Authenticity is not for amateurs: A comparison of failure and success

By Kathi Kruse
Kruse Control Inc. 


I’m struck by the dichotomy of authenticity that consumers experience on a daily basis. It’s a constant question about whom to believe, will the product or service be right for me and can I trust this person or brand to deliver what they say they will. Authenticity is not for amateurs. First, you have to have it. Then you have to communicate it.

Authenticity requires vulnerability, transparency and integrity

It all starts in the heart of your brand. A brand is defined by the . 

Trust is the currency exchanged at the core of this relationship. Gain trust and credibility with your customers and brand loyalty is yours. Lose it and you’re forced into a transactional relationship that turns your brand into a commodity.

New digital technologies and the emergence of the sharing economy have brought authenticity and transparency to the forefront, adding another layer of difficulty for companies to navigate.

I like to use real time examples of transparency and authenticity and I’ve got a good story for you illustrating the polarized differences we face, not only as consumers but as marketers. If you want to succeed in building brand trust, you have to know what success and failure actually look like.

Failure in authenticity

Oprah is one of the biggest names in media. She’s propelled her brand to places that others rarely get to visit. Since leaving "The Oprah Winfrey Show," she’s had some wins and some losses. With the birth of the OWN Network, I feel like her brand has gotten a little muddled in the last few years.

OWN broadcasts a show called "Super Soul Sunday." I have a strong yoga and spiritual practice and I sometimes tune in to see what today’s spiritual thought leaders have to share. It’s not always great, especially when Oprah starts pontificating, which I find a bit off-putting.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Oprah and I applaud her for trying to raise the consciousness of our world. I just would like to hear more from the guest than from Oprah.

There was a show this week called "Super Soul Sessions." I’d never seen it before so I recorded it. It looked like a take on the TED model and being a new customer, I carved out some time to check it out.

What it ended up being was short snippets of talks by thought leaders and, in order to see more than five minutes of the person’s talk, you had to go to the website. Now, I watch a lot of programming on the Web but having sat down to watch it on TV, I didn’t feel like jumping over. I don’t know — I guess I just didn’t feel like doing what they told me to do.

OWN was not authentic in their delivery. When a person makes time to view your content, and you don’t let them know that it’s only a preview of another channel’s content, you’ve broken the contract you had with the customer. Had they sold the show as a preview for Web content, then I could’ve made the choice whether I wanted to watch it. Instead, it felt like manipulation.

Now, this exchange I had with the Oprah brand may seem inconsequential but in the war for attention, the devil is in the details. I’m busy like everyone else and when I decide to take a break from the rat race, that last thing I need is a pathetic attempt to get me to spend more time on your website.

Lesson here? You never hear the door slam on lost opportunities. I doubt that I’ll ever go back. With so much content vying for my attention, don’t make me jump through hoops to see what I want to see.

Success in authenticity

Like all of us, I need to periodically replenish my wardrobe. I was looking for the perfect white v-neck t-shirt (aren’t we all, right, gals?). I like my T-shirts soft, but not see-through; long enough, but not too long. I did a Google search for “Best women’s v-neck t-shirt” and landed on  There were some priced as high as $100 and I found a company called  that was on the list whose T-shirt was only $20.

I clicked over to their site and found a company that sounded like a dream. 

“Introducing Radical Transparency. Know your factories. Know your costs. Always ask why.”

“We constantly challenge the status quo. Nothing is worse than complacency, and as a brand our culture is to dissect every single decision we make at every level of the company.

We know our customers are also rule breakers and questioners, so we hope this philosophy is palpable in the products and choices we make. And by all means, challenge us too.”

Wow, now this is a brand I can get behind! So, I ordered  They offer free shipping on two or more items and they used Facebook Messenger to keep me updated on when the package would arrive.

The package arrived promptly and it comes in a post-consumer recycled envelope that looks nothing like I’ve ever seen before … another cool detail!

By the way, the  I actually went back and ordered two more, along with a few poplin shirts that are very high quality. I’m thrilled because they fit me perfectly! I can’t even believe how amazing Everlane is. I was going to share my experience on Facebook but decided to write about it instead. I wanted to compare my stories to show you that authenticity and radical transparency can happen … and does … and it’s often the reason someone buys from you.

A focus on authenticity pays you back in sales and customer loyalty.

Know your why

In conversations with clients and prospects, we always advocate the need to understand why you are doing what you do.

  • Why did you start the business?
  • What drives your vision?
  • Do your employees understand your vision and do they share it?
  • Why do your customers choose you over your competitor?

In the world of women’s T-shirts, nearly every single brand has been reduced to a commodity. At Everlane, they’ve fully dissected their WHY and they do a great job at communicating it:

“They say you should start a business that you wish already existed, so we quit our day jobs.”

“We have a passion for great design and frustration with the lack of innovation in the retail space. It’s a motley group held together by a shared passion for pushing boundaries and challenging conventions.”

Even their job opportunities page oozes their brand:

“Rule breakers, questioners, straight-A students who skipped class: We want you.”

Where are you on the authenticity spectrum?

Thirty-two percent of senior executives say building trust is one of their biggest challenges, second only to expansion and top-line growth over the next one to two years.

“Brands earn trust by being authentic, and by being seen as authentic.” — Robert Wolcott, Kellogg School of Management, Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Disruption is upon us. Nowhere is that more evident than in automotive retail, where I spend the bulk of my time with clients. Clearly, those brands that are open to change and embrace authenticity and transparency will thrive. Will that be you?

This column originally appeared on .


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