By Brian McKay

Authenticity: This is a huge subject that has involved a lot of thought lately. As I found myself telling the owner of a local business that has seen a bit of a downturn the last few weeks due to regulatory changes in my area, "The biggest thing you have going for you is that you are authentic. How do you show that in your the market?" While he could agree that his business had been around forever and was known by everyone, I am not sure he totally understood what I meant.

It sounds like a simple term, but it exists under very complex circumstances.

The state of commerce has moved through a product economy, to a service economy and now to an experience economy. Consumers might tell you they are motivated by price, or quality. Those are only part of the picture. Your customer can pretty much expect high levels of quality across brands, and prices are usually in parity with the quality they want. Experiences are what drive loyalty and purchasing decisions whether the customer realizes it or not. A profitable customer will keep returning and pay a premium for an authentic experience.

So what is authenticity? Is it labeling a can of goods as "real" or "made with authentic fruit bits"? No, a savvy consumer is exposed to this constantly. Authenticity is a feeling that is cultivated through the company's culture from the top on down. It is very damaging to display one's firm as real, or having company values, if it is just a marketing ploy. That is seen through by customers. If you claim to be real, then you better be friggin' real!

When you call a company in regards to a service problem, would you rather have a customer service agent use a robotic voice tell you what a valued customer you are as they read a script? Or would you rather really feel it in the entire transaction? If customers laugh, apologize sincerely, use a little sarcasm, then the customer trusts the company and feels valued.

This is where it becomes difficult.

Your organization has to first look at what makes you real to your customers and then practice it all the way down to the lowest employee. Maybe you embrace a rebelliousness in your culture. Or, perhaps, you practice what is old is new again and espouse the original values that have existed in your enterprise for many years. Either way, you are a disrupter and your goal is to do it differently from your competitors and with heart. Authenticity will win you the customers your competitors have neglected. Particularly with regards to loyalty. 

So, if you market the experience, be prepared to live it. Go visit an Apple Store and ask yourself, How is it this place produces more profit per square foot than any other store around? What experience are the customers identifying with here that justifies a premium price?

Authenticity actually comes before price. If financials drive all of your business it the experience won't be authentic. Also, if management isn't authentic with employees, customers will never see it either. The benefit of authenticity will be greater customer loyalty and greater profitability. Put authenticity before financials and your company wins.

What is the authentic experience that sets you apart from the marketplace in which you operate? How are you fostering authenticity all of the way through the organization?

Go forth, be honest, be open and be authentic.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, available under aCreative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license

Brian McKay is a co-founder of Zenruption and has his MBA from Boise State University. He still digs Legos in his 40's and really enjoys washing dishes. Brian is very odd but at least he is authentic.