More than a buzzword: What is the role of authenticity?

More than a buzzword: What is the role of authenticity?

As noted last week, this year I’m going to take a swing at some questions that swirl around the brand landscape.

Today’s question is the fruit of a conversation that I had before the holidays with Megan Barrow (@meganbarrow of JoElla Marketing). Megan is a great supporter of this blog and I’d promised her a coffee by way of thanks. A friendly chat led to a great discussion around the question of authenticity.

If there is a definition for what makes a buzzword, authenticity would have to qualify. Bandied about in the most haphazard and lazy fashion, it usually comes with it the implication that authenticity is somehow in and of itself a “good” thing.

But here’s something to think about.

You can authentically be a narcissistic ass just as easily as you can authentically be kind and compassionate.

You can authentically do things that break the law, deliberately hurt others and put profit ahead of any kind of ethical stance. Or you can, in your own big or small way, authentically work to leave the planet a “better” place for others and be remembered for something beyond your own self-interest.

To be clear, I’m not making the argument here that people should be inauthentic, just that authenticity alone is not the holy grail and it would be great if people would stop bandying it about as if it were.

True confessions time. There was a time when I talked about “authentic brands”. In using the term I was encouraging organisations to do what they said, be aligned to something, to in effect keep their promises.

By way of example. Walmart is a very authentic organisation and brand. They are clear about what they care about and since their founding have built a singular focus around lower prices that has seen them become the biggest retailer in the world.

They are, some would say, ruthlessly authentic and aligned to that purpose. It drives their (brutal and efficient) labour and purchasing practices. It led to the significant redevelopment of supply chain logistics. It has seen them become a big user of green energy in US. All of which help them keep prices lower.

They are authentic. And their authenticity results in a mixed bag of social and financial outcomes (depending on your world view) and millions of quite devoted customers who care about what they care about – low prices.

This then stands as the real value of authenticity for people and organisations.

If I can see what you care about. If you are authentic to it. If you make it visible in all the ways you do things. If it also aligns with something I care about. Then the chances that I will “buy” from you increase dramatically.

The cry to “be authentic” puts the proverbial cart before the horse. The better question is not are you authentic, but what are you being authentic about?

What do you care about and want others to care about?

What do you want to be known and remembered for?

Once you know the answers to those things then by all means be authentic.

See you next week.

Michel Hogan is an independent brand analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make.


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