Not long ago The San Francisco Pizza Company came to us looking for help with their packaging. Founder Massimo DiSciullio wanted to update an old-time pizza-parlor look. It would have been relatively easy to take the logo, mark and typography and give it new life. This is what the client was expecting. Ten minutes talking with Massimo, however, convinced us the job wasn’t that simple. A bigger opportunity lay hidden in the sauce.
Anyone who watches Madmen knows that in the past, marketeers created works of fiction and presented them as reality—the practice is still widespread today, though more difficult to spot. Haagen-Dazs is a name that suggests an imported Scandinavian ice cream, when in fact it was created by a savvy entrepreneur in Brooklyn. General Foods’ never-aging home cooking expert, Betty Crocker, is another example of marketing fiction. But this approach is a lot trickier these days. Media-savvy consumers can smell a fake in seconds. (I’ve watched this happen in focus groups. I sat in on a group that was trying out “Home Style Cookies Fresh from Rosie’s Kitchen.” There was no Rosie, no homey kitchen, and the cookies obviously looked like they came out of a factory machine. Regardless of how they thought the cookies tasted, participants blasted the product and the name, calling it “corny,” “dumb,” and “phony.”)
In the case of the San Francisco Pizza Company, we had the reverse situation. Here was a company about to launch a new line of 100% organic, fresh take-and-bake pizzas, and also was developing a line of gourmet, organic, fresh entree dishes. The company’s founder, Massimo DiSciullio, is a five-star chef, born in Italy, who has been chef for some of the finest restaurants in the world. As we listened to Massimo’s story, we were captivated by his Abruzzan charm and his passion for cooking with the simple, wild-crafted ingredients of his homeland. This was not a Madison Avenue creation. This was the real deal sitting right in front of us, and clearly the existing San Francisco Pizza Company label missed the heart of the story.
Massimo embodies the authentic core of the brand. He is everything the company stands for. He’s not selling pizza—he’s on a proud mission to celebrate the great, Abruzzan foods he grew up with.
Company founders like Massimo make our job easy. In this case we convinced him to change the company name to Massimo’s Organic Gourmet; then we created a classic Italian look and a voice that came directly from Chef Massimo. In other cases, however, finding the heart and soul of a company takes more work. A product might have qualities that are real—a long history, high standards or healthy ingredients—but these aspects rarely go beyond the realm of “attributes.” They are call-outs on a package or messages on a billboard, simple points of differentiation. In the past, this is where much of the marketing world has put its focus: “How are we better than the other guy?”
“Authenticity” is a deeper dive. When a consumer starts asking questions like, “What’s in it? Who makes this thing? Where do they come from? What are they like? What do they believe? and How do they treat their workers?” she or he is looking for the authenticity factor.
A few years ago, author Bill Breen wrote an excellent article in Fast Company about brand authenticity in which he outlined the four pillars necessary for a brand to be authentic. He reduced the formula down to the following:
• A sense of place
• A strong point of view
• Serving a larger purpose
Many companies today spend a lot of time and money defining and expressing their particular values, which extend beyond traditional quality statements: “Caring for the communities we serve,” “Paying livable wages to our employees,” “Using only certified fair-trade ingredients,” or “Dedicated to using sustainable packaging.” This component creates an emotional link between the consumer and the product. And herein lies the difference between an authenticity-based brand, and a brand based on selling. When a brand is rooted in authenticity, it is actively striving to make a human connection.
Why is it worth the trouble and expense to have values at the heart of a brand? Increasingly, 21st century consumers want to know companies care about them or about the things they value. This lays the groundwork for a sense of real relationship between the consumer and the company. That connection might come from exceptional customer service, or from a company showing true care for the environment or the community. A creative or artistic approach to how the product is presented can also create a feeling of connection. Companies that take creative risks by offering up a surprising, fun or an irreverent presentation (as opposed to the traditional hard sell) are rewarded with consumers’ attention and loyalty. Pioneered by Odwalla in 1980, this approach helped build many great beverage companies including The Republic of Tea, Tazo and Jones Soda.
In today’s media-frenzied marketplace, more and more consumers are looking for products that do more than just meet an immediate need. Many shoppers relate to brands personally, and want to align themselves with companies that support their belief systems or their lifestyles. Whole Foods owes its success to this fast-growing consumer category.
If your company is good at making a human connection, you’re more likely to feel the love rather than the disdain. And in this age of niche marketing and social networking, those who love you and those who hate you are going to be having a very public conversation about the relationship.
So what should your company be doing to address this new paradigm? First, look at your own reality. You can start by asking these three questions:
• Do our actions match our words?
• Why are we in business, beyond making money?
• Are we listening to our constituencies?
As you answer these questions you will start to get at the heart of your own authenticity, paving the way for broader and deeper relationships with your consumers and creating a strong community of loyal evangelists.