Hakuna Matata: Does being happy make experiences feel more authentic?

Weirdly, or perhaps not so weirdly, I discovered from the article featured in this post that watching the Lion King movie puts people in a good mood, and is often used in psychological research for that purpose. Alison Lenton, Letitia Slabu, Constantine Sedikides, and Katherine Power, used the Lion King to get their subjects in the mood for their 2013 study I feel good, therefore I am real: Testing the causal influence of mood on state authenticity. published in Cognition & Emotion.

The Take Aways
The study found that getting people in a relatively good mood (as opposed to a neutral or sad mood) correlated more strongly with their reports of feeling more authentic, or more themselves, after the target experience. The study included three different experiments, all arriving at the same conclusion.

This study builds on others similar studies demonstrating that the self-reporting of authenticity is higher when people are in a positive mood; and that the correlation of  positivity and authenticity in these self-reports. There are various reasons that this might be the case. Some are ventured (and supported through other studies mentioned in this article). For example, acting in misalignment with one’s inner self (lying) does not feel as good, and requires more effort, being transparent.

The study is quite in-depth and offers many other fascinating insights, but for this post I can’t get past this: people think authenticity correlates with feeling good, and with good things. But does it?

Existential Authenticity
Authenticity is not about positivity or negativity. Authenticity, from a psychological and philosophical perspective, is about the alignment of the inner and outer selves.

This study is so interesting because it is looking at affect (emotional state) and its relationship to perceptions of authenticity. A positive correlation between positive affect and authenticity suggests to me that people think they are feeling more authentic when they are feeling good, because authenticity feels good. (Hence why it is considered an experiential marketing strategy). Is this positivity an inner feeling (because we don’t have to exert the energy to pretend we are something we are not) or is this because we are conditioned to associate authenticity with happiness (even though catfishing makes some people feel good).

Philosophers Kierkegaard and Heidegger, are two foundational figures of existentialism who spent quite a bit of time on the authenticity question. They did not feel that authenticity necessarily correlated to happiness or positivity. They did ascribe a positive value to aligning ones inner self, they didn’t really mean one would be happy.

So, how closely related is happiness to authenticity? The cynic in me says that happiness positively correlates to authenticity because we want to believe that we are happier when our inner and outer selves align. But is that belief a a constructed version of ourselves, like our Facebook and Linked In pages? Or, is the relief of not having a facade, not having to fake our emotion, what makes us happy–even if we are miserable inside?

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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.

 

 

 

Buckle your seat belts. Is Authenticity an emotional vehicle with a bumpy ride?

The most recent issue of the Journal of Service Management features an article by Ruth Bolton, Anders Gustafsson, Janet McColl-Kennedy,  Nancy Sirianni and David  Tse proposing that businesses  look at the specific customer experience as a differentiation strategy. As they point out in “Small Details That Make Big Differences: A Radical Approach to Consumption Experience as a Firm’s Differentiating Strategy”, many businesses compete in the same space: similar products, prices, locations, experiences. When looking at process improvement, they often look at efficiency and effectiveness across the board.  Rather than doing that, Bolton et al suggest that they look at small differences that have an outsized effect on the customer experience.

Bolton uses an aged care home facility as an example. They installed an espresso machine in their wards in order to have each resident greeted in their room each morning with a high quality coffee of their choice. This small act has an outsized effect on customer perceptions of their experience; and therefore is an efficient and effective way of increasing customer satisfaction. Moreover these small differences can carve out a specific place in the market for a firm, and are tangible evidence of a greater value proposition (in this case about the care they take with their residents).

Is authenticity a differentiating strategy?
Bolton et al discuss authenticity specifically in terms of emotional engagement. They posit that a service can be efficient and effective; but without an emotional connection, customers will not develop an affinity to the brand. And that won’t happen without an authentically delivered emotional component, emotionally engaged and passionate staff, a “human touch”. Authenticity as a differentiator is not a new idea. The literature on authenticity, specifically from a service perspective is growing (and is, in fact, one of the reasons for this blog). From an evidentiary perspective, it is hard to quibble with Bolton et al.

There are  issues that arise out of authenticity’s role in what is otherwise an interesting and relevant article. First, authenticity is not a “small differentiator”. Unlike the other examples they cite in the article (the coffee), is a massive thing, which is difficult to implement. It may have an overall effect but that may be hard to measure.

Regardless of that, lets say that authenticity is achievable as a point of difference in the market. Let us assume that there are a growing number of firms putting authenticity, emotional engagement and delight on the customer agenda. Imagine customers are moving through their lives, gravitating their consumption experiences toward the emotionally engaging, favouring vendors who have energetic, passionate, caring,  staff. Ideally, this emotional labour  is factored into the cost of the service. Let us assume that firms can therefore link amount of “emotional taxation” in their service to revenue growth or market share.

A world such as this creates expectations. We know that people, whether at work, at home or on social media, are rewarded socially more for being happy than being human. This “positive bias” referred to in earlier blogs is the authenticity firms are looking for. After all, customer service agents, are not encouraged to be authentically grumpy are they? And yet, positive bias is antithetical to  authenticity. Authenticity is not the smooth run of a joyful customer journey. It is the bumpy ride of the different people in the process and their different personalities.

The challenge for workers to be authentic, but perfect and pleasant, is the elephant in the “authenticity room”. Although Bolton’s paper is not one about the broader assumptions and impacts of authentic emotional engagement in the transactional world, it does pose the question: Do we want a smooth manufactured one or a bumpy authentic one?

The whole “individual” vs. just part of a “dividual” in social media branding

On a recent internet exploration about Heidegger, I came across the fascinating blog Philosophy for Change by Dr Tim Raynor.   Authenticity and social media, as well as the impact of technology, are all topics Tim covers in his blog. In one of the comment strings from his entry on Gift Economies and Gift Culture, Tim proposes that certain types of social media encourage people to participate as whole individuals (Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn for example), in essence a copy of the whole person we are offline. Other services, such as Twitter,  allow people to participate as “dividuals”:

“Facebook is set up to enable us to reconstitute our personal identity online. For this reason, I find it limiting, almost stifling, in that I feel I am compelled by the system to act out a ‘real world’ identity that has no place or real purchase in the virtual medium. Twitter I find more satisfying, since it leaves open the question of identity. One can perform one’s familiar identity or try to articulate a persona-in-the-process-of-becoming. One can choose anonymity or one can act out a fantasy…

“I would suggest that we participate on Twitter as ‘dividuals’ – ‘part persons’, if you like. The interesting thing is that people seem to select that part of their person that has the greatest value and meaning for them. If a person is a set of vectors directed toward the future, Twitter enables us to single out the leading vectors and develop them in isolation from the others.”

Take Aways
One indisputable take away is the development of the “dividual” concept. Although this concept is a side note in a larger conversation about the self online, it is undeniable. Mechanisms like Twitter allow us to develop a specific part of ourselves and only that part: Twitter’s brevity and anonymity (if desired) encourages dividuation, not individuation.

However, Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook have, as an underlying vision, that people who join do so with genuine identities. There are several ways they ensure this. First, it is easier to find someone and link to them if they use verifiable information: name, age, location, schools attended, employment and so on. Secondly, they regularly look fo signs that the user is not a genuine person and attempt to rid their service of those “imitation people” inasmuch as they can do so. Their (advertising) business model is more viable if everyone on Facebook equals a genuine person in the offline world, and if the details about their identity are disclosed accurately. Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn want individuals, not dividuals. Twitter, on the other hand, does not care. You can have several feeds set up, and be tweeting and retweeting about each of those individual interests simultaneously.

The individual, the branded individual and the individual brand
Previous posts on this blog have addressed the positive bias in individual Facebook engagement. In other words, when people put up positive posts they receive more response, engagement and affirmation from their social media audience than if they post neutral or negative posts.

This positive bias puts me in mind of the cultural norm of acting like you are happy at a party, even if you are, at that moment, not particularly happy. As someone told me once, “Misery loves company, but company hates misery.”

This pressure to be happy, self-fulfilled and becoming the best version of ourselves is one that has been argued as being a first world problem.  This pressure, or social anxiety, is one that has been the discussion of philosophers, and psychologists for decades. Marketers have been leveraging this kind of anxiety–and still do– to sell everything from weight loss programs to consumer goods to, well, participation on social media networks.

People who use social media as a personal branding exercise are seeking affirmation, engagement, and association–and therefore must bow to the social pressures within their networks to act in a way that will allow them to develop their optimal networked audience. That usually means coming across as happy, self-fulfilled, expert and may even extend to looking a particular way in their photos.

Brands who use social media to extend their customer engagement or sell online also seek to optimise their audience reach.  They default to positive bias (very few businesses can get away with being rude or grumpy to customers). Their workers are engaged in emotional labour, especially those at the front line who engage with customers. This develops a kind of organisation-wide, or maybe even industry-wide, social pressure felt by the individuals within a firm to both their customers and non-customers.

One of the interesting ways this is playing out at the moment is in an industry not known for its friendliness: academia. Social media has let loose the ability to gripe and explore the various ways in which the academic system does not lead to happiness. So much so that the new Academic Kindness blog stands out in stark relief to other, more popular posts about academic life. Interestingly, as higher education websites become even more marketing savvy and attempt to push their media presences  toward a positive bias, there is a discourse in the industry about how unhappy people in the field are. Government funding is harder to access, budgets are cut, fees go up, jobs are insecure and employment outcomes for students seem more out of reach. The disgruntled online presences are “dividual” accounts of university life, as much as the packaged, slick, positive university marketing materials are also “dividual” accounts of university life. There is an element of authenticity, and inauthenticity, in each.

Existential Authenticity
One approach to this problem would be to engage in a narrative about the problem itself, letting the outside world into the internal struggle about how much to disclose and the approach toward social media anxiety. In a  study discussed in an earlier blog post on this site, a blogger engaging in a seeded blog promotion activity actively discusses the ethical issues involved in accepting the product and blogging about it with his audience.

By doing this, he is letting people in on his inner world and how it manifests in his outer world. Should he accept the product? (He ends of doing so). Does that mean he has to blog positively about it (He ends up giving what he feels is a balanced perspective.) Is he flattered by the attention he is getting from the commercial company, who recognises his audience reach (He is.) Is he open to receiving more free stuff? (He is.) and so on.

He steps this out in a series of conversations with himself in his blog and conversation with others recorded on to his blog about the issues. All of this is done in the same voice and tone as in the rest of the blog. He is letting us into his world in an existential self. Heidegger would approve (I think).

If brands seek to engage in authentic behaviours, they will have to act less like brands and more like people. Although this has been attempted, and at times successfully, it is counterintuitive in the marketing world and comes at a cost: transparency may mean less “likes” and less “friends”: both metrics that online marketing managers hold dear.

Millennials want (and don’t want) authenticity on Social Media

In the northern spring of this year, Linnaeus University Masters students Guia Tina Bertoncini and Maria Teresa Schmaltz published their study on the millennial generation and their perceptions on social media through various lenses.

The Take Aways
Called “What’s on your mind?”, the study included a survey  sample size of 264 people who claimed to be between the age of 18-31 in 2013, putting them solidly in the millennial generation. Ninety-nine percent of respondents indicated they had a prsence on Facebook. Respondents came from 85 universities in 37 countries. Although there were a variety of questions in this, here are the graphs relating to my favourites:

social-media-authenticity

A majority of the respondents indicated they felt that social media increases the chance to represent a distorted self-image to others. At the same time a majority of respondents indicate they represent “nothing but my authentic self” on social media.

A majority of respondents also indicated that they put both positive and negative aspects of of the “real me” forward to others (generally); which is interesting, as research has shown–especially on social media–that people tend to display more positive versions of themselves on social media, as this “positive bias” is what generates the most positive response from an online audience.

Although the survey sample and analysis is limited, it is interesting how the individuals in this survey perceive social media presences to be likely to be distorting for others, but not themselves.

The conclusion the authors come to is that “…it is questionable…whether millennials are aware that social media revolution is not only altering our minds by influencing our brains and behaviors but directly the way in which we young individuals develop our sense of self-esteem and identity (p.87).”

This is an issue not exclusive to the millennial generation; the experiences we have, and the expectations of others, do distort the way we see ourselves and others.

Existential and Constructive Authenticity
Whether the perception that we are more authentic than others can be attributed to the Actor-Observer effect or the Hawthorne Effect (or both); the fact is we change our behaviour when we are being watched. 

Constructive Authenticity is a dimension of authenticity that looks at authenticity in reference to the cultural context. On Facebook, there are expectations around appropriate behaviour. Acting in accordance with those rules is not inauthentic; in fact to act against those norms may be considered inauthentic (as though you were doing something to intentionally upset someone else). However, the argument that Bertoncini and Schmaltz seem to be making is that millennials are confusing their online personas with offline ones. Perhaps partly because people may be pressured to be as happy and gorgeous offline as they portray themselves to be in social media?

Existential Authenticity is a dimension of authenticity discussed in several posts on this blog. One aspect of existentialist philosophy is addressing the pressure we feel from others to be a certain way. Cultural programming is strong, and can create anxiety when our inner selves do not align with the outer selves we portray–and a main cause of that anxiety is the expectation of others. Certainly social media has become the root of much more anxiety than we have had in the past. Growing up with it, millennials have an almost inevitable draw to use social media, no matter how it makes them feel. 

This question around identity will inevitably spill out into what millennials perceive as authentic as well. Although marketers view every generation as a segment with their own specific attributes based on a variety of factors, perhaps it is time for marketers to attempt to quantify and analyse this type of “distortion” in regards to authenticity and the affect it has on the millennials’ perception of it.

Rendering Authenticity in an Experiential Economy

Generally I don’t reblog posts, however this post combines the philosopher Heidegger and is a great description of Existential Authenticity.

Holistic Marketing Concepts

Authenticity is perhaps one of the most over-used buzzwords in marketing, but what does it really mean? And why is it important?

Some people will describe for you in detail how to come across as authentic in your messaging, why it’s important to be authentic to your customers, or why authenticity is the holy grail of marketing. At the same time, others will tell you never to be authentic or why people simply don’t want the “real” you. But these sorts of approaches tend to focus more on aspects of authenticity rather than getting to the core of the issue. More than just a habit worth practicing, choosing authenticity results in competitive advantage, especially when it comes to brand messaging and connecting with customers. Below are two reasons why.

1. Consumers Want Authenticity

In Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want (Harvard Business School Press), authors James…

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Are we our own god(s)? Is the workplace our church?

This post is a bit more philosophical than the others on this blog…literally. Back in June of this year, the online New York Times published a piece called “The Gospel According to ‘Me'”. The authors of the article are a professor of philosophy (Simon Critchley) and a psychoanalyst (Jamieson Webster). In the article they talk about how authenticity in the New Age movement has replaced traditional religion, and the ramifications for that when it comes to the world of waged work.

The Take Aways
Traditional morality structures require sacrifice and conformity (ostensibly for the good of the community). More recently, what authentic for the self takes precedence: a concept with no exterior moral touchstone. The gospel “truths” of a deity, demanding sacrifice and obedience, has been replaced by a gospel of “me” where ones own well being becomes the centre of one’s life:

“Whereas the American dream used to be tied to external reality — say, America as the place where one can openly practice any religion, America as a safe haven from political oppression or America as the land of opportunity where one need not struggle as hard as one’s parents — now, the dream is one of pure psychological transformation.”

What does that mean for the workplace?

The workplace is now colonised by non-work experiences and expectations, such as the requirement of employers to engage their employees on a spiritual, psychological and intellectual level. From the perspective of the individual, one’s profession defines oneself more than ever before. What one does for a living is equated with one’s authentic self. One is what one does. “Work is no longer a series of obligations fulfilled for the sake of one’s sustenance…every aspect of one’s existence is meant to foster some fantasy of growth.”

Existential Authenticity
Existential authenticity in the 360da framework is about the perceived genuineness of interactions between the producer and others in the value network. As discussed in a previous post on Southwest Airlines, brands will be considered authentic if their interactions are sensed by the receiver as being authentic. So, if you want your employees to come across as happy (without your employees being perceived as robots, scripted, medicated or fake) then have happy employees, and a culture that supports that as a priority.

Sounds straightforward, right? But if you take Chritchley and Jamieson’s view, you cannot just hire happy people and pay them to work for you. As an employer you have to make them happy. As anyone can tell you, making someone happy personally is challenging. Making people happy on an organisational level is a massive ask. The literature on providing personal fulfillment in the workplace is legion, because, especially for the up and coming generation, finding personal fulfillment through one’s work (rather than, lets say, one’s religion) is more common than not. This nexus between management and marketing is ripe for even more exploration from an authenticity angle. However the burden of personal happiness in a professional context poses an interesting (rhetorical) question: is the workplace where we should seek this kind of fulfillment? And, in these challenging economic times, what happens to people who struggle to find a workplace at all?

 

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.