Let’s talk about Disney.
Disney is by far the leader in intentionally creating authentic products and experiences for their customers.
In this context, I define authenticity as any person or brand that is intentional on building something that is unique to them.
For example, the original iPhone is authentic and unique to Apple, and the many smartphones that followed them are mostly replicas.
Great brands seek out to intentionally build products and services that customers need and enjoy.
Let’s take hiring at Disney, for example. When you work at a Disney theme park, you are not an employee, you are a “cast member.” You’re not allowed to say, “I don’t know.” You can’t point with one finger when giving directions because it can be considered rude. Even, believe it or not, all cast members who are dressed up as characters have autograph practice. Yes, autograph practice.
This means that the Mickey Mouse in Orlando has the same autograph as the Mickey Mouse in Tokyo Disneyland. And the question is, why does that matter?
Disney believes in building magical experiences, and if a kid gets a different style autograph at a different park from the same character, the kid might start thinking “Hey, that’s not the same Goofy!” The chances of that happening are extremely rare, but nonetheless, it’s the little details that count when building authenticity into experiences.
It doesn’t stop there either.
At Disney World, you’re never more than 30 steps away from a trash can. As a result, it’s one of the cleanest theme parks in America. Animal Kingdom has no straws in restaurants to protect the animals and the Magic Band can be used to get on rides and purchase anything in the park. This means you don’t need cash or credit cards.
Most audiences don’t always know the context, but, when they see it, when we are accurate, the audience can tell. Confidence seeps into every view. No detail is too small.
There are some brands that just “get it” and are willing to invest in original designs that are authentic to their brand.
Take a look at this picture below taken by our Creative Director, Jason Lung.
At first glance, it seems fairly ordinary. Then you notice that the counter line isn’t straight, it does a zig zag. It’s not just to make Potbelly’s look nicer, but it’s there by design.
If you’ve ever been to a busy deli or “factory-style” ordering experience like Potbelly’s or Chipotle during the lunch rush hour, there is almost always one person holding up the line. This nook design prevents that.
So instead of waiting for the person in front of you to decide if they want hot peppers on their sandwich or not, the nooks enable you to go around them without any issues or stares.
That’s authentic design. Again, a very small thing, but intentional consideration was put into fuzing great design into it.
Tesla is another company that has a strong handle on building authentic products and experiences. Not only did they succeed in creating an all-electric car, they succeeded in making it look great, and most importantly, made it fun. Outside of the amazing autopilot, over the air software updates and ludicrous mode, there are a few features that make this car a truly authentic experience.
- Sentry Mode: Sentry Mode is a built-in video-enabled car alarm. When activated, it first goes into Standby mode, and uses the car's external cameras to detect threats. If the Tesla detects something wrong such as someone breaking in, it goes into Alarm state, increasing the brightness on the display while playing music on maximum volume. And of course, everything is recorded in the cloud. It works well. Here’s a video of two people keying a Model 3 for absolutely no reason.
- Dog Mode: Dog owners, good ones at least, have a small problem when they park their car and leave their dogs in the car while they grab something quick from the store and come back. When it’s hot out, and the dog is in the car, other dog owners who are walking by think that the dog has been locked in a 100 degree car, when in fact, the car is on and the temperature is a cool 72 degrees.
Introducing Dog Mode: set a cabin temperature to keep your dog comfortable while letting passersby know they don't need to worry pic.twitter.com/xFU6MGZT53— Tesla (@Tesla) February 14, 2019
- Key Design: The key used to unlock and turn on a Tesla, is shaped exactly like a Tesla. Again, it’s the small things that give you delight. Tesla owners love their car. Of course, they don’t want a traditional key. Tesla has driven deep into the experience of a tesla car owner.
Photo Credit: Tesla
Why Authenticity Matters
Take a look at this headline from an article in Adweek.
Verizon didn’t just wake up one day and say, “we should be more authentic!” They see the same data that I do. Millennials don’t trust brands and aren’t as loyal to brands as generations previous to them were. This creates a big problem.
In a survey by Crowdspring, they uncovered that 91% of consumers are more likely to buy from an authentic brand than they would from a brand they deem to be dishonest.
Authenticity matters and consumers are getting better at sniffing out who is real and who is acting real.
Authenticity is Intentional
Clarity in your purpose brings authenticity to the products and experiences you develop. It allows you to holistically design experiences, and not just focus on the individual job at hand.
I’ve seen first hand how companies focus on what worked in the past instead of focusing on the now. I can see it as soon as they launch a product or a service if they’ve been authentic to themselves in the process. Especially now, in the digital age, authenticity matters more than ever.
A user research methodology we follow here at Vokal is called “Jobs to Be Done (JTBD),” made famous by author and Harvard professor, Clayton Christensen.
One of the main questions the methodology poses is: “What job your product is hired to do?” For example, you might think that Google’s JTBD is to bring back relevant search information. But they have defined it as “organizing the world’s information,” which is their mission statement.
That opens up a world of possibilities. So instead of making a better search engine, they are creating different platforms that does just that: from an AI-based system, Duplex, that makes reservations for you, to Google Street View by physically driving roads across the world with a camera all the way to a huge initiative to digitize print books.
That’s when authenticity works.
To create authentic experiences, brand must be intentional about how they make their decisions. It requires discipline, and most importantly it requires you to be immersed in your customers’ experiences.
When doing research about your next product or experience, immerse yourself into your customer's life and journey. Document everything you can about the experience. The big things, the little things. Understand the nuances of your customers activities, and explore similar experiences that inspire you.
In the end, we crave authenticity. When we experience it, we might not notice it, but it makes a difference and that’s what matters.