By 2011, the world will reach the Jump Point and three billion people -- the world’s entire
workforce -- will be connected for the first time in a single, seamless, networked
economy. That means more people will
conduct more business every day with people they do not know and will never
meet. In this coming world order, the
most authentic brands and companies -- the most genuine and the most trusted -- will
win. Phonies beware.
In an age when long-tailing economics mean that anything is
available anytime, purveyors of bona fide stuff will prevail: People hunger for
In fact, in the Network Economy, authenticity is not only a
competitive weapon, it is a bunker buster. Even in price sensitive markets, in head-to-head competition, the brands
perceived as more authentic will always win.
Take Langston’s for example. Langston’s Western Wear is an
institution in Oklahoma. Since 1913 it
has provided denim, boots, hats, and accessories to the working men and women of
the Southwest. We’re talking the real
McCoy here: durable, well made cowboy and rodeo clothing -- not that bedazzled
junk you get in SoHo boutiques. Now,
through its Website store, Langston’s
is gaining the attention of a rabidly loyal global audience -- customers in far-flung
places like Osaka and Shanghai who hunger for a genuine slice of
the American West. Knock-offs they can
get locally, with "Made in Malaysia" labels discretely sewn in. What these newly minted middle class consumers
crave, what they will pay a premium for, is authenticity -- the
killer app of the Internet era.
That quest for the genuine -- and the mistrust of traditional
marketing -- helps explain the growing power of peer-to-peer friendcasting sites
like ThisNext. People trust each other more than they do the
slick pitches of Madison Avenue. But, in
a world where billions of people sell to and buy from each other directly,
something more than word of mouth is going to be needed.
To help consumers discern the genuine from the ersatz, an “authenticity
economy” is sprouting up around the net. Organizations like the California Certified Organic Farmers help you tell whether your veggies are
truly organic. At GreenSeal they can help you be assured
that your products are environmentally friendly; and RugMark will reassure you that no
child labor was involved in that Nepalese rug you want for the dining room.
The gold standard of product certification is TransFair USA. The Oakland-based nonprofit is the only third-party certifier
of Fair Trade products -- such as coffee, tea, chocolate, grapes -- in the United
States. According to Kim Moore, Director of Business
Development-Coffee/Tea & Beverages, FairTrade USA audits transactions between U.S. companies
offering Fair Trade Certification™ to products and their international suppliers in
order to guarantee that farmers and farm workers aren’t exploited; that farming
practices are sustainable and don’t promote pollution or deforestation; and
that overall the authenticity of "fair trade" is upheld.
Expect non-government authenticity-certifying organizations
like FairTradeUSA to grow in importance as people-to-people trade increases
online. But don’t think the importance of authenticity is lost on
governments. In January, the
European Union enacted its Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, which imposes
a general ban on unfair business practices in the EU, including false blogging,
fake reviews, and astroturfing.
Whether or not a legislative ban
in Europe can do much to police the Internet is not the point here -- the real
issue is that the market itself will decide. These are transparent, information-rich times. The Networked Economy favors those brands that
define "true blue" in their respective spaces, and those companies that become
the authentic standard-bearers in their segments.
To paraphrase Hemingway,
consumers now have built-in BS detectors. Be phony and you will be found out. Cut corners, lie, cheat, or hurt others, and you will be shunned. And no amount of marketing spend will wash
away your sins. In fact, as they might
say down at Langston’s in Oklahoma, the worst thing you can be today is “all
hat” and no credibility.
— Tom Hayes advises companies and executives on marketing in
the networked economy and is the author of the new book, Jump Point: How Network Culture is Revolutionizing Business