Authenticity is a pretty big buzzword in the world of branding. Everyone seems to be talking about it, and it even gets written into strategic documents as a goal. Organizations of all kinds are striving to be more authentic. That’s right—they set a goal of being “authentic”.
So how does your organization become authentic?
Actually, you don’t. Or rather, you already are. The brand you have today—the story that people believe about you—is authentic. Authenticity isn’t something you can choose to do or not do. It’s not something to strive for. Authenticity is revealed as a result of your actions, not the intent.
Each time people experience your organization (through product experiences, advertising, word-of-mouth, …everything) a consistent story is communicated, a little bit at a time. The more experiences, the richer your story becomes. With each experience, your story—what people believe about your organization—continues to evolve into a concise promise. This is where people discover authenticity. This is your brand.
It’s impossible to behave inauthentically. If people in your organization behave in a manner that is inconsistent with how the world perceives your brand, your story shifts. Through their actions people on your team have simply revealed more of what is authentic.
If an experience is in conflict with your promise, that experience (and your lack of ability to deliver the original promise) becomes part of your authentic brand. Do this enough times, or the first time someone experiences your brand, and ‘failure’—making promises you aren’t prepared keep—becomes part of your authentic brand.
Authenticity is a result, not an intent.
Consider the implications of this when recruiting employees, communicating with stakeholders, selecting vendors and engaging in the community.
Where authenticity matters for your brand strategy is to make sure that the promise you make can be sustained. You need to make sure the story you are telling is the story that will be experienced. You need to manage the actions, not the intent. And not just through the good times (that’s too easy), but through the challenging times. Through grumpy customers and failed suppliers; through economic distress and unforeseen disruptions; through personal issues and nasty competition. These are the moments that our behaviours will be tested, and our true brand—the promises we keep—will be revealed.
That is authenticity.
Follow-up: (Nov 5, 2012) Read The Authenticity Myths for more insights.