Authentically inauthentic

How do customers and others experience brands as “authentic” — or “inauthentic”? Personal authenticity has its own set of rules. What about “Brand Authenticity?”

A post that showed up on my feed today had me thinking about the subject. Mark Pollard wondered aloud about authenticity:

When we talk about authenticity… two things: 1. What are we even talking about? 2. It’s a very low bar, like “Don’t steal things”

If we’re not talking about authenticity for a single individual, but instead that gooey, amorphous thing called a “brand”, how is “authenticity” rendered and judged?

How the heck is a living, breathing collection of actions and artifacts created by a range of individuals in an organization — each with their own set of personal principles and beliefs — judged as authentic or inauthentic?

Being an “authentic” brand may be table stakes in an “experience economy” these days (the equivalent to “quality” in the previous “service economy” if you subscribe to a Pine&Gilmorean view of history) — the ground floor equivalent of “Don’t steal” — but man, are there are a lot of opportunities for things to go sideways.

A Mapping of an “Authenticity Journey”

Let’s take a look at an “Authenticity Journey.” Ha. We’ll start with founding principles and map the journey of those principles as they twist and turn inside and outside the organization and finally end up as an experience that a customer judges as “authentic.” Every step is required to be true for the customer to experience the brand as “authentic.”

  1. Founding leaders and/or the history of the business and its products have core principles and beliefs worth being judged against.
  2. Decision makers know what these core principles and beliefs are.
  3. They can clearly communicate them to their organization.
  4. The individuals in the organization value the principles and beliefs enough to hear and internalize them.
  5. The individuals take actions day in and day out in alignment with those principles and beliefs.
  6. The principles and beliefs are also communicated to the market and customers.
  7. The principles and beliefs actually matter enough to customers and those in the market (otherwise they won’t care enough to judge the brand as authentic or inauthentic in the first place.)
  8. Customers experience the organization’s actions / artifacts as being in alignment with those principles and beliefs. Yay!
  9. You’re brand is judged authentic (today). It does things (today) that are seen as true to its principles.
  10. Individuals in the organization know when folks are experiencing their actions / artifacts as inauthentic.
  11. Individuals in the organization know how to fix those experiences.
  12. Maybe this ridiculous 10-point laundry list, where each step is an opportunity to veer offtrack into inauthenticity, helps explain why “experiencing a brand as authentic” is as rare as it is.

And maybe it helps highlight the real skill and value brands possess when they are creating and executing on a brand authentic enough to be worth raving about.

Improving Your Chances of Delivering Authenticity

So how do you improve your chances of delivering well on principles you ask the world to judge you by? How do you improve your “authenticity chances”?

  1. True. Take a stand on principles and beliefs that are not slapped on like a Band-Aid as a result of an uninvested, checkbox branding exercise (Lord, can those be soullessly inauthentic, ineffectual, dust-collecting documents). Surface principles and beliefs that are built into the DNA of the brand, its people, its products and its customers (that yes, may be surfaced via thoughtful branding exercises, some zen moments of clarity — and talking with lots of customers over time 😀 ).
  2. Valuable. If you’re going to take a stand on principles and beliefs, take a stand on principles and beliefs that matter greatly to those inside and outside the organization. This requires an understanding of your organization and its vision as well as a deep understanding of your customers and what they find valuable in general and in your products and brand. Talk with them. A lot.
  3. Simple. Take a stand on principles and beliefs that are simple to communicate, to understand and to advocate in support of. Or, figure out how to make complex principles and beliefs simple to communicate, to understand and to advocate in support of. Don’t stop. Keep refining it until it’s as simple and powerful as it can be.
    And go live it.

Thoughts? Let’s chat on Twitter @natguy.

(This post was first published on LinkedIn. Suave Elvis impersonator photo by Greg Ortega.)

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