Joe Pine, the co-author of "Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want," sent me an e-mail the other day, asking if I knew of any Wisconsin companies that are testaments to the main premise of his book.
Pine's book contends that in a world of fast food and "reality TV," consumers are growing tired of buying the fake from the phony, and they will pay more to get the real from the authentic.
Do your customers perceive your company as authentic? Do your customers' experiences with your company align with your intended brand and your own self-image? Do your employees understand your company's core values and mission?
Pine asked me to identify Wisconsin companies that demonstrate his five genres of authenticity. For what it's worth, I thought I'd share what I e-mailed back to Joe in advance of his appearance as the keynote speaker of the CEO Strategies Breakfast at the BizTech Expo on Wednesday.
Natural Authenticity ("People tend to perceive as authentic that which exists in its natural state in or of the earth, remaining untouched by human hands; not artificial or synthetic.")
That would be Fred Usinger Inc., the genuine Milwaukee sausage company that uses all natural ingredients and distinguishes its products by having no fillers or preservatives. We're talking Old World goodness here. Ya? Ya!
Original Authenticity ("People tend to perceive as authentic that which possesses originality in design, being the first of its kind, never before seen by human eyes; not a copy or imitation ...What brand, advertising, slogan, material or memory from the past could provide a new source of inspiration?")
No brainer here. What could be more original than Harley-Davidson Inc.? The Milwaukee motorcycle company celebrates its originality with anniversary gatherings of its customers. This year, the company will celebrate its 105th anniversary in a big way with a two-day festival that will be capped off by a special custom concert by Bruce Springsteen. HOG riders from all over the world will come to Milwaukee to celebrate the Harley brand, which has become a lifestyle.
Exceptional Authenticity ("People tend to perceive as authentic that which is done exceptionally well, executed individually and extraordinarily by someone demonstrating human care ... Shape your offerings around unique tastes or unusual preferences of customers")
The first thing that comes to mind here is "The Bold Look" of Kohler Co., which designs and manufactures the world's best plumbing fixtures in the world. We're talking exceptional toilets, royal thrones. But the company doesn't stop there. It has become a destination gold resort company, with its Whistling Straits Golf Course hosting the PGA Championship tournaments in 2010 and 2015. Kohler also recently opened The Craverie, a shop that features some of the world's most exceptional chocolates. Everything Herb Kohler does, he does in an exceptional way.
Referential Authenticity ("People tend to perceive as authentic that which refers to some other context, drawing inspiration from human history, and tapping into our shared memories and longings; not derivative or trivial ... What person could you referentially honor?")
When I think of Wisconsin companies that are monuments to one person, I think of S.C. Johnson & Son Inc., in the image of the late Sam Johnson, whose children still oversee his companies, and Quad/Graphics Inc., the world's largest privately held printing company that was formed by the late Harry Quadracci. Harry's son, Joel, is Quad's new CEO. Harry will be commemorated posthumously with the Small Business Times Bravo! Entrepreneur Lifetime Achievement Award on the second day of the BizTech Expo, Thursday, May 1. Johnson and Quadracci were Wisconsin originals.
Influential Authenticity: ("People tend to perceive as authentic that which exerts influence on other entities, calling human beings to a higher goal and providing a foretaste of a better way; non inconsequential or without meaning.")
A uniquely Milwaukee company that is founded on the premise of social justice is Outpost Natural Foods, a co-op that is owned by its shoppers / members. We're talking organic foods, fair-trade coffees. If ever there was a utopian, "we're all in this together" kind of business, it's this one. We can all be hippies again.
(As a follow-up to that e-mail, I'd like to add one more local company to the list of authentic Wisconsin companies. That would be OnMilwaukee.com. I dare say OMC provides a unique, authentic experience to Milwaukee every day.)
Today is the last day to register to hear Pine speak about his theories of reaching more customers through corporate "Authenticity," which was recently hailed in a Time magazine cover story as one of the "Ten Ideas That Are Changing The World." Registration will include breakfast and a copy of Pine's book.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes in Milwaukee and is past president of the Milwaukee Press Club. BizTimes provides news and operational insight for the owners and managers of privately held companies throughout southeastern Wisconsin.
Steve has won several journalism awards as a reporter, a columnist and an editor. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
When he is not pursuing the news, Steve enjoys spending time with his wife, Kristi, and their two sons, Justin and James. Steve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.