Get a Clue

Some signs that a company is having an identity crisis:

1. Is there a spark of life in its marketing materials? Do they smack of focus groups and the safety of the lowest common denominator, or do they take the risk of being as interesting as its best customers?

2. Do its marketing programs keep people out or invite them in? Do they help customers and prospects make connections to the relevant employees?

3. Is the company able to admit a mistake? Can employees admit they disagree with management decisions or the latest marketing mantra? Or must they always explain why everything is perfect in this, the best of all possible companies?

4. Is the company so jealous of its "image" that it has surgically implanted a lawyer where its sense of humor used to be?

5. Does it drill its employees on the corporate catechism, or can workers tell stories that for them capture the essence of what the company is about?

6. Do the employees routinely sign their e-mail messages with "Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the management"?

Each of these indicators points to a gap between what your company is and what it says it is. The gap is where inauthenticity lives, and the exposure of the gap constitutes corporate embarrassment. Much of marketing is devoted to papering over that gap.

But how can a business be authentic? Since corporations and businesses aren't individuals, their authenticity is ultimately rooted in employees. If the company is posing, then the people who are the company will have to pose as well.

The Web thrives on spontaneity, and we can can spot marketing recitations within two syllables. People are all so tuned to the sound of a real human voice that, given a chance to interact, we can't be fooled - at least not for long.

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