Authenticity means erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world. —Adam Grant
A few years ago, if you described something as “slick,” it was a compliment. It meant that something was polished and terrifically produced. But nowadays, “slick” is increasingly used as a criticism. It’s a warning sign that something is manipulative – flash over substance. Increasingly, consumers are rejecting the slick and seeking the sincere. According to a recent survey, 86% of American, Australian and British consumers say that authenticity is important when they decide which brands to support.
But how do you demonstrate your authenticity without coming off as, well… fake?
As we understand it, when the Warby Parker team was first designing its website, they’d decided to include blue in the site’s color scheme. Yet when it came to a decision on the specific shade they’d use, they didn’t use a Pantone color wheel. Instead, they adopted the color of the feet from the blue-footed booby, a bird indigenous to the Galápagos Islands. They chose the color because the birds looked a bit “formal” (like a penguin), but their blue feet were a bit of unexpected flair. And that was sort of what the team was going for in their new eyeglass company: elegant design with some unexpected flair.
While most people would have thought this was overthinking the choice (there’s no explanation of the color on the site), Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal once explained the reasoning behind their choice: “Details matter. They create depth, and depth creates authenticity.”
If “slick” implies a new superficiality, details prove authenticity. They demonstrate care through consistency.
Particularly for Millennials, authenticity includes corporate social responsibility—a demonstrated awareness of the company’s impact on the community, and even the world.
While companies such as Warby Parker and TOMS have famously made social commitments as part of their business model (with product donation programs), still other companies are proving their authenticity by becoming involved in charitable efforts consistent with their company’s goals.
Still, others explain on their websites and in other marketing material how they’re minimizing the environmental impact of their product through sustainable resources or recycling.
Of course, skeptical consumers don’t necessarily believe a company’s claims. Which is why accountability is so important. For most people, accountability means owning up to mistakes and the transparency involved in the mistake. That is certainly an issue, and it’s even more important if the problem relates to the company’s core mission. (Such as when Equifax, provider of financial profiles, got hacked.)
Companies who aspire to a higher sense of authenticity aren’t waiting to fix a problem. Instead, they’re actively showing how they prevent problems in the first place.
For example, companies like Patagonia are becoming certified “B-corporations,” with independent verification of their social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability.
Companies are signing up to be a part of CEO Action, an organization where firms commit to specific policies that promote diversity and inclusion.
As a marketing tool, initiatives like these have twice the impact: they become a public commitment to live up to a particular set of standards, and the company benefits reputationally as it joins a community of changemakers.
In the Mad Men era, marketing was about flashy ideas. In today’s marketplace, the best ideas are ways for customers to really know who you are, and what you stand for.
Adopt a virtual blue-footed booby.