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Monday, January 28, 2013

Authenticity Is Overrated


Scenario 1
"Come over here, Mommy. I have to show you something."
"What? I'm working."
"It's _____. Look at this post on Facebook."
I peered over my computer at hers. 
"There he goes again, trying to be cool."
Sometimes you just want a teacher to be a teacher. 

Scenario 2
A month ago, in the hallway, we bump into The Artist.
"Hi."
"Hi."
"How are you?"
"Oh, I'm fine."
It is twenty degrees outside and snowing. She is dressed for the beach.
It's none of my business; I focus on the elevator, waiting for it to hit the ground level. But looking at her was jarring.

Scenario 3
The end of a great interview, a few years back.
"So if you got this job..."
Sounds good.
"...and if you had a demoralized workforce..."
Oh. That's interesting, that they would say that.
"...and almost zero when it comes to resources..."
A-ha. O-kay.
"What would you do?"
I responded directly.
"As good as I am, I don't make miracles."
And there's that look in their eyes: "Don't let the door hit you on the way out."

Thoughts Re: Branding
In each of these scenarios, the actor was trying to be "authentic," a norm that did not exist in the past.
  • Before social media, it was obvious to all that there is a time and place for everything - and that you definitely should not always "be yourself."
  • Rather, the norm was "situational appropriateness." You should be that aspect of yourself that is called for in a specific time and place.
  • Along with appropriateness there was "consistency" - that is, you behave relatively the same way in specific kinds of situations. Dependability mattered a lot.
Situational appropriateness + consistency are indispensable to building a brand, whether it's personal or organizational. Because in order for me to trust that your brand is real, I must know that you are in touch with what is expected and that you will deliver on that.
(Really we are talking about customer service here.)
How do you get to the point where people can actually deliver?
First there is that attitude adjustment - the ability to think outside-in and the willingness to deliver. The culture.
After that, two other skills are required, foundationally:
  • One of them is technology: You must be able to learn the tools that will enable you to deliver customer service quickly and easily.
  • The other is project management: You must know exactly what it is that you are providing (it's not a single phone call answered, or a single installation, but the whole interaction with the customer around a specific instance). And you must think in terms of delivering  on time, on budget and to spec as part of a team. 
Situational appropriateness + consistency = culture of customer service.
Culture of customer service + technology + project management = foundation of brand.
When you have that foundation in place you are walking - after that you can start to run, and then fly.
Do you see how insisting on "authenticity" can block this?
Because basic capabilities such as the above are "boring," not sensational. Yet they are key to delivering professional service.
There are a few people - the Steve Jobs' of the world (RIP) - who can be unpredictable, spontaneous balloons of creativity and those people should always be "themselves." Even if they do tend to rant and rave a little.
But for the vast majority of us - those who are not spouting genius with every word - it is far more important to be audience-aware and consistent.
People who know what the customer wants and can deliver on that are well-situated for success.
A quick way to think of all this is "McDonald's french fries."
They may not be the best in all the world - I can think of about ten places that do steak fries greasier, saltier and crisper and with a better sauce - but wherever you get them, you know they will be good, and they will taste exactly the same. That, alone, is a satisfying experience, and it's why if you don't know where to go - you will probably head to Mickey D's first.