Start the new year off by being authentic

Michelangelo

By Mark Overbye

You’ve no doubt heard the saying, “Be authentic.” If you’re like most people, you contemplate it for a moment, shrug your shoulders and move on. But what is authenticity and how do you achieve it and why should we care about it?

My wife likes help with certain cleaning rituals on weekends. The work goes faster while I listen to a Bruce Springsteen playlist on my headphones. Bruce lays it out in his music; he’s vulnerable and tells his story straight. You like it or not. I do, because he’s a story teller of heartbreak, ambition, relationships, resilience and hope. Once a Bruce fan, you recognize his style a mile away.

My wife also likes "The Voice." It’s a multi-week TV show of competing vocalists. In the end, with the help of top recording stars, the vocalists find out who they are and express their individualities. It’s not about them becoming another successful recording artist, it’s a personal journey to a future point where they can comfortably be themselves, showcasing their talent. You acquire show favorites because of who they are as much as how well they can sing. In essence, over a period of 19 weeks they go from an indistinguishable group of singers to original artists.  

There’s no denying that when you think of your favorite musician or group that you conjure up their distinctive sound, how they look and what they mean to you. Their authenticity is clear and that’s why you love them.

The same is true in business. You choose who you like, and who you do business with, as it resonates with you. 

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Is your business communicating your differences in ways that make people like you? If your marketing is broadcasting your price advantage you’re just one voice screaming into the void without any distinction of purpose. Until your business truly reflects its specific purpose it will be lost in the sea of look alikes being pummeled by competitors getting it right. Rudderlessly promoting the sales device of the month to draw volume is no way to live. Being only as good as your last promotion is not a sustainable business model. 

I like Kuhl sportswear. The fabrics, engineering and fit are awesome. Their authenticity is borne of their purpose, “Kuhl is always searching and questioning the norm.” Instead of focusing on external market drivers, they concentrate inwardly on making beautiful products. Accordingly, their products are in demand and nearly impossible to find on sale. That’s the ultimate business model, product in demand, sold at the best margins. 

At 17 feet tall and weighing in at some 12,000 pounds, the statue of David by Michelangelo is a magnificent sight to behold. In producing the marvel, Michelangelo did most of the work in secret from 1501 to 1504. Over 500 years later, David is regarded as one of the most spectacular and unique works in the world. 

In the development process Michelangelo created wax models, designed a unique approach formatting a 3D final form from a single slab of marble plus fashioned a special array of chisels for various work aspects. 

Apparently he frequently slept with his shoes and clothes on and rarely ate while working on David. It’s rumored that Michelangelo remarked, “David was always there, I just had to chip away the stone that doesn’t look like David.” 

You may recognize a similar dedication in building your business. Just like Michelangelo sculpting David, to build a business that is unique and authentic, you must keep chipping away the stone to reveal the greatness of your endeavor. 

To eliminate confusion and clarify your purpose you’ve got to ask these key questions:

  • Who does my customer think I am?
  • What truly differentiates me from competitors?
  • Since loyalty is a key objective, what can I do to fortify that? (Loyalty defined is your customers choosing you when less expensive and more convenient alternatives are available)

Instead of focusing on your next sales drive, start thinking of how to create a deep connection with your customers by telling your unique story. 

Ferraris are sold as performance cars presented as art. Apple is a premium eco system supported by elegant equipment. McDonalds doesn’t sell tacos and when you think of donuts you think Dunkin' Donuts. The best companies know who they are and leverage that across every touch point.

Your objective should not be tied to your pricing model but instead how your brand adds distinctive value to your customers’ lives. Get chipping!

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