Knowing and communicating who you are is great advice for both a person and a business. This goes back to the emotional identification so well defined in the influential “Starting with Why” TED talk and book by Simon Sinek. This understanding of who you are and what you stand for has become the buzzword of “authenticity”. Although the mentality and beliefs behind being authentic are powerful philosophies that should be embraced, the fact that companies have to make the decision to embrace authenticity speaks more for the lack of understanding of what honesty means in the business world.
Authenticity is living without pretense, being comfortable with who you are, what your market share is (while still wanting to grow it) and who you are selling to. It is not trying to be everything to everybody or hoping on the trend of the moment and “adopting” new ways of doing business. The most successful companies in the world live and breath authenticity. It is so ingrained into what they do that it is not even given a thought. It is as natural as breathing to them, think Apple or Tesla. One look at these organizations and you will know immediately they know exactly who they are by how they communicate it to their market.
That is another point about being authentic. You know your strengths and weaknesses and look for the market that will embrace you rather than trying to satisfy every single need that exists. This is among the most important lessons entrepreneurs can learn as they enter an industry. The industry is most likely saturated yet there is always room for someone that can carve out a niche and attract those tired of the current offerings. However the market you are targeting is well educated, savvy and most likely a little jaded. They can sense a phony and will avoid them like Michael Moore avoids veggies. They can also sense the company that is honest about what they do and will feel a greater connection to it, a greater desire to see it succeed.
Authentic companies are leader companies they do not feel they HAVE to communicate their “authenticity”. It is an uncommunicated mantra expressed more through actions and their connection with customers. They are not perfect, in fact they are also going to have more flaws and rough edges, they will not be sanitized. They will be more polarizing, proclaiming what they believe and what they stand for knowing that people will be forced to made a decision about them. Unafraid of what that decision might be, confident and committed to what they are doing.
So how does a company become authentic? It takes more than a catchy slogan or strategy of the month mentality. It takes work and a willingness to look at the entire operation and determine what the company does well, what it stands for and how it can improve its most important resource, customer relationships.
Below are 6 points a company can use to ignite its self-assessment and transformation to authenticity. Entrepreneurs, following these points will help you create your mantra/vision and mission. Knowing who you are will help you communicate your differentiation and show potential customers why they want to do business with you.
- Be real- Don’t make pretenses, don’t try to talk yourself up or offer bravado. Know your strengths and weaknesses and believe in your product. Be simple, clear and straightforward.
- Be Honest- Don’t lie, don’t promise anything you can’t deliver. Set accurate (and aggressive) expectations and ensure those are met.
- Offer real value- When talking with customers don’t use the word differentiation, it comes off as jargon and the more it is used, the less different you become. Understand what makes you unique and talk to your customers like you would talk to a 10 year old, simple, straightforward and easy to understand. Your customers need to see and understand your value. If they cannot they will purchase on price and you will most likely lose.
- Respect your customer- This should go without saying however many businesses don’t. Their actions and attitudes are those of arrogance and taking customers for granted. From impersonal greetings saying “your call is important to us” to an inability for CS people to deviate from the script. You want to respect your customers, work with them, treat them like partners in the success of your business. Empower your employees to actually help and solve problems for them. Keep customer service in-house rather than outsourced to another country.
- Be consistent- This is what branding is all about. Being consistent with your offering and experience. Be consistent with your message and live up to the values that you create.
- Own your mistakes- Nobody’s perfect, no company is perfect-even google. When you make mistakes don’t hide them, don’t deny them and don’t spin them. You screw up so what. We are a forgiving people. We forgive mistakes, we lose trust when you blame others and deny. Don’t do it.
As choices expand and the customer experience becomes more personalized, as stories are shared and users are looking for products to help them externally define who they are authenticity becomes even more important. We can all tell if a company is lying or phony. We lose interest and start to seek something new. Yet those companies that are authentic, we root for them. We celebrate their success and feel a kinship to them. It is more than just good strategy to be authentic, it is essential to continued growth and success in business and in life.