Are you "authentic" … or just a "poser"?

TakeAway: “When we say a thing or an event is real, we honor it. But when a thing is made up – regardless of how true it seems – we turn up our noses.”

* * * * *

Excerpted from HBSP : Authenticity – What Consumers Really Want by James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II

Human beings have always been obsessed with the real and abjured the fake, the phony and the contrived.

In the mid-20th century, Jean-Paul Sartre extended this idea to personality, describing people so confused about their real selves that they lived “inauthentic” lives in self-deceived “bad faith.”

Consumers crave authenticity. If you don’t render authenticity, they will find someone who will, since this need for authenticity is intricately tied to self-image. No one wants to associate with a  “poser.”

* * * * *

Authenticity evolves from experiences and transformations.

Experiences are memorable “inherently personal” events, like when the barista at Starbucks remembers how you like your cappuccino and makes it to order for you.

Transformations help customers change some aspect of themselves. Such offerings – for example, fitness centers or Weight Watchers – let consumers be the sort of people they want to be and feel good about themselves. With each purchase, customers close the gap between reality and aspiration.

* * * * *

The are five “genres” of authenticity:

1. Natural authenticity – An authentic offering must feel natural, raw, of-the-earth, rustic, stripped-down and if possible sustainable, like organic food. For example, coffee beans and natural soaps are commodities, yet Starbucks and the Rocky Mountain Soap Company both render naturally authentic offerings.

2. Original authenticity – An original offering can be new (such as Apple’s iPod), but it can also be old (Coca-Cola) if it stresses its heritage as the first of its kind (“the real thing”).

3. Exceptional authenticity – Any offering can be exceptional, if it is done well, and with feeling. For example, consider the extraordinary services provided by Ritz-Carlton and Southwest Airlines. This doesn’t mean obsequiousness: The salespeople at Apartment Number 9, a Chicago clothing store, will tell you if the puce blazer you’re trying on makes you look fat. They sell not just clothes but also brutal honesty. Make your offering exceptional by stressing uniqueness, adopting a “craft” aesthetic (“good things take time to make”) or being “foreign” relative to the target market.

4. Referential authenticity – A referential offering evokes an “iconic” time, person, group or place. Imagine a Chinese tea ceremony or a visit to a sauna in Finland. If your referential offering is fake, make sure it is a good fake, like the art-filled Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, which evokes Bellagio, Italy.

5. Influential authenticity – To have influence, an offering must surpass utility to imply or provoke change. Think of green services, such as “eco-tourism,” or “three-word offerings,” such as “dolphin-safe tuna” or “free-range chickens.”

* * * * *

In Hamlet, Laertes is leaving Elsinore for France when Polonius accosts him. The old man, worried how his son will conduct himself abroad, recites a litany of admonishments that culminates in wisdom both trite and strikingly wise: “This above all,” says Polonius, “to thine own self be true.” In doing that, he continues, “Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

* * * * *

One Response to “Are you "authentic" … or just a "poser"?”

  1. Consultant Ninja Says:


    Two interesting books on this theory: “All Marketers are Liars” by Seth Godin, that argues how a marketer can create an authentic-sounding brand when they are creating stories about their products.

    The second is more recent, called “Spent.” that is argued by an evolutionary psychologist that argues that consumer shopping habits are driven by evolutionary forces. And as a result of evolutionary forces, consumers are highly trained to detect “inauthentic” brands.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s