Why Authenticity Is More Important Than Ever

We live in an age where the Internet and the telephone have created enormous scale and opportunity for businesses large and small. For the most part, this has been a good thing, allowing companies to reach, acquire and serve more customers than ever before. While this reach and scale has helped to foster innovation at an unprecedented rate, it has also served to disintermediate companies from their customers. The end result has been a growing lack of trust on the part of the consumers.

As a business owner or someone who works at a big company, you may think to yourself, "What does it really matter if my customers trust me? Obviously, it would be better if they did but what's the real harm? At the end of the day, they will end up turning their back on me for someone that can provide my same product or service 'faster, better and cheaper.'"

While this may be true, it's where many companies have lost their competitive edge. Where's my proof?

I'll start with Best Buy, a company you are likely familiar with. Not only is Best Buy listed as the second most valuable brand according to Interbrand Design Forum's latest rankings. It's also listed as number 24 in Vitrue's list of top 100 most social brands. Granted, "social" isn't the sole driver of their more important ranking of "most valuable" brand, but it does plays a key role behind the prestigious "most valuable brand" ranking.



The reason I chose Best Buy as the example to illustrate my point is that it is the epitome of a company that understands the importance of authenticity, and it comes from the top. From its well-documented employee community, Blue Shirt Nation, to its management team which is best exemplified by CMO Barry Judge, this is a company that conducts its business openly and honestly.

During a recent voluntary separation package offer that Best Buy made available to its employees to try and stave off having to do what so many other big and small businesses are doing, Judge openly discussed on his blog the pain that he felt about losing a large number of co-workers.

The comments on Judge's blog exude empathy and compassion in spite of the fact that Best Buy is a huge company and it needed to reduce headcount, which is not unique in the current economy. But on his blog, Judge's authentic and honest tone makes him, and his brand, human. And people have a much easier time trusting a human, especially one they can empathize with, instead of a cold and unfeeling corporation.

Additionally, Best Buys' current ad campaign features real store employees recounting stories of helping customers and the reward it provides to them personally and professionally. Taking this a step further, Judge has also openly discussed the genesis and evolution of this ad campaign on his blog, going so far as to welcome public feedback and asking for input on which creative executions are the right ones to put on air.

In this example, Judge and Best Buy are not only trying to put an "authentic" face on their brand by letting their employees do the talking, they are involving their customers in the process to ensure that they get it right. In doing so, they are garnering trust -- something the Enron's and the leaders of many of the large financial institutions have stolen from us over the last several years.

These examples of what Best Buy is doing demonstrate some of the essential qualities that are increasingly becoming competitive differentiators between brands like:

  • Blogging from the heart -- even if if feels a little too open and honest
  • Using customer feedback to drive upcoming marketing and advertising campaigns
  • Responding to customer comments in a human voice

After all, who would you rather do business with? A company that you know and trust? Or a company that offers the lowest price? Yes, price will always be important but in a highly commoditized world, it's things like authenticity that lead to trust that will truly make one company different from another.

How authentic is your company? If the answer is "not very," it may be time for a change. Just ask Best Buy. The results speak for themselves.

Editor's note: If you'd like to contribute to this newsletter, contact Nina Lentini.

3 comments about "Why Authenticity Is More Important Than Ever ".
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  1. Paul Van winkle from FUNCTION, February 18, 2009 at 4:10 p.m.

    "Trust" may be being thrust upon corporate managers whether they like it or not. Major corporations are finding out the hard way that suddenly wanting to be "real" and "honest" can end in PR disasters. There's even new language popping up to describe it:

    FLOGGING -- fake blogging to help companies get a personal voice behind a marketing campaign.

    ASTRO-TURFING -- generating fake grass roots enthusiasm.

    COMMENT SPAMMING -- flooding the comments field of blogs with enthusiastic notes about a company. Even with full disclosure, not welcomed by web users.

    Fortunately, major corporations and marketing associations have jointly detailed online and social media best practices and ethical standard guides. There's a right way and a wrong way to engage with social media and to work to build "trust".

    It seems to me that "building trust" and "being authentic" = being congruent. I'm not sure I want companies to "be honest" with me. Too many unexamined consequences.

    Good article, thanks Aaron.

  2. Aaron Strout from Powered, February 18, 2009 at 5:24 p.m.

    Paul - thanks for adding your valuable $.02. I totally agree - there can be such a thing as being "too" honest. Your point about pretending to be authentic vs. actually being real is also an important one to note. Many companies have or will find this out the hard way (just ask Walmart).

    Aaron | @aaronstrout

  3. Aaron Strout from Powered, March 3, 2009 at 12:36 p.m.

    Chad - thanks for the love. Glad to hear that our two companies are so philosophically aligned.


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