The other day I was having a chat with some colleagues about authenticity. Current wisdom suggests that brands and companies that are perceived to be less than authentic are doomed to fail. However, we know that brands, companies, and even people will behave differently in different situations. We even expect that they should. To lack the flexibility to do so would be socially disrespectful. So what is authenticity, and how to we ensure that others will perceive our work as authentic?

"To thine own self be true." That's the standard answer. If you are true to yourself, then you (meaning your brand, service, company, etc) will be perceived as authentic. However, I think that's only part of the answer. People can't judge how true you are to yourself. They judge how true you are to them, based on what they perceive. If you know what cues your market will respond to, then you can manage their perception consistently. This requires the ability to suspend what it means to be true to yourself, in order to fully immerse yourself in what it means to be true to someone else.

A few years ago, I was mentoring a person just starting out in his career. I imparted the standard guidance as he was doing his first solo project, and I asked him to periodically let me know what he thought was "cool", and why.  He did well on his project, and I learned a lot about how his social group thought about the world. One day, we were talking about why he shunned big, corporate brands, and he used me as an example.  "The coolest thing about you Ellen, is that you know how uncool you really are. Some big brands get that right, but most don't." 

Hmmm...who said authenticity was a good thing?