Who among us would not regard authenticity as a cardinal virtue? Not every many, I suspect – except in the world of marketing where. There, one might conclude, if you can convincingly fake authenticity you have it made.
My good friends Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore set out to change marketers’ views on authenticity in their new book, Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want (Harvard Business School Press, September 2007).
As you probably know, Joe and Jim wrote the business best seller, The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage (Harvard Business School Press, 1999). It thus might seem ironic that the minds that see work as theater and every business a stage are now preaching authenticity. But theater can be either authentic or inauthentic.
Shakespeare’s plays are the epitome of authenticity: they project human nature with flawless truth. A goodly portion of Hollywood’s output is outrageously inauthentic: characters often develop as soulless representations of humanity, with special effects expected to do more to drive moviegoers to the box office than insightful screen plays that project human nature in an authentic manner.
The Experience Economy came out not long after the customer experience became more important in consumers’ decisions while the influence of product performance began to ebb. High quality product performance is more and more seen by consumers’ as givens, not distinctive reasons for buying a product.
With Authenticity, Pine and Gilmore have once again caught a wave of change in timely manner and skillfully ridden it to shore.
By my lights, consumers’ rising demand for authenticity was catalyzed by the same forces that catalyzed the birth of the experience economy: the aging of the marketplace.
In Serving the Ageless Market, which I wrote in the late 1980s, I predicted a sea change in consumers’ expectations in the marketplace that would have them increasingly view products as “gateways to experiences.” A decade later, Pine and Gilmore documented that sea change.
In the same book, I also predicted the rising importance of authenticity in the marketplace as a result of an aging consumer population. Nearly two decades later, Pine and Gilmore have described that sea change as well.
Why do consumers’ elevated expectations of authenticity in the marketplace qualify as a “sea change?”
It’s a matter of developmental influences on consumer behavior. In adolescence and early adulthood, people’s worldviews tend to reflect idealizations: images of life as they wish it to be. Throughout the last half of the 20th century, this youthful disposition shaped marketers’ views of the world. “We are a youth-dominated society” became a cliché used to justify disregard for, first, anyone over 40, then later, anyone over 50.
With people over 40 representing the majority of adults (137 million to 86 million adults under 40), worldviews typical of adults in the second half of life now dominate the mind of the market. They have generated a “sea change” in consumer attitudes, including a shift from seeing the world through the idealizing lens of youth to the more realistic lens of maturity. This shift is what Authenticity is about.
Pine and Gilmore’s literary treatment of this huge change in today’s zeitgeist – spirit of the times – is well worth the time of anyone wanting deeper insights into the contemporary mind of the market.