There seems to be a growing trend to have a heart in business. What I mean is that companies are finding a competitive advantage to be seen as caring and sensitive. Sigh.
What is worrisome is the trendiness of authenticity turning inauthentic when the messaging is clumsily used as a marketing tactic. I'm seeing companies post videos of their CEOs talking about how much they care, how the customer comes first, and that they'll do whatever it takes to make the customer happy. So what. Does it make us more apt to do business with them? Some organizations are going to great expense to improve their brand image, projecting a softer, more approachable and friendly image. In many cases this is working to a degree. In others, it's backfiring and doing irreparable damage to the brand.
So how do you convey who you really are to your audience? How do you break through the mistrust rampant in today's business landscape? How do you stand out against the competition who is shouting "WE CARE! REALLY, WE DO! BUY FROM US AND YOU'LL SEE!" Time and time again I see people promising one thing in their noise and then delivering a completely different experience. No wonder we're all guarded and cynical.
Tactically, there are many ways to convey your true heart to your audience. The thinking and spirit behind it is what needs to be embedded throughout the organization. It's one thing to have the marketing department execute a campaign selling the "WE CARE" message and another to really BE a caring organization. Those companies out there that are true performers don't have to shout about how much they care because they're busy caring. The messaging then is more about education and exposure into the organization for the customer to feel a part of something bigger; that they have impact, they are cared for, and they matter.
Exploring Authenticity as a Culture Exercise
Here is a great exercise to help you mine the authenticity that's already going on in your organization. Consider doing this with a group of co-workers or the leadership team:
- In the context of authenticity, brainstorm how you perceive yourselves as well as how you'd like to be thought of by your customers and prospects (caring, trustworthy, reliable, a partner, etc.)
- Develop a qualitative survey based on your brainstorming and conduct the survey with a diverse group of customers
- Take the findings and incorporate them into your organization's code of conduct and core values, adjusting any operational systems/processes necessary
- Create a way to track these new authenticity measurements and follow through with regular updates based on an ongoing source of customer feedback
If you are truly authentic, it comes through. If you truly care, it comes through. Customers will know because doing business with you reinforces your commitment to them.
Take comfort in knowing that you are curing cynicism, and that's a good thing.