Why Authenticity Matters
People are always looking for authentic experiences, from food to clothing, shopping to travel, so it’s no surprise that consumers are demanding it from organizations they patronize as well. A sense that their experience of a brand has been inauthentic is registered as a betrayal of trust, an insult, disrespect. With the widespread adoption of social media, consumers can make their disapproval known quickly and publicly. Cultivating and communicating an authentic brand personality can help protect against fissures in relationships, but it requires a strong and steadfast sense of identity as well as a carefully considered plan. Like any relationship, it takes effort and thoughtfulness, a solid understanding of which audiences you want to attract and why, and, most of all, a crystal clear understanding of your own identity.
Finding a voice and designing strategic programs that feel authentic to a brand and its target markets can be challenging. It requires ongoing introspection and a searing commitment to truth. People can tell when a company makes a choice that is influenced more by how they hope to be perceived than by how they actually operate. It may sound good and generate great press when you issue statements proclaiming a commitment to sustainability, but—if Volkswagen’s emissions scandal is anything to go by—when people find out you’re not walking the walk, they will be angry and use their voices in turn.
Immediately after the scandal, VW posted its first quarterly loss in 15 years. They were forced to recall vehicles, had to set aside €6.7 billion to cover the costs associated with it, were slapped with EPA fines of up to $37,500 for each vehicle, and had to brace for lawsuits[i]…and those were only the “tangible” costs.
And it didn’t end there. The ripple effect of good or bad communications touches all audiences, with the most immediate and longest-lasting impact on those on the front line directly engaging with end-users. After the scandal, VW dealers in the US bore the brunt of the blowback, immediately losing sales, showroom traffic, and reputation, as a Lansing, Michigan dealer recounted: “We literally had weeks when no one came in looking to buy — nobody...I had four salespeople. I had to cut down to two.”[ii]
The rebuilding of trust is a long slog. Not only will a breach of trust cost money, time, and other resources, it can erode a brand’s reputation for years to come. Companies never really learn the extent of lost business, partnerships, talent or opportunities that are attributable to a brand’s decline. Trust is earned. Once public trust has been lost, it can be hard and sometimes impossible to regain.
Developing an authentic voice to use in any type of communications is crucial. We’ve learned that grounding a voice in your core tenets is more than the best first step, it’s an ethos, a policy that must be respected throughout the life of the company. At YCO, our mission is to help leaders anchor in soul, manifest their goals and help them become a force for good with joy. In all of our blog posts, tweets and Instagrams, you can clearly see our mission woven throughout. We are unapologetically us 24/7. We make it easy to understand exactly what, or, more importantly, who, you’re getting when you work with YCO. Living your truth means communicating it effectively and constantly. Authentic communications enable you to reach new audiences with your work, promote collaboration, and avoid wasting time with audiences who are not a good match for your organization.
Costly and socially damaging incidents can be easily side-stepped by anchoring a company’s vision and mission in a deeper purpose…something beyond profits. Generating profits is wonderful, rewarding and necessary, but they are only a means to an end. Anchoring in purpose is the ideal way to ensure that everything a company does is authentic, engaging and on point. Orienting communications around a central, unifying purpose helps shape your voice, making it more accessible to customers. Adhering to that discipline can also attract employees and potential partners who share common values and can commit to making your vision a reality.
Your genuine voice won’t resonate with everyone, and that’s OK. It’s not supposed to.
[i] Hotten, Russell. "Volkswagen: The scandal explained." 10 December 2015. BBC News. 28 February 2018.
[ii] Boudette, Neal E. "Volkswagen Sales in U.S. Rebound After Diesel Scandal." 1 November 2017. The New York Times. 28 February 2018.