The pressure is on. We expect more for our money, our time, our respect and our vote. Every marketer knows this truth. It is why the concept of authenticity has become increasingly important and why companies, brands and politicians work hard at becoming more unique, persuasive, experiential and interesting by being more “authentic”.
But, is it genuine? Authenticity is another concept bandied about like “value” (http://www.david-edward.com/blog/authentic-versus-added-value) and like value, authenticity is already becoming misconstrued and misused. The hipsters are concerned. The New York Times Style Magazine worries that our “passion for authenticity, diversity and a longing for realness” cannot scale and the result is Brooklyn, the epitome of individuality and anti-homogenization, has become another homogenized global brand. Culturists are concerned. The DOCG — Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (controlled designation of origin guaranteed) was instituted 50 years ago in Italy to protect the authentic production practices and use of genuine ingredients from a particular “zone”. Both concerns, while well-founded, highlight the rare and special qualities of authenticity that we seek. Our chief concern as leaders, owners and legacy creators should be finding it.
Authenticity cannot be created. Authenticity is discovered. Authenticity doesn’t come out of a boardroom brainstorm or resonate out of a headline. Authenticity comes from within. Authenticity is the result of a soul-search; the search of your own, your company’s and your brand’s soul. Authenticity is understanding why companies do the things they do and make the things they do. Creating experiences, making statements and building products that are true to a marketing strategy but inconsistent with corporate behaviour may be genuine in intent but is it authentic? Is a German automobile made in America or Italian fashion made in India, authentic? Or genuine? When a company founder like Chip Wilson of Lululemon (http://www.fastcompany.com/3021367/a-shocking-retrospective-of-the-lululemon-founders-many-offensive-comments) is out of step with the espoused philosophy of his brand is the brand still authentic? Ask the people of Toronto, burning with embarrassment over the Mayor Ford fiasco, how they feel about his “just a regular guy” authenticity now.
We crave authenticity. We search for it. We long for it. We look for it in our jobs, our companies, our brands and our politicians. When we find it we treasure it, support it and then with all our misguided passion, bastardize it. We just want something to believe in, to connect to, to trust and on which we can depend. It is why we are so crushingly disappointed when our companies, brands and politicians, like us, prove to be so tragically human.
The real tragedy is that we are discounting the humanity and individuality that we seem to crave. The New York hipsters claim that their Brooklyn value system and individuality cannot scale. It can. A collection of individuals connected by a similar values system can infinitely scale. Renaissance thinkers called this ethos or culture. Ethos is a Greek word meaning "character" that is used to describe the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology. Ethos also describes the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as seen in its beliefs and aspirations.
Ethos scales. When we understand and connect to the guiding beliefs of our companies and brands and can communicate this to others we build companies, communities and market share, without damaging or homogenizing the authenticity of the ethos. What authenticity or ethos can’t do is be made efficient, pliable or negotiable. Starbucks has proven this to be true. It cannot be diluted to “broaden the tent” without risking current believers. The “residents” of brand Brooklyn can attest to this point.
Authenticity must come from within. Authenticity is the ethos of your company. It is the purpose in your products and services. It is the energy of the connection you make with customers.
Authenticity is felt not promoted. Authentic cultures or ethos run deeper than a vision and values statement. Authentic ethos recognizes, respects and values our individual worth and contribution. Truly authentic products, services and brands ring true with a little humanity in them. Raphael’s studio and the Medici Court understood this implicitly.
Authenticity cannot be created. Only discovered. It will never be efficient but can be very, very effective. Authenticity is not for the faint of heart or the transaction oriented. Authenticity is for the true of heart and the truly individualistic who see the beauty in the unique and the strength of the collective spirit.
“If you are your authentic self you have no competition.” ~ Anonymous
This week consider revisiting your company’s or brand’s or service’s authenticity. Is it genuine? Have you scaled it on your values system or homogenized it in your marketing system? Take some time to explore these questions. You never know what you might discover. And please share your thoughts and the results of your exploration here.
Have a great week.