One of the more thought provoking books I have read recently is Authenticity by Jim Gilmore and Joseph Pine.  In the book they explain that consumers are making buying decisions based on authenticity, how well they conform to self-image.  They explain in the book that “consumers and business-to-business customers now purchase offerings based on how well those purchases conform to their own self-image.   What they buy must reflect who they are who they aspire to be in relation to how they perceive the world — with lightning quick judgments of ‘real’ or ‘fake’ hanging in the balance.”

To the authors, authenticity comes down to the interrelationship of real and fake.  This can be determined by asking two questions: is the offering true to itself? and is the offering what it says it is?  The answer to these questions are not for the provider to determine.  It comes down to how customers perceive them.

Gilmore and Pine have organized the possible responses to the two questions into a 2 x 2 real-fake matrix.  To be viewed as authentic, consumers must view these factors as being in alignment.  Contrary to what one might expect, the goal is not to be real- real, to be true to yourself and what you say you are.  To demonstrate that the opposite can be successful, the authors classify Niketown as fake-fake.  “The place is not what it says it is, a Nike town, and is not true to Nike’s original internal mantra, “Authentic Athletic Performance,” nor to its now famous internal tagline, “Just Do It.”  Nike does nothing to extend that ethos into its Niketown outlets.  It is Fake-fake – a Nikestore with absolutely nothing athletic to do.”  The authors point out that real-real is the hardest to achieve and the easiest to fall short of.   If this is the case, it fake-fake the easiest to achieve and maintain?

On the book’s website Gilmore and Pine occasionally ask people to apply the matrix to an offering.  The most recent subject is LeBron James.  Their question is simple, was his decision to join the Miami Heat authentic?  Its a provocative question, especially when applied to a person instead of a corporation.  The link above provides resources to help you make a decision and a poll where you can see what other people thought.

From a learning perspective this is an intriguing exercise.  To respond, a participant must have some familiarity with the concepts laid out in the book.  By providing a case study the authors enable the participant to explore the dynamics between the variables.  The actual learning occurs through the exploration.  Having the author’s perspective on each example would help the participant confirm his or her conclusions.