Monday, February 04, 2008

Authentic Innovation

Driving to work listening to NPR this morning, I heard an interview with two pollsters who were talking about the presidential race. What was interesting to me was that one of the most important aspects of the campaigns, and the candidates, was the concept of authenticity. Several potential voters commented on the fact that some candidates (McCain and Obama) seemed "authentic" while others (Clinton and Romney) seemed less so. What is really striking is that in some cases the potential voter identified concerns or problems with the more "authentic" candidate but said they'd vote for them because they were more authentic. What's going on here?

I think there's a trend forming - not just in politics but in all facets of life in the US. Things have become so packaged, so commercialized, that many of us yearn for something that is more original, more meaningful, more..dare I say it..authentic. This is not just about political candidates, although clearly there is great expression of that trend in the presidential race. We are all so familiar with pre-packaged, permanent pressed, sound bite candidates that we seek others who are more likely to occasionally spout an off color remark, or perhaps, tell us the truth rather than pander to our expectations.

However, if you look around, that trend is showing up in other areas. Note for example the latest Budweiser beer ads that detail exactly how the beer is made, or Coors beer, which details how little the beer has changed over the years. Or Pontiac's new focus on the car and the driver, as if owning a car has ever been about anything else (at least for men) than who you are and how you want to be perceived. Let's face it - few men want to be seen driving mini-vans, but that's another post.

So, if there is a trend toward seeking products and services that are "authentic", what can that mean for your business? Your marketing needs to reflect your status in the industry and the intent and history of the business. If your firm is a firm with deep engineering roots, then claim it. H-P has a great advantage over Dell in this regard. Tell us that you claim your roots and what those roots mean to you, and should mean to the customer. Then, be authentic with your products. I just heard that Microsoft may be releasing an "upgrade" for Vista which reduces bloatware. This is a great thing. If it happens, Microsoft is admitting that its products failed to meet expectations and that it is willing to listen and make them better. Don't lard up your products or services with things that are fads or trinkets. Deliver what you say you will.

However, authenticity isn't really a "fad" or trend, and will be hard to claim as your own if your firm is merely a follower. To be authentic, you'll need to make a claim or stake out some turf and defend it. That means the management team needs to be authentic when innovation is considered. What turf are they willing to claim? What is important to them and what are they willing to reinforce? Also, if they make those claims, what will it cost them?

I think there's an increasing demand for authenticity, from individuals towards their political leaders as well as from employees to their employers. Most importantly, is there a growing demand for authenticity from consumers to the producers of products and services? If so, how will your firm respond?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 4:53 AM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Authenticity in your context may also be a word used by people to describe something or someone that is not entirely made up. In a sense having limitations, uncertainties, incongruencies is a sign of authenticity, and if this is true I do wonder how it impacts our understanding of creating and managing consumer driven products and services. Can something that answers your needs in a exceptional way be authentic, and is authenticity something we need to have buy-in , but something we may shy away from when is time to sticking with our choices?

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Authenticity has long been the mantra of successful and enduring products -"businesspeak" needed a term for it so they call it "Brand Promise"; I believe that this is cultural within an organization; the outside world sees its manifestation through the company's products or services.

I believe that shortsighted greed and lack of ethics help nourish this culture, which can't help but permeate inside and eventually show outside of the organization. If a corporation truly wants to address this erosion, the board needs to demand authentic leadership - there are so many executive interviews, board appointments, speaking engagements, books and short-term stock options (let's not forget golf), we have to ask ourselves this question: when do leaders take the time to lead? It is not hard to understand why authenticity is lacking in most deliverables when the first deficiency is often authentic leadership.

12:35 PM  
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7:42 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

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