Signals among the noise — brands & authenticity.

What’s next for brands? There has been a steady evolution over the years of how brands strategically move. Often through a lens or a particular bias, some examples include ‘sustainability oriented’ or ‘purpose-driven’ strategies.

Today we have ‘authenticity’.

With Black Friday, we saw some activities from brands that could be characterized as authentic, genuine reflections of their identity. As creative expressions, their ideas may have emerged from their marketing team or creative agency of record. They may have emerged from leadership deeply in tune with living out an organizations values or even suggestions from those working directly in stores themselves.

My feeling is that the people involved, are just doing and being, without much over thinking. I say this as a compliment. These brands are acting almost in accordance with Buddhist principals. They just are — they are present.

It is a fun place to be. I wrote previously on the stress and tension that exists for brands who are not happy with who they are and that wish to be something or some place else. Look at Vitsoe, REI, Patagonia and Everlane — they must be thrilled with the signals they put out among the noise. They won by being themselves. Definitely in terms of admiration and perceived brand value, and maybe even in new customers and increased sales (within certain segments at least).

Going forward, labeling a brand authentic will be confusing. Today, authenticity is the absence of strategy and as other brands seek to emulate these case studies next Black Friday or maybe even sooner, being who you are will be co-opted into strategy. As it has happened before with other movements, it will be presented and acted upon through frameworks until the next new way of being presents itself.

How I spent Black Friday

I was quite turned off personally by the amount of email I received from brands I admire — offering free shipping and 20% off. I hope I don’t sound greedy, but what underwhelming offers. I would rather they had closed down for the day!

Subsequently, I unsubscribed from many mailing lists that day and went on to sarcastically tweet a ‘Brand Admiration Index’ that gave a hierarchy for how I would enjoy brands to act. It went as follows…

#BlackFriday Brand Admiration Index
1. Give away products for free
2. Close shop for the day
3. 70–90% Off
4. Free shipping
5. Other

I would like to leave this reflection with a passage that has been very inspiring for me — not just in how I can try and conduct myself, but perhaps also as a vision for how brands, organizations and workplaces of the future may conduct themselves as well.

“If you are a warrior, decency means that you are not cheating anybody at all. You are not even about to cheat anybody. There is a sense of straightforwardness and simplicity. With setting-sun vision, or vision based on cowardice, straightforwardness is always a problem. If people have some story or news to tell somebody else, first of all they are either excited or disappointed. Then they begin to figure out how to tell their news. They develop a plan, which leads them completely away from simply telling it. By the time a person hears the news, it is not news at all, but opinion. It becomes a message of some kind, rather than fresh, straightforward news. Decency is the absence of strategy. It is of utmost importance to realize that the warrior’s approach should be simple-minded sometimes, very simple and straightforward. That makes it very beautiful: you having nothing up your sleeve; therefore a sense of genuineness comes through. That is decency.”
Chögyam Trungpa