Authenticity will be the buzzword of the twenty-first century. And what is authentic? Anything that is not devised and structured to make a profit. Anything that is not controlled by corporations. Anything that exists for its own sake, that assumes its own shape. The modern world is the corporate equivalent of a formal garden, where everything is planted and arranged for effect. Where nothing is untouched, where nothing is authentic.
— Robert Doniger, in Michael Crichton’s Timeline
Authenticity is a concept not easily engaged with and, consequently, a concept that many businesses may reluctantly take on. But the warning of many business and technology analysts is: Ignore Authenticity at Your Own Peril!
CRM guru, Paul Greenberg, argues, “ a business model … is no longer just a theoretical nicety. It is … defined by authenticity and transparency.” 1 Business literature is beginning to pay a lot of attention to this topic and the reasons for this refocusing of attention are clear: it makes good business sense. Citing Greenberg again, he claims that since 2003, “there has been a revolution in communications that impacts every institution…” 2 driven largely by the Internet. In a relatively short time, people soon learned that the ability to communicate in real time with friends and peers could move organizations, industries and the political process. This is indeed a very valuable lesson, one that has profoundly and irrevocably altered the relationship between customer and institutional organization – and businesses are at the center of this change. “The way a company differentiates in the 21st century is not just products and services, but visibility into the information that customers need and having an honest, straightforward relationship with those customers.” 3
However, the task of incorporating ‘authenticity and transparency’ by businesses might very well fall under the category of easier said than done! First of all, the more common constructs related to the understanding of authenticity – trust, integrity, honesty and heritage – are not fixed in time or place and, therefore, key components assigned to an authenticity framework can be in constant flux.
But in order for this discussion to move from a strictly theoretical perspective, let’s make the following assumptions about our business approach. We are working primarily with Generation Y consumers who, as studies have indicated, increasingly see the world in terms of real and fake. 4 According to Gilmore and Pine (What Consumers Really Want), “In a society looking for less materialistic buying motivations, choosing an authentic product or brand reduces the feeling of guilt.” 5
Given these parameters, here are some questions perhaps worthy of consideration: what are the key components of an authenticity framework that are best applicable within customer relationship management (CRM)? Why &/or Is the idea of authenticity best explored within the framework of CRM? Can authenticity be measured? If authenticity, as it is commonly understood, is about the individual, can a business successfully and ‘authentically’ establish links to authenticity?
Examining these and many other questions and ideas may begin to shed some light on how we may practically define authenticity, within business as well as outside of business.
Some of the key ideas we would like to emphasize and share are drawn from an inspiring article by J. Barry Dickinson in the Journal of Management and Marketing Research:
- Authenticity is a reflexive process; the seller indicates to the buyer that it is acceptable to engage in business
- The way the seller indicates to the buyer what is acceptable shifts over time
- All aspects of authenticity, i.e., trust, integrity, etc… are continually negotiated over time and the cycles of this process are ongoing 6
Authenticity in business may be best examined as a process, (continually evolving), by which a certain parameter of constructs are intertwined together and brought to life by day-to-day business transactions in a reflexive process. 7
1 Greenberg, Paul, CRM at the Speed of Light, Fourth Edition: Social CRM 2.0 Strategies, Tools, and Techniques for Engaging Your Customers
2 Greenberg, Paul, Social CRM Comes of Age
4 Gilmore, James. H., & Pine, Joseph, Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want
6 Dickinson, J. Barry, The Role of Authenticity in Relationship Marketing