By Felicia Rosenzweig, Partner at Prophet,
A lovely independent butcher shop called Provenance opened in Notting Hill a year or two ago. While not a shouty place in experience or marketing, its name told me that the owners certainly knew their audience - whether well-heeled or aspiring, these shoppers cared where their Sunday roast came from, or wanted people to think they did. And their website tells a nice story about the owners’ upbringing on New Zealand farms and their commitment to truth: “The truth of where the animal was raised, how it was treated, what it ate, how it lived.”
If you spend even a scant portion of your time at farmers' markets, craft fairs or car boot sales, you're used to the traditional angles of authenticity - where it's from, how it was made, who personally made it, what's its story. These descriptors feel tailor-made for lovingly grown veg and well-worn heirlooms, but in the right doses and with the right framing, they can actually be quite accessible for most businesses and brands and help to anchor how they connect with customers. That is, at least, the customers for whom such things are important.
However, just as you can't convince someone you're honest, it takes prudence and restraint to use authenticity to your advantage - it is something that is earned not told. And it has to be sincere; it may seem like most customers are far too busy to read the fine print - both literally and metaphorically - but they're not. They know quite well that they have lots of choices, so they shouldn't be taken for granted or presumed not to have access to Google. Unless you're going for satire or an homage to days of yore, just be the most authentic and truthful version of what you are. Nothing more, as it will smack of artifice, and nothing less, or it will be a missed opportunity to connect with customers who would care about how lovingly you make your pickles and hand knit jumpers.
Of course, there are always customers in the market for fake Gucci and Prada, but they obviously don't value authenticity. They value the statement that Gucci and Prada make, not the carefully tanned leather, nor the history, nor the Italian craftsmanship. Authenticity has a certain heart that you can't produce without some real commitment and follow-through, and while it may help command a premium, it doesn’t have to equate to expensive.
One need not be a luxury brand or an artisan pickle maker to make authenticity work for you. In tangible terms, that means doing a few things obsessively as a business owner or leader. Highlight your natural strengths in your comms (i.e. advertising, signage, PR, social media presence), but don't make claims you can't or won't support. Be ethical in how you work with your partners; bad behaviour can be globally amplified in seconds online. And most importantly, empower employees to listen and act as humans not robots programmed with a script - whether in a store, on the phone or fielding live chat, let them communicate authentically and honestly, with an emphasis on solving customers’ problems and helping them get what they need.
Customers want to give their hard-earned money to companies that stand for something that matters to them. If you're Innocent, Belstaff, Aston Martin or Barbour, you already get a lot of credit for authenticity from your early years, so use it wisely (and engage in the conversations that come with acquisition, outside investment and/or manufacturing out of your home country). But also take heed from the Jamie Olivers of the world who have felt the bite-back of being perceived as getting too big for one’s britches. If you're just starting, however, you've got a certain amount of freedom to craft your story based on how you’re actually building your business. If you're somewhere in the middle (or marketing yourself on a dating site, for that matter), you probably have a bit of work to do, but the rewards are worth it. I don't see authenticity going out of style any time soon.
Originally posted on Authenticity Rules