‘Authentic’ is the latest buzzword in marketing it seems. “Just be yourself” say the gurus. “Be clear about your USP and perfect your elevator pitch” say the business coaches. After all, what if you were to bump into Richard Branson in an elevator? Would you have a concisely scripted spiel that would have one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs reaching for his cheque book to back you and your ideas?
I’ve been to thousands of networking events and I’ve heard more elevator pitches than Donald Trump tweets, yet very few of them have filled me with inspiration and compelled me to chase after that person to immediately buy their product or service offering.
That said, some people have certainly entertained me; others have intrigued me; and some have definitely sparked my curiosity enough for me to want to follow up for a coffee catch up and seek to understand the person behind the speech. Many of them were absolutely authentic.
It occurred to me though that in this quest for the perfect elevator pitch or the insatiable desire to capture the exquisite slogan or marketing message that will drive customers to camp outside our doors, we are somehow missing the point that is not just about being authentic.
There are so many facets to what makes one piece of marketing work and another fail, and I’m not just talking the usual marketing-speak of terms like split-testing and marketing mix.
Here are a few Marketing Considerations…
- Timing – No matter how good your message is and even if it’s completely relevant to your prospective customers, if the timing’s wrong for them, they’re not going to buy. That doesn’t mean that they won’t ever buy, so you mustn’t lose all hope. That’s why you need to think strategically.
- Affordability – Just because your prospects may not be able to afford it now, doesn’t mean you should immediately drop your prices to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Your value is not immediately diminished by the first few rejections, nor does that mean that you may not have to review your pricing to acknowledge market feedback. You can do as much damage to your brand by under-pricing as you can by over-pricing. In fact, you may do more, because if you’re too expensive, you can always offer a deal, but if you’re too cheap, it may be hard to ramp it up.
- Location – You may have the best product and the best pricing and the perfect timing, but if your message is delivered to the wrong people, they still won’t be interested. Whilst some super-salespeople may be able to interest Arabs in sand purchases, or Eskimos in ice cubes, those are unlikely to be sustainable relationships.
- Quality – You may have a great concept. You may even have all your ducks in a row, but if your product or service isn’t of the right quality for your target market, it isn’t likely to work.
- Quantity and Scalability– Some of the most amazing business ideas will never amount to little more than a hobby income for an enthusiast. The reason is that sometimes the concept may just not be scalable. For example, a friend of mine made great home-made cookies – way better than the mass-produced versions on the supermarket shelves. Baking them herself from home, however, meant that she was limited by the size of her oven; she had limited time available to pursue this business empire and her recipe was not necessarily anything that could really be upscaled, nor could it really be protected sufficiently with a watertight patent. Was it a unique and authentic product? Yes, probably, but was that enough? No.
Art and Tribes
Here’s the point about being authentic that marketing guru, Seth Godin so elaborately ruminates about. He suggests that your work is your ‘art’ and that you should go on creating that art, irrespective of whether anyone wants it. I love the way he thinks and I’m a massive fan of his art – his books, blogs and audios have pulled me into what he calls his ‘tribe’.
That said, your situation may require a more pecuniary outcome. Man cannot live on bread alone and someone must pay the mortgage, the school bills and occasionally provide a holiday away from the rat race. Seth’s point is really more that your ‘art’ is unique to you, and that fact carries its own intrinsic value. Governments may control you and regulate your business activities, but your ‘art’ speaks volumes about who you are.
So, here’s my definitive statement: “Being authentic IS enough, but being authentic is also NOT enough.”
“Thanks for clearing that up (NOT)” you may exclaim with indignation.
What I mean is that authenticity is enough to be the best version of yourself (coupled with the right values, of course). After all, some would argue that Hitler was authentic. Authenticity IS enough though; enough to be heard by the right people, by YOUR tribe, by the ones who were meant to love your ‘art’ and who will pay for it, rave about it and possibly even have their life changed by it.
Being authentic may however, not in itself be enough to be heard by enough people to make your product or service offering into a viable business concept.
How then can you be heard amongst all that noise? You can and will be heard by your tribe, if you are authentic, backed up with the right product or service, at the right time, in the right place, at the right time, in the right quantity and at the right quality. These points were made by Gordon Selfridge who founded the famous ‘Selfridges of London’ retail icon.
You can be heard by getting the right message to the right market, using the right media.
You can buy an authentic Manchester United shirt either direct or online, from the football club’s home at Old Trafford in Manchester. Yet, there are still some people who would instead buy an inauthentic, nasty copy from a Chinese market stall for a tenth of the price.
Being authentic and being heard may still require you to fulfil all those marketing considerations detailed above, in order to make the sale.
Authentic Relationships and Experiences
Building and maintaining a business and scaling the sales of your ‘art’ however, require that you build authentic relationships. Not only that, but you must turn that relationship into a series of consistently great experiences for your customer.
The authenticity of your message, your product or service, your values and your ability to communicate them consistently and reliably are all things that will build your tribe or lose it. Do all of those things well and you WILL be heard amongst the noise by those who were meant to hear you. Whether the size of that tribe is economically viable for you or not, only you can decide. Being authentic may not be enough, but it is the best you can be for your own soul.