likes a fake. Especially one that grows rich at our expense.
Everyone makes mistakes
The good news though is that it’s possible to bounce back from a mistake. A business can go from being inauthentic to authentic. It’s a decision they make. The businesses that manage their mistakes, say they stuffed up and make good, are forgiven. Those that try to cover up mistakes don’t fare that well. Customers express their opinions quickly and loudly via the social channels. Ouch.
Keep it real
We want brands with integrity. It’s easier to attach to the brands that make us feel good and look good. When we buy a service or a product, we want to make sure the brand we support reflects well on us. Brands are an expression of ourselves; they connect us to likeminded people. We'll talk about them and refer them to others if we like them. We use our brands to find the tribe where we can be real too. We want to do business with our real friends.