After critiquing authenticity relentlessly over the past few weeks, I’m now going to talk about its positive side. I’ve been reading Mike Moser’s book, United We Brand (2006, Harvard Business School Press). Moser has developed a straight forward approach to developing a “brand roadmap” that I found useful and compelling.
Moser believes that you have to start any branding exercise with the core values of the brand and the organization. His belief is that if your organization doesn’t live its brands’ core values, then consumers will reject the brand. For example, if Nike’s brand is about empowering women, children and poor people, and then they are found to use third world sweatshop labour, damage has been done to the brand.
I believe that the reason Tiger Woods took so much heat for his bad personal behaviour, (which really had nothing to do with his ability as a golfer), is that his image (or brand) was built on the idea of super-human control. And an addiction of any kind erodes the perception of control (never mind an addiction to sex, which just made the whole thing more schadenfreude), and therefore erodes his brand.
People use the perception of authenticity as an input into their highly sensitive B.S. meters. When we consider brands (or people) we are trying to assess their reliability and trustworthiness. Are they consistent with their professed values? Should I trust them?
Here is the problem. Many people and companies are very good at fooling our B.S. meters. But the world is changing. As information (both accurate and inaccurate) floats freely on the internet, it becomes more difficult to hide organizational values, and inauthenticity becomes more obvious to the whole world. And then, news of the latest corporate outrage speeds through the web like my brother-in-law on his motorcycle on some untraveled country back road.
As a result, organizations are going to have to do a much better job at articulating, communicating and socializing their values within their organization. One decision inconsistent with your brand values can do untold damage. What are your organizational values? Can your employees tell you how those values influence their actions every day?