The Brand Minute: Authenticity


“I want to be just like Steve Jobs!” I’ve heard it repeatedly. Nearly every time I’ve worked with leaders on mastering a presentation or perfecting a pitch, I would hear this. It made sense. Prior to his death, Jobs had become known as the master of ceremonies wowing the world with new operating systems, smartphones and tablets at sleek and futuristic yet simple and clean product launches.

The problem. You’re not Steve Jobs and never will be. And there is nothing wrong with that. What can you learn from Steve? AUTHENTICITY. A key to showing up and being the super-premium brand that you are is being your authentic self. It can be easy to look around the workplace or at titans of business to find a model to copy. Resist the temptation.

In 2012, J.C. Penney and then CEO Ron Johnson went through an epic rebrand and even more epic failure leading to an over 50% drop in the stock price and ultimately his termination. Johnson brought all the pedigree of his previous employers – Apple and Target – to the table and envisioned a century-old retailer as a place for the cool and hip. The problem – the core J.C. Penney’s shopper didn’t consider themselves cool and hip. When their weekly coupons went away and their local stores turned into pop-up boutiques of designer homewares and denim at “everyday value” prices without sales or discounts, the core shoppers revolted. This wasn’t the J.C. Penney that they knew and loved. Where were those new Apple and Target-loving customers they were wooing? They never showed up and probably snickered when they saw an ad or drove past a store.

The core shoppers stopped coming and the new, targeted-customers never considered coming for the same reason. They could smell inauthenticity and it reeked. You can’t just change your clothes to look like someone else and be a new brand.

The best brands build on the attributes they are good at and known for. You can do the same. Write down 3 words that describe you. 3 words that feel uniquely you. You’ve heard people describe you this way in the past. Now, ask some of your friends or trusted coworkers to do the same. When they share, probe deeper and ask, “Give me some examples of where you’ve seen me as this word in the past week?” The power is in identifying your behaviors and actions that you authentically take that lead people to describe you this way. By this time, you’ve probably heard some repeated words and themes – energizing, fun, detailed, thoughtful. These are your brand attributes today that you are known for. Select 3 adjectives or descriptors you want to build upon. Look at how you can amplify these attributes today. What can you do today when you attend that staff meeting, call your client, or bump into people at the coffee machine to ensure that if you surveyed them afterwards, they would share those same descriptors. Take it one day at time, then add a couple more descriptors and start to document what you do that is driving your brand attributes. Only once you’ve mastered your action and behaviors, should you think about the packaging – email signature, documents, workspace and dress.

Remember, putting on jeans, glasses, and a black turtleneck doesn’t make you Steve Jobs. Stop trying to be someone else. Start being the best YOU, you can be!