Forget fris. Do you want authenticity with that burger?

It seems the answer to the above question is “yes”. Mike Schallehn, Christoph Burmann and Nicola Riley just had an article published in the Journal of Product and Brand Management on Brand authenticity: Model development and empirical testing. Their study is fascinating because it attempts to do something that some in the authenticity world say can’t be done: measure authenticity, or at least its effects, empirically.

Empirical research is a way of testing a claim directly and objectively. Often this method uses numbers, or ways of measuring phenomena. The numbers are then analyzed to see if there are relationships, such as one thing causing another. The issue with authenticity in an empirical context is that authenticity, like lots of people-oriented things, is tough to measure. The authors of this paper turn to psychology, a discipline that does lots of human behaviour measurement, to give then a framework they can use to test out the relationship between brand authenticity and brand trust–particularly amongst the 600 Germans who participated in a survey about beer and fast food.

The Take Aways
This study is exploratory. There is no established method of testing authenticity, and the survey population, as well as the survey subject, is limited. However, the authors do find a relationships between brand trust (and more established empirical concept) and brand authenticity. They find that higher perceptions of one (authenticity) leads to another (trust). OK, that’s not surprising. But how did these researchers interpret authenticity? They looked at three constructs: consistency, continuity and uniqueness. Their summary of the results are as below:

The findings suggest that authenticity is perceived when a brand is consistent, continuous and individual in its behavior. Nevertheless, the empirical results indicate that the factor individuality has the lowest influence on perceived brand authenticity. This is an interesting finding, as being “unique” is commonly regarded as an important success factor in branding. Although the study´s findings confirm its relevancy, they relativize its importance: Being consistent, meaning that a brand fulfills its brand promise at every brand-touch point and being continuous, meaning that the brand promise reflects the essential core of the brand, are of major importance.

So making your brand unique is not as important as making it consistent and continuous if you are seeking to develop trust in the brand and therefore, as a consequence, a stronger customer attachment to the brand.

So what does that mean for the Unique Selling Proposition (USP)? A mainstay of marketing? This study seems to suggest that it is more important to, from a branding perspective, know who you are and be that thing than stand out from the crowd.

Food for thought.

 

 

 

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Why does catfishing make some people feel good?

A recent (2014) paper by Leonard Reinecke and Sabine Trapte in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour indicates that authentic, positive social network interaction can enhance well-being offline. Their article “Authenticity and well-being on social network sites: A two-wave longitudinal study on the effects of online authenticity and the positivity bias in SNS communication” has a few key findings on authenticity and social media engagement that are hard to ignore.

The Take Aways
First, this paper consolidates previous studies about individual contributions to social networks. The research indicates that positive messages in social media generate more engagement than neutral or negative messages. This positive bias encourages people to post positive messages (rather than negative) on these networks.

Second, when authentically positive messages are posted and social engagement occurs (usually positive in response), it has the effective of increasing the wellbeing of the person who posts the comment. So this means someone who is already feeling positive, then posts something positive, gets lots of engagement from their online friends, and then (offline) feeling more positive.

Third, people who did not have high levels of well being, regardless of how much engagement their post generates and how (inauthentically positive) it may be, do not get an increase in well-being form their social media interaction.

So basically, authentic online positive social media interactions increase well-being.

How this relates to catfishing
A catfish is someone who uses a false identity on the internet, usually in a romantic context. If the TV show Catfish is anything to go by, then most catfishers are people who are not happy in their own lives.

Many of the catchers claim that the only part of the relationship that was inauthentic was their identity (Objective and Commercial Authenticity). They claim the core of their interaction (Cultural and Existential Authenticity) was authentic. Applying this study, we can infer that when the catfisher is engaging the catifshee in discussions about their (positive) feelings that the interaction generates offline well-being for the catfisher.

So, even though they are pretending to be someone else, catfishers are gaining genuine greater well being from positive interactions as their assumed identity.

So are catfishing relationships authentic? If they generate authentic feelings on both sides, isn’t there something real going on?

The answer to that question is yes and no. If you use the 360 Degree Authenticity analysis, the catfishers will likely have some authenticity (Constructive, Existential) but not other kinds (Objective, Commercial). As the 360 degree model treats authenticity as a holistic measure, without having all the kinds of authenticity in place, one is not authentic from every angle.

And before getting all judgy about online catfishers, I have personally been witness to many an offline relationship where Objective authenticity was in play, but Existential authenticity was absent. Just because you say who you really are, doesn’t men both people are authentically invested in the relationship whether you are online or offline. If you want evidence of that, just watch one of my other favourite (MTV) reality shows: Teen Mom 3.

Authenticity does not matter to everyone (for everything)

This blog started with a post titled “Authenticity Matters“. I would love to tell you that authenticity matters to everyone all the time. About everything. But that cannot possibly be the case, and a 2009 study by Shuling Liao and Yu-Yi Ma entitled “Conceptualising Consumer Need for Product Authenticity” in the International Journal of Business and Information does a great job of demonstrating this.

Take Aways
First, this paper demonstrates that authenticity matters to some people about some products in some situations. But it does not matter to everyone all the time.

Second, if authenticity matters to you about something (for example, eating authentic Japanese food), you will go out of your way and invest time in finding an authentic product experience. You will then be more likely to repeat purchase the product and you will also be more likely to recommend the product. You are more invested in the experience and, in extreme circumstances, you can start to identify so strongly with the product experience that it becomes part of your identity. For example, you might start to look down on people who eat what you consider inauthentic Japanese food. Or you may begin to feel a connection to other people who patronise that restaurant.

If you are not invested in the authenticity of your Japanese food, you’ll eat it anywhere and may not be particularly attached to any one place. You are also more likely to have your consumption habits driven by price rather than quality.

This is important for marketers as it is another way we can segment, and appeal to, customers: authenticity-driven vs not authenticity-driven. Moreover it explains why some people are so into something and some people aren’t–and their subsequent behaviour.

Third, this study was completed in Asia, likely in Taiwan. Although the Taiwanese can be western in their approach to consumption in some circumstances, that is not always the case. The Western attitude toward authenticity is said to have emerged from particular cultural events shaping the Western world view. Although Eastern cultures may have had different events, their take on authenticity appears to be very similar to the Western view.

360da
In addition to the above, the study looks at 6 different properties of authenticity, with each property having several dimensions. Some of the properties, and their dimensions, fit in the 360da framework as follows. The italicised concepts are from the article; the bold is form the 360da framework.

Originality (original, from a place known for the product, pioneer/innovator, cannot be imitated, made from natural materials) [360da: Objective Authenticity]

Quality. Commitment and Credibility (quality guarantee, robust quality, honesty, meets expectations) [360da: Commercial Authenticity]

Heritage and Style (consistent features, embodies tradition) [360da: Constructive Authenticity]

Sacredness (high levels of personal identification, high levels of personal involvement, nostalgic quality) [360da: Existential Authenticity]

Some of the properties apply to some products and not others and are therefore not general enough to fit into 360da:

Scarceness (hard to find, scarce)

Purity (not mixed with other materials, focused on one thing)

This article is available free on the internet, and although it only one article and a small sample size, it is demonstrating something really interesting and important to those of us in the authenticity business. If you have a chance to read it, I recommend it.

“Luving” Authenticity and Southwest Airlines

I flew two Southwest flights recently, so this article hit close to home: Positioning Southwest Airlines through Employee Branding, by Sandra J. Miles and W.Glynn Mangold. The article was published in Business Horizons in 2005.

This article is about employee branding, using Southwest airlines as a case study. What struck me about this article is that it was, in a large part, about authenticity without the word ever being mentioned.

Article Summary
Southwest has an enviable reputation, with very specific missions and values. If you want to read more about them and how they are embedded in their employees in more detail, please see the article. However, two of the methods are highlighted as key by the authors:

(1) Consistency in messaging: every message (to staff, advertising, customers, etc) is vetted to ensure it embodies and is consistent with Southwest values;

(2) The psychological contract is a perceptual “deal” the employee makes with the organisation about what is acceptable and not acceptable at work and what they are going to get in exchange for what they give. Staff at Southwest are very specific about their contract, and expectations and spelled out through a strong corporate culture.

If the organisation is consistent in their culture; and they develop and behave consistently from the top down, they will attract and retain employees who behave in that way.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but anyone who has worked in a large organisation can tell you it is not an easy thing to do.

The upshot of this, of course, is that Southwest becomes perceived as an authentic organisation because they are one. Let’s take this article through some observations.

360da
Objective: Southwest is what it says it is, with every message vetted to ensure this is the case. Even broken promises with customers (like the delays I experienced at SFO recently on my flight) are explained in a forthright way. However this is not unusual for an airline.

Constructive: Most of the article is devoted to Southwest’s culture. For a company with a love heart in their logo and the word “luv” everywhere, the desire on behalf of the company to project a specific culture is strong.  They manage it top-down AND bottom-up. Southwest culture circles focus on maintaining and expanding the culture. Southwest shapes their culture deliberately, through careful selection, reinforcement, measurement and active participation. But that deliberateness may come across as natural because it becomes second nature to most of the people surrounded by it. And remember, employees are selected on their basis of whether they are a fit for the Southwest culture.

Commercial: Southwest attempts to be true to itself through its self-constructed messages and culture, which, ideally has been internalised by its staff and then is externalised through their customer service.

Existential: The key to Southwest’s success in this area is to move away from scripted behaviour, while consistently engaging with the cultural norms emphasised by the organisation. A good example illustrating this are the  Southwest employees singing their safety scripts before takeoff. The consistency of the Southwest brand is present and within that strict, deliberately constructed world, people are still free to “be themselves” and execute their own agency (when that agency aligns with Southwest mission and values).

Takeaways
This article discusses “employee branding”; but it is really about orchestrating an organisational culture so thoroughly that the culture imbues everything. From suppliers, to customers, to shareholders, employees and other stakeholders, the Southwest brand culture comes across as authentic, because it is. The challenge? To make it happen.