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March 31, 2008

The New Marketing Buzz Word - "Authenticity"

Actually, it's "synthetic authenticity"...back to buying real products or services, or at least ones that fake it well.

In Authenticity (Harvard Business School Press written by legendary business consultants James Gilmore and Joseph Pine II), they argue that the virtualization of life (friends aren't friends unless you 'confirm' them on Facebook; reporters are now all bloggers, and vice versa) has led to a deep consumer yearing for the authentic.  America has "toxic levels of inauthenticity, " Gilmore and Pine argue: most of the e-mail we get is fake.  It's so difficult to reach a real person via an 800 number that we had to invent a heretofore unnecessary locution - real person - to describe the entity we are trying to reach."  (Time Magazine, March 24th 2008>

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Standard economic theory assumes that buyers are rational creatures who observe supply-and-demand laws.  For centuries, this model worked pretty well to explain most economic activity.  Two hundred years ago, agrarian Americans decided whether to buy a hoe mainly on the basis of whether it was available and affordable.  But in the past 20 years, a school of behavioral economists has emerged to  point out the obvious: consumers with higher living standards often make stupid, irrational decisions.  We don't simply look at price and quality; we decide how we feel about a refrigerator or even a pair of socks before we buy.

Authenticity is a way of understanding this concept.  Some see the iPhone as a silly pose; others find Apple products genuine because of their unique design and "Think Different" posture.  Gilmore and Pine give a name to this ephemeral dimension of consumer behavior: in addition to the established dimensions of availability, price and quality; we are buying according to authenticity.

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If Gilmore and Pine are right, the dominant business polarity of the past decade -- online vs off-line -- is irrelevant.  The crucial factor dividing success from failure in the next few years will be whether a business is perceived as real or fake, authentic or inauthentic.

The article further discusses the 90's was all about business creating an 'experience' for the consumer (The Experience Economy) to combat the internet's strong position on 'availability and price.'  Otherwise, how would you explain the rise of Starbucks with their $4 lattes in an Italian coffee house experience.  Now aren't they down to Dunkin Donut pricing as people have awakened to overpaying for a fake Italian experience?

What (consumers) buy must reflect who they are and who they aspire to be in relation to how they perceive the world --with lightening quick judgments of 'real' or fake' hanging in the balance."

How does this relate to your solo legal practice? Whether the cosumer is buying lattes or legal services, the principles are the same. I've spoken often on this blog about authenticity.  I also talk extensively with my clients about authenticity but for a myriad of reasons...not just to attract clients, but for a more holistic reason, to help you construct a marketing plan based upon who you are so marketing becomes a natural extension of you, done in a way which is most comfortable for yourself, effortless to maintain because you are presenting the real you in all your marketing and networking efforts and ultimately attracting the client who wants to work with you. This is a critical concept for solos because they are 'on' 24/7 and it must mesh seamlessly. (Many legal marketing gurus dismiss this as 'new age.' - their term for anything they don't quite understand, in my opinion.)

Understand this, though. If you are awkward and uncomfortable marketing your services, presenting in a way which is forced, this new 'authenticity - seeking" client is going to sniff it out in a heartbeat and move on to someone else who is more comfortable in their professional and personal skin.  And this authenticity-seeking client will be looking at pricing secondarily.  If you think about what I am saying and apply it to yourself, I bet you can find several instances where this has come into play in your own purchases.  And it sheds further light on the tried and true statement, "people work with those they know, like and trust" because doesn't that mean the individual has presented authentically to them? Once you understand this foundational concept, you will then understand when I say, "There is no competition."

And one other brilliant piece of wisdom for this new economy:

Stop saying what your offerings are through advertising and start creating places -- permanent or temporary, physical or virtual -- where people can experience what those offerings, as well as your enterprise, actually are."

For the solo, this means start by allocating resources to the most interactive mediums available to you where you can educate and showcase yourself as a professional thereby attracting clients who like your particular style because, first and foremost, they relate to your authenticity.

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Comments

Naomi Dunford - IttyBiz.com

That's priceless. How do we feel about the hoe? And I love "synthetic authenticity"!

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