Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want (Anglais) Relié – 1 septembre 2007
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In this volume, Gilmore and Pine examine "the authenticity of economic offerings, not the authenticity of individuals in personal relationships, something people also greatly desire but the subject of many other tomes." They cite two exemplars in particular - Disney and Starbucks - because no company "has more affected our collective view of what is real and what is not" than has Disney. As for Starbucks, no other company "more explicitly manages its perception of authenticity, making direct appeals to authenticity in every way" Gilmore and Pine define this new discipline.
Here are some of the specific issues they address with rigor and eloquence:
1. The appeal of "real"
2. The drivers of the new consumer sensibility
3. Three axioms of authenticity
4. Five genres of authenticity
5. Two "time-honored standards" of authenticity
6. Ten elements of authenticity
7. How to be what you say you are
8. How to continue to be "true to self"
9. The nature, extent, and interaction of five key "real/fake polarities"
10. How to sustain the authenticity of what is offered
Decision-makers in any organization (regardless of its size or nature) are provided a comprehensive, cohesive, and cost-effective program by which to address and resolve these and other issues. Of course, even if Gilmore and Pine were in residence, actively involved in the design and implementation of such a program, assistance, it cannot succeed unless the given offering is and remains inherently authentic, That is, it fully meets (if not exceeds) the given consumer's perceptions of the benefits claimed for it.
According to Gilmore and Pine this quest for authenticity did not appear from thin air, but came about as a result of three interwoven social developments. The first one has to do with the development of the experience economy itself. Now that the fascination for artificial events (Disney, Rainforest Cafe) has ebbed away, people ache for more authentic and meaningful experiences. In the second place the focus on authenticity has to do with the demographic influence exerted by `baby boomers' and `culturally creative persons' on society as a whole. Although these two groups are strongly divergent in age - the baby boomers are now in their third life phase, whereas most of culturally creative persons are in the prime of their life and career - they mutually connect in a common focus on questions of spiritual faith and belief systems relating to quality of life. As a third explanatory factor the authors mention the undermining of the reputation of important institutions. The public trust in political and economic institutions has been seriously hurt by lack of leadership, by fraud and self-enrichment. People long for a return to the basic reason (raison d'être) of institutions and organisations connected to these institutions. They demand not only that they really stand for something but that they also do what they say they stand for.
The challenge here is that it is often unclear what the term `authenticity' exactly means. In practice the concept is often associated with the following five aspects. Being natural (authenticity thus stands for the natural, raw and untamed), being original (authenticity thus stands for the original and innovative), being unique (authenticity thus stands for individual and exceptional achievements), being influential (authenticity thus stands for spiritual authority) and finally contextual matters (authenticity referring to well known persons, periods or events). In order to come to a simplified description, Pine and Gilmore went back to philosophers. These relate authenticity most of all with that which has developed naturally. This viewpoint was strongly advocated by the romantic thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He contrasted the natural ideal of the `noble savage' to modern civilisation, which has been corrupted through and through. It follows that authenticity refers to a mode of acting in which one rejects the rules of society in order to become one's true self. Thus anything made by machines and made for money cannot be accepted as authentic. Following this line of thinking, Pine and Gilmore cannot come to any other conclusion than to regard every economic offer as fake. For every economic offer is made by a firm acting according to the laws and rules of society. It makes use of technology and has making money as its aim. End of this little test, one would say. If anything a firm offers is fake by definition, why would you make the effort to offer `authenticity'? However, Pine and Gilmore are not in checkmate here. By entering perceptions of experience as a new element in the game, they come to the conclusion there is an `authenticity paradox': even though all firms, products and services are in fact fake, we experience a number of them as authentic. We call one product or brand fake and the other authentic. In terms of ontology, this distinction is nonsensical, but in our experience we can handle it well.
Authenticity is thus subject to the free game of subjective emotions. What is experienced by one person or target group as the apex of authenticity is perhaps taken by others as fake. Smartly, the two consultants point at the fact that Europeans are often inclined to mark American cultural events as fake. For Americans and peoples from Asia this works differently, say Pine and Gilmore. In their experiences the replica of Venice in Las Vegas is at least as authentic or perhaps even more authentic than that city itself. The experiences of what is experienced as authentic, is indeed different in varied persons and cultures. In the end the authenticity of experiences is based upon the self-image of a person or group: does one identify with the product, that service or that firm? Does it dovetail with your self-image? Does it touch you and do you feel you can relate to it? If and when firms wish to increase the authenticity of their offer, they will have to take into consideration the perception of their target groups in the market. A firm may thus make a product authentic for a specific target group. In this case, the authors use the word `rendering' in order to indicate that in fact something inherently non-authentic is perceived as authentic.
In order to move ahead of the only logical conclusion from the reasoning followed thus far, offering authenticity is nothing but an age old marketing trick in which something is created out of nothing - here the authors again change their line of reasoning in a remarkable shift. In order to be perceived as authentic, they write, it is really of the utmost importance to come across in a truthful and/or credible manner. The truthfulness of an offer has to do with the degree of correspondence with the identity of the firm. Credibility has to do with the question whether one actually does what one promises. Distinguishing the elements identity (yes/no) and whether one is involved, the criteria of `truthfulness' and `credibility' yield a matrix allowing managers to measure their products, services, stores or events in terms of the degree of authenticity. According to this matrix Disney is truthful (their identity is based on delivering family amusement), but not credible (fairy tales actually don't exist). As a reverse example the NBA Store in New York City is credible (it is indeed a store selling all kinds of basket ball articles), but it is not truthful as it forbids kids to `dunk' - which according to the authors is the core characteristic of basketball.
The contents summarized here, in short, indicate that we are dealing with a book that is really fascinating and in terms of theory very rich, but that is not readily applicable. As there are a great number of models, examples, strategies and theoretical referrals - including almost 30 pages of notes in small print (!) - this book resembles a seriously detailed work of academia rather than a lucid management book full of insights - there is often just too much stuff to tell. On the other hand this book is too sparsely grounded in the empirical sense to convince the reader. In their quest for the essence of authenticity, they lose track - and the reader as well - a number of times. On the one hand this is caused by the encyclopaedic zeal of the authors in trying to fit into one framework everything ever said or thought about authenticity. On the other hand this has to do with the limitations of the framework that strangely enough goes no further than a somewhat naïve marketing perspective. If they would have chosen a wider perspective, the authors would have been less rigid in stating that only clients decide whether a product, service or firm is authentic and they would have included in the analyses other stakeholders as well - such as employees, stock owners, pressure groups in society, and public opinion. A wider perspective would have also opened the authors' eyes to the fact that authenticity is grounded for the greater part in the relationship people feel with a certain offer or firm. Factors such as continuity, congruence and consistency play an important part: firms which have existed for a long time, that make a consistent offer and communicate the same story, time and time again, stand a much better chance of being perceived as authentic than those firms incapable of delivering those characteristics. It is at this very point that the comparison of the town of Venice and the replica in Las Vegas are completely at odds: whereas Venice has deep historic roots, delivers a continuous image and a consistent message, this is not true of Las Vegas - which is only a fleeting mix of styles and ambitions.
Finally: the fact that their last book is deficient in the areas of theoretical system and empirical depth, does not take away from the interest of the many examples, anecdotes and sweeping statements offered by the authors. Just consider the next axiom:
- If you are authentic, you don't have to say you're authentic
- If you say you're authentic, then you'd better be authentic.
- It's easier to be authentic, if you don't say you're authentic
The meaning is crystal clear. An authentic organisation is simply one where identity, image and actions are in concord with each other. Sometimes life just turns out to be so simple...
Hans van der Loo is active as an independent consultant and has a passion for creating authentic organisations.
This may be a challenging read, not due to the writing per se, but because of the newness and depth of the subject. Gilmore and Pine's take on authenticity is novel enough that the reader may not have the mental hooks in their management theory framework to immediately hang the new ideas. But this is exactly what I would expect from the definition of a new management discipline.
The book builds the case for authenticity as a dominate consumer sensibility. From there, the construct framing the realness and fakeness of economic offerings forms the foundation for all that follows. Rendering authenticity takes authenticity out of the realm of ambiguity and into the realm of explicit definition. This process addresses the essence of business-organization identity and the underpinnings of the value of its offerings. The author's approach to rendering authenticity is a uniquely substantive approach to 1) exploring and defining your identity, what it is "you will be true to", 2) defining your total offering "to be what it says it is," and 3) the possibility of joining these two together for greater synergy, forming a more powerful authentic offering.
The book culminates with an approach to acting into the future. This approach employs the authenticity framework and the juxtaposition process used to understand and render authenticity, but extends it to explore an unlimited number of dimensions to spur the creation of novel value.
This book is a `must read' for those responsible for strategy and creating unique value in businesses of all types.
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
As a devotee of Pine and Gilmore's "The Experience Economy" - I have enjoyed repeated readings of the book, listened to the book on CD, read dozens of articles and books inspired by this breakthrough work...and, as a result, found myself eagerly awaiting the release of this highly-touted follow up book. My diligence was rewarded with a cogent, thoughtful apologetic for the Pine and Gilmore (or, in this case, the Gilmore and Pine)view of what consumers are looking for--and more importantly--why...
If you have the courage to suspend your preconceived ideas about "How Customers Think", and be willing to set aside your current ideas of how you should be "Managing the Customer Experience"--there is much to draw upon and learn from the carefully and thoroughly researched and documented perspectives in this book.
I heartily encourage bold business thinkers to join the growing ranks of individuals who have found insight and inspiration in this work!
Every leader should read this book - it separates the essential from the important. Loved the book!!!! I can see why its in TIME magazine.
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