Monday, June 27, 2011

The Incredible Power of Authenticity for Business

Authenticity. Freedom to be yourself. YOURSELF .... complete with all your glorious strengths and weaknesses.

To place yourself in your authenticity is a powerful place for both corporations and individuals. I'd like to spend a bit on why it is so important for companies and how Social Media can be an important tool in finding it.

As an example, let me brag on a favorite restaurant of mine in Calgary called Marathon. Located on 10th St NW in Calgary's trendy Kensington district it serves up awesome Ethiopian fare.

A couple fundamental distinctions of Ethiopian food & culture. First, there are no knives and forks! Ethiopian ethnic delights are served up on a common platter on top of a spongy bread called Injera which you tear and use to scoop up your food. Second, Ethiopia runs on a 13 month calendar as compared to our 12 month calendar (which will be relevant in describing the timeliness of their service :O) )

As with every single corporation out there, this restaurant comes with its strengths and weaknesses.

Some Strengths: Amazing & Fresh Food, Relaxed Atmosphere and Jazzy type music, Owners whose smiles and laughter could cheer up a continent.

Some Weaknesses: The service can seem like they are on a different calendar: slow. Parking can be limited in the area.

Whether you are happy with this restaurant will depend on your goals for going there. If you want a quick bite before heading out to a movie or play you will almost certainly end up being extremely frustrated and disappointed if not angry. If you are there for business there will be a moment of awkwardness as you both weren't quite prepared to share a platter never mind doing so with your bare hands/fingers (you can get knives and forks if you ask)
However, if your goal is to spend some quality time with a person you love or want to get to know better, then this is the perfect place. You won't feel the rush to vacate your table for the next "shift". The slowness of service won't matter as you fully engage in conversation with your partner over a glass of wine and some relaxing music. The wait will seem worth it when you taste this fresh and fantastic fare with its complex flavours from spicy berbere dishes to comfort food lentil based creations all brought together perfectly by a sweet vinegar salad that refreshes your palette for every next bite. As your hands cross the platter to gather your next mouthful it brushes against your partner's hand which is reaching for something on your side. You get the picture... It is incredible.

I think the danger for business comes when we try to be everthing to everyone. Marathon's long term success will come in marketing itself simply for what it is. Unique flavors, Great People and a leisurely dining experience. I think there is a huge market in any city for that.

When we figure out our authenticity as a business, our authenticity being our strengths and the real, true experience customers will have when they engage us in our environment, great things happen.

a)We attract people looking for what we have to offer and we can just be relaxed and genuinely ourselves in serving them. A fundmental truth in managing people is to know that fundamentally people don't change. If you are constantly trying to be someone else in your life as a business its a tough road.

b) We push away potential clients who would only be dissatisfied and angry with our products and services. You cut down on the huge cost of trying to service that segment of our customer base today and you don't have them walking about of your business telling 10 friends about how crappy your product/service/business is.

Here's where I believe every business needs to leverage the power of Social Media. You see in the old days that dissatisfied customer would talk to those 10 friends over the phone. You couldn't see it, hear it which meant you couldn't react to it. My experience as a Retail Manager suggests that 9 out of 10 dissatisfied customers leave your store and never come back without ever confronting you on your issue (giving you a chance to make them happy).

Today, instead of talking to 10 friends on the phone, they are talking to thousands of friends on the Web! While the viral nature of web reviews and comments seem daunting, it actually should be viewed as an opportunity.

You see in the old days you couldn't react to the complaining because you didn't hear their phone conversations. Today, whether your company has a formal presence in Social Media or not, it doesn't stop the public from talking about you in these channels.

The opportunity is to listen. Google Alerts, for example lets you have Google keep an eye out for any new entries on the Web that contain search terms which you define. One of them should be your company or product name and any shortforms of it. When new "discussions" appear on the web, Google emails you automatically and points you to it.

You may or may not like what you hear but feedback is the essence of any businesses growth and it will be powerful in helping you define your authenticity in the eyes of your customer base (which is often different then what we see it as). Your authenticity will then allow you to be targetted with the search tags and keywords you use in helping the right audience find you.
If it is on average 10 times more expensive to attract a new customer then retain an old one then you should delight in your new ability to respond to these customer concerns and potentially turn bad experiences into raving fans for your business.

I encourage you to start embracing various Social Media platforms for the opportunity it gives you to find your authenticity. My last thought: "You may be able to eak out a living outside of your authenticity, but you will find LIFE when you dare place yourself in it."