Authenticity: Don’t Fake It

By being natural and sincere, one often can create revolutions without having sought them.

Christian Dior

What does authenticity mean to your brand? Does it mean appealing to an historically core audience, such as old-school bikers? Or does it mean conducting business according to a certain set of values and principles, like closed-on-Sundays?

To find an authentic voice for a brand, the people in the C-suite need to be able to communicate authentically themselves. It will be hard for an MBA to recognize authenticity if they write internal emails in corporate-speak and legalese. Impart the passion of your product without any frills as if the listener was a child.

Take your favorite B2C brands. What it is about their messaging that resonates with you. Why does it resonate? How does it connect with you? Take a product for which you have a particular affinity. Is it a luxury brand? A heavy equipment manufacturer? Custom fly-rods? At some level, you probably believe the brand understands you as a customer. You’d likely bond with a salesperson who is as passionate as your are. That’s an authentic connection.

Consistently About the Future

Some companies think that authenticity means “sticking to our roots” or “getting back to basics”. It isn’t. It’s not about examining the past at all. It should be about the future, the direction you want to go, where you want to take your customer.

Authenticity should be unequivocal across all messaging channels. During these confusing times, many brands are experimenting with various messaging just to see what sticks. They’re clearly seeking to resonate with their audiences. However, in my view, they should step back and tie all those different tones-of-voice together with one authentic thread.

For example, some brands that had previously only given lip service to social good are throwing more weight behind cause marketing. They’re elevating their altruistic endeavors to the hero banner on their homepages, but they haven’t linked those causes back to their core principles. Yes, social injustice is important for us all to get behind. However, if it’s not based on an established value system within your organization in can easily devolve into pandering.

In such a case, my recommendation would be to go deep and be transparent. Before you tout writing a big check to a legal defense fund to fight inequality look inward. Be willing to publicly examine your company’s own systemic racism. Outline concrete steps to address it. Then, your donation to an external organization means something. It becomes an extension of your corporate being.

Leading the Way

Photo: Jorge Molina

Today, airlines seem to be the flag to follow. Witness this powerful moment that recently occurred between a Southwest flight attendant and the CEO of American Airlines. It has garnered very positive attention for both brands. To each company’s credit, neither has promoted this story on their websites. To me, it speaks to a certain level of corporate humility. What we don’t say can be as authentic as what we do say.

But for a definitive example of brand authenticity, see this unrelated video. Southwest’s CEO, Gary Kelly, binds a message of national importance to his company’s core values. You feel like you’re sitting at his kitchen table. Keep it handy as you find your brand’s authentic voice, not just the one you think customers want to hear, or the one you think makes you sound good, but the one that says who you are.

That’s authenticity.

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