What Makes Your Company Authentic?
Here’s an equation for authenticity: privately-owned + small scale + friendly employees + consistency of quality products or services = meaningful relationships with customers, a high level of trust, and the perception of being the real deal. In simple terms, small, local businesses have many things to worry about but being seen as authentic isn’t one of them. On the other hand, large public corporations have a real challenge in this area – especially today when the public’s trust in big business is in free-fall. If I was running a large corporation today, I look really hard at small businesses in the same category to find out what makes them so trustworthy in the minds of their employees and customers and what I could do to emulate them.
While Starbucks has done a remarkably good job of maintaining its DNA in spite of its scale, there’s a coffee shop near our office called the Dark Horse Espresso Bar that’s a “third place” for people in our downtown neighborhood to talk, work, read, and hang out that’s second to none. Lot’s to learn here. There’s a regional airline called Porter that has brought back dependability, enjoyment, and romance to flying. These are qualities that have all but disappeared from the big airlines. As Porter scales up, will they be able to maintain the magic that makes them so special today? Interestingly, corporate responsibility doesn’t come into the equation for authenticity or the two examples above. One of the few large corporations that has been able to maintain its authenticity in spite of its size is Ben & Jerry’s. Perhaps the fact that corporate social responsibility was always a defining characteristic of its brand has helped it maintain its authenticity despite the company now being a division of Unilever.
I’d welcome your feedback on other large corporations where CSR is making a contribution to their authenticity quotient.More on this topic (What's this?) Schama: Are the Guillotines Being Sharpened? (naked capitalism, 5/22/10) Yet Another Reason Not to Trust the Big Commercial Investment Firms (the Underground Investor, 6/3/10)