This quip got me to thinking about the term “authentic” which I might have used cavalierly. What the heck qualifies as an authentic brand anyway? Here are my criteria.
Delivers as promisedAn authentic diner isn’t brunch in Chelsea. It gives you eggs over easy and coffee in a thick mug. The OJ is Tropicana, not fresh-squeezed.
Is natural, like a thunderstorm or a sparrow.Smog is not authentic, nor parakeets in a cage.
Is deeply localYou don’t find authenticity in airports or on interstate highways. You do find it over your back fence or talking with your butcher. The corner Chipotle does not qualify because it’s a copy of every other Chipotle. The original idea of Chipotle implied strategic design for national consumption, which lessens authenticity.
Is simple and predictableLike a faithful old pet—one who doesn’t see too well. Tap water is authentic, as is your old friend whose biggest achievement was figuring out how to drink through a straw in the third grade.
Can be a fakeBill Clinton and Joe Biden are fakes, but authentic fakes. We get the joke that they don’t always tell the truth. John Edwards was an inauthentic fake. He said he would not drop out of campaigning unless his wife’s cancer returned. It did… but he didn’t.
Is intensely personalYes Apple is everywhere—an intergalactic success—but it sprang from the vision of one singular genius, Steve Jobs. That’s authentic.
Implies original and distinctiveAlthough there is nothing new under the sun, a flagrant copy is disqualified.
Implies good intentionsAn authentic brand does not try to fool you. Sincerity is ingrained. No lawyer is authentic because lawyers play whatever role they’re hired to play.
Is deep and durable, as opposed to recently made-up and likely to disappear in the next wave of teenage obsession. Think John Deere tractors.
Is already thereYou can’t create or invent authenticity. But you can dig in and discover it. Leaders can sweep away the sediments of marketing clutter and identify authentic qualities within their organizations… and then build their brands for the world outside.
So back to my original question: Can a breakfast place that makes donuts and names sandwiches after local politicians be deemed authentic? ...even if the idea of naming sandwiches is not original and even if the diner is painted bright yellow and attracts gullible out-of-towners like me?
I say yes, and I’m an expert. Here’s proof:
Bottom row, second watch from the right is a $150,000 Swiss Rolex with solid gold band. Only cost me $525! The guy was really friendly and promised to sell me his brand new Stradivarius.
It pays to be discerning.