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(This is the first in a series of ongoing posts we’re calling Brandcrumbs, which are bits and pieces of branding advice left over from our regular conversations about real-world brand positioning challenges.)

I do not like “it is what it is.” Because “it is what it is” means nothing. Because it means everything. It means that you gotta “keep it real.” Which means that you “just need to be true to yourself,” which maybe means “be authentic.”

I suggest that some who say “it is what it is,” “keep it real,” “be true to yourself,” and “be authentic” are shirking responsibility, that what they’re communicating is “I’m just going to do what I want, and if you don’t like it, it’s not (or I won’t let it be) my problem.” Well, what’s wrong with that as long as you’re being authentic?

I’m not picking on small talk—in fact, I’m picking on big talk. Because we hear this a lot in the branding world. It seems that everyone wants “authenticity” to be a core brand component; the problem is that we rarely question what that actually means.

Authenticity is a good thing, as long as it’s part of a larger communication, as long as it operates on a two-way street. In other words, authenticity is beneficial only when all parties agree to the outcomes of authenticity (e.g. being authentic regarding my desire to inject spontaneity into our relationship, I can, without warning, slap you with a celery stalk, but if you don’t agree that that’s a good idea, my authenticity is a liability in the context of our relationship). To ignore others’ needs and interests in the name of authenticity is just a grown-up way of saying “It’s my party . . . .” “It’s my party” companies aren’t positioned to last.

Many companies that need a brand overhaul are holding on to an outdated way of marketing and communicating, and they do so under the guise of “being true” to the company’s roots and principles. As long as those roots and principles are still meaningful to consumers, great, but to the degree that they aren’t, authenticity is killing the company.

Re-branding/brand positioning is another way of saying, “Who do I think I am, and, as importantly, who does the market think I am, and how can I define myself and operate in a way that’s mutually beneficial?” Being true to yourself is valuable only inasmuch as who you are is also true to your clientele. To be sure, we can’t, and shouldn’t try to, please everyone, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be conscious of the difference between being authentic and being self-centered celery-slappers.

So be authentic, have an authentic brand position, and let your brand be what it is as long as “what it is” is a willingness to consider others and be held accountable. Otherwise, you and your customer won’t ever agree on what the “is” of what it is is.

Jeremy Higgins
Jeremy Huggins is a MarketPlace alum. He oversaw our creative and writing teams, led naming projects, and ensured that all of our brand development work is thorough, thoughtful, and meaningful.