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?