Fe Fi Fo Phony: Is Your Business Inauthentic?

Customers can smell inauthenticity like giants can smell peasant boys hiding in their castles. No matter how you try to hide, the stench lingers in the air. Unless you have a friendly giant wife (or PR team) defending you, there is a good chance you’ll be called out.

Then they’ll grind your business down to make their memes.

Spare yourself this fate by avoiding these 6 red flags of inauthentic business practices

  1. Jumping on bandwagons

Well, well, well… look what we have here… a BABY peanut.

Planters released its tiny mascot, expecting to gain the approval of millions of baby Yoda and Groot lovers. After all, the Disney characters have captured everyone’s heart and become a feature in a steady stream of viral memes.

Who wouldn’t want some of that sweet baby marketing?

Unfortunately, their baby nut was met with universal disdain. From the desire to roast it alive, to hard questions about what it might have done to its father, the brand was mocked around the internet for the blatant attempt to copy Disney.

Not only does jumping on a bandwagon make you seem like a desperate parent trying to be cool for your teens, but it also makes customers question your authenticity.

If you’re faking that, what else might you be faking?

2. You always look photo-perfect

For better or worse, people want to see the nitty-gritty. They want to know a brand owner hustled to get where they are. More importantly, they want to see the human face of the company.

Showing vulnerability binds people in similar circumstances to you and your story. Don’t be afraid to go about without a constant veneer of perfection. It’s that kind of authentic imperfection that modern audiences want in the companies they support.

Take a page out of Catherine Heller’s life. She generated a 6-figure salary and a thriving business by telling all of her customers how bad her life was, and the difficulties she still faces every day.

Despite her wealth and success, customers FLOCK toward her, recognizing her challenges in themselves.

Everyone is vulnerable in their own way, and acknowledging this gives an instant air of authenticity to your brand.

3. You don’t respond to emails or comments like a human being

Recently I wanted to cancel my membership to a food delivery service, and the only way to do this was by chatting with a customer service rep on the website. Yet to my horror it quickly became obvious I wasn’t talking to a flesh and blood human, but to a computer.

To be fair, R2-D2 did his best, but the conversation didn’t quite make it out of the uncanny valley.

The worst part is that, because the company depends on this tech to handle complaints, it took way longer than it should have done to solve my issue. Several choose-your-problems later, it finally pinpointed the issue, and offered a solution that might have kept me subscribed…a half-hour earlier.

I declined the offer, put off by the cold service I’d received.

The moral of the story? If you don’t invest in humans, customers will be less likely to invest in you.

You and your business values are at odds

We are living in a very… shall we say… polarizing period of history. So polarizing, in fact, that if I was to even MENTION some of the most currently popular debates, I’d be almost guaranteeing a flame war in the comments.

The result of these culture wars is that more and more people are making their purchasing choices based on supporting their causes or beliefs.

So as a business, you have two choices.

  • You can choose to stay silent and operate as normal
  • …or you can speak up.

Speaking up can win you a lot of fans, but if you try to gain the support of a specific demographic without actually doing or changing anything to prove you’re invested, consumers will call you out.

And while this should go without saying, let’s say it anyway…

If you as a person do NOT support an issue, you should not say your business DOES. The truth always comes out. And lying is the quickest way to kill any chance of an authentic vibe.

5. You never address your company’s mistakes

There is a high probability that your company will, at some point, make a sizable mistake. With social media so prevalent, and employees having few qualms about exposing bad practices, your mistake could easily go viral.

If – or rather when – this happens, it will be a pivotal moment for your brand. And if you hope to survive, you’re going to have to apologize.

I know. Corporate apologies suck and are hard to take seriously. In fact, if you are 100% convinced you did nothing wrong, it’s perfectly fine to take a stand. Maybe.

But what you absolutely can’t do is pretend like nothing is happening. All that will result is the perception that your company is a soulless entity.

6. You don’t treat employees well

Popular dating advice says you should pay attention to how the person across from you treats the service staff. This is supposed to help you gauge their worth as a human being (there was a hair in my fish – was I supposed to just say nothing?!?).

But the same can be said for your business. If you treat those in your power without respect, you’ll quickly gain a reputation as a terrible company hiding behind a facade of goodness to attract customers.

For example, more and more people are actively boycotting Amazon because of alleged poor treatment of their workers.

Fortunately for Amazon – but perhaps less fortunately for their workers – the business has become so big, the negative effect may be minimal. But for the rest of us running more modest-sized businesses, if we treat people poorly the loss of consumers could easily shut us down.

Authenticity in 2020 and beyond is more important than ever. Be real, stay true, and you’ll keep your customers. But if you choose to be a phony your brand won’t survive to a happily ever after.

In short…

Be kind, or pay the price.