Why Authenticity Will Never Go Out of Style
by Lisa King author of Just Do You: Authenticity, Leadership, and Your Personal Brand
I’ve spent my career studying and developing brands to understand their essence and truths. I believe a brand must be clear on these truths from both customer and employee perspectives and present them to the world in a way that’s authentic. Admittedly, branding and marketing often get a bad rap, and rightfully so in some cases. Authentic branding doesn’t mask the true nature of a product or service. I don’t agree with the tactic of putting a spin on value in an effort to cover up flaws. This deflection approach misleads consumers and puts the brand at risk.
Similarly, to be effective and authentic, a personal brand must represent who the person really is. There are many definitions of and opinions about personal branding. And most of them focus on the professional aspect of a personal brand. I challenge this perspective because what someone does professionally is only a slice of who the person is. A true personal brand embodies a person’s essence and what makes them unique. Similar to authentic business brands, authentic personal brands clearly convey their essence and truths – what matters.
We’ve all had inauthentic brand experiences. Whether it was with a business, product, service, or person, the experience left us disillusioned and disengaged. We lost trust and likely decided to select another brand relationship. Conversely, when the experience is positive, we are drawn to the brand and want to build a deeper relationship. We become loyal, and we willingly and positively describe the brand to others.
When a business brand is authentic, it’s clear about exactly what it is and whom it serves. All of its brand attributes align to create experiences that drive loyalty. And a brand’s authenticity drives clarity and becomes a guide for all decisions: a True North.
A business brand’s True North is a fixed point in a spinning world. One example of a brand aligned with its True North is Newman’s Own. Paul Newman launched the food and beverage company in 1982. He committed to donating all profits to charitable endeavors and used some of his own recipes to create all-natural food products, vowing that quality would always trump the bottom line. This went against conventional wisdom but proved to be a recipe for success. According to their website, within the first decade of business, the company had donated $50 million. In a business world primarily focused on profit and growth, Newman’s Own has a fixed directional point, a True North, that guides every decision and action. Paul Newman conveyed it with this statement, “What could be better than to hold your hand out to people who are less fortunate than you are?”
Similar to authentic business brands, authentic personal brands clearly convey what matters. Their True North drives all decisions. A True North is an internal compass. It keeps the personal brand facing in the direction of what matters and who the person is at the deepest level.
Martin Luther King, Jr., American minister and activist, is a well-known example of a leader who created a powerful personal brand. King led the civil rights movement in the 1960s and became the most visible spokesperson for the cause. He’s best known for his efforts to advance civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience. He said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” In these words, he expressed his True North.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Authenticity has staying power. Authenticity is attractive. Authentic brands have a clear purpose and are guided by a True North. Authenticity is what people notice, what they respond to, and what builds influence. The world needs authentic leaders, businesses, products, and services. Brands will come and go, but the authentic brands (and people) that positively impact our lives will thrive, create a ripple effect of authenticity, and leave a legacy.