Authenticity Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2008

In James H. Gilmore’s opinion, much of the world is fake.

In today’s marketplace, he says consumers traverse “an increasingly unreal world, where parents are buying birthday parties at arcade outlets, you’ve got the Geek Squad costume guys repairing computers and people are taking vacations at Atlantis or a theme park in Orlando.”

The idea of authenticity — or lack thereof — in business shouldn’t be dismissed as an abstract, existential exercise. In fact, Gilmore, co-founder of consulting firm Strategic Horizons LLP, says that the concept is the new business imperative. In a world increasingly filled with staged experiences, consumers are now making decisions based on how real they perceive a given product or service to be.

This isn’t a recent revelation for Gilmore. Together with business partner B. Joseph Pine II, he first introduced the concept in 1999 in the perennial bestseller “The Experience Economy: Work Is Theatre & Every Business a Stage.” It’s only with the release of their most recent book, “Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want,” that the idea has been thoroughly articulated for the masses, and people are taking notice. TIME magazine recently named the notion of authenticity in business as one of “10 Ideas That Are Changing the World.”

So what does this mean for your business? Potentially everything, Gilmore says.

“In order to be perceived as authentic or real, businesses need to learn how to take specific steps that can be best described as rendering authenticity — gaining the perception of being real,” he says.

To begin, simply ask yourself, “Where are we most fake?” Citing Dave & Buster’s as an example, Gilmore points to the restaurant and arcade’s ticket redemption center.

“You get all these points on your card, and you go upstairs to redeem it for cheap (prizes) made in China,” he says. “I’d much rather take my company to an outing where points go to some cause in Cleveland, some inner city reading program kind of thing than one where everybody wins points that go toward some cheap, Nerf-ball thing.”

The process of evaluating authenticity can be challenging, especially when each individual’s perception of real or fake can be different. Gilmore says that you need to embrace this fact. Instead of stubbornly sticking to patterns of mass production, mass marketing and mass distribution, he suggests taking a more customized approach.

“You go to NikeID and design your own shoes,” he says. “M&Ms are letting you now print customized M&Ms with words on it.”

Gilmore isn’t suggesting that you completely change your business model to accommodate the unique needs of each individual consumer. Instead, look for aspects of your business in which customer customization is possible.

“(The) dimensions of your business where traditionally you relied on a few smart people in a cubicle or office to decide, let customers themselves design and customize it,” he says.

As you make these changes, don’t brand yourself as authentic, live it.

“You should not, should not, should not self-proclaim your own authenticity,” Gilmore says. “Don’t say you’re authentic. Be authentic. If I were to meet you the first time face to face and shake your hand and say, ‘I want to let you know right off the bat how very authentic I am,’ you’d look at me like, ‘What are you crazy?’”

On the flip side, Gilmore says that acknowledging your own inauthenticity can actually make you appear more real.

“In some ways, it’s really helpful to know you’re absolutely fake and contrived,” he says. “It’s almost easier than people saying, ‘Based on our history, we’re the original company in this category. We’ve been here since 18-whatever.’

“Sometimes, that’s a disservice because you think you’re the authentic one when you’re just as manmade as anybody else. You’re just older.”

A winning streak

TIME magazine recently labeled authors James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II “legendary business consultants” in an article citing the duo’s book “Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want.”

It is one of several books written or edited by the pair, who founded Strategic Horizons LLP, and continues their streak of offering advice for leaders to join the “Experience Economy.”

The pair’s previous books include:

“Pine & Gilmore’s Field Guide for the Experience Economy,” which offers 10 traveling tools to help business leaders explore their economic landscape. The book provides real-world learning and offers key models and exercises to help the reader evaluate and extract best principles from experiences throughout the Experience Economy.

“The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage,” which asserts that providing goods and services is no longer enough. Pine and Gilmore say that in today’s economy, businesses must stage experiences for each individual customer, orchestrating memorable events that engage them in a personal way. The book offers examples of how the reader can direct employees to perform on the business stage and encourages leaders to look beyond traditional factors in pricing and charge customers for the time they spend with the business.

“Markets of One,” a collection of articles from the Harvard Business Review, which was edited by the pair. The 10 articles chronicle the evolution of business competition from mass markets to markets of one.

“Mass Customization: The New Frontier in Business Competition,” which makes a case that mass production is the cause of America’s declining competitiveness and argues for a new model of mass customization. The book outlines the strategies required to develop, produce, market and deliver customized goods and shows readers how to analyze their industries to determine whether a shift to mass customization would work for them.

HOW TO REACH: Strategic Horizons LLP, (330) 995-4680 or www.strategichorizons.com