Authenticity—The Ultimate Brand Aura

authenticity

In William Shakespeare’s As You Like it one of the scenes in Act ll opens with a monologue and the phrase “All the world’s a stage.” The speech goes on to eloquently liken the world to a stage and life to a play.

Personally, I’ve found the notion of life playing out on the world’s stage a dead-on analogy in a number of contexts, especially in business and commerce. In fact, five years ago I felt so strongly about the role of “theater” in the world of sales and marketing that I built my company on the premise that to break brand parity among competitors–to capture the attention and emotions of your target audience–you must create a sense of theater.

Nowhere on Earth is this more evident than Las Vegas, the convention capital of America. But beyond the decadent casinos and bawdy shows, what I experienced last week in Vegas was a curious intersection of old-school fun and urban funk. What’s that?

Interbike, North America’s largest annual bicycle show.

While attending Interbike to present a marketing campaign on behalf of the International Light Electric Vehicle Association (to help independent bike dealers sell electric bikes), I had time between seminars to stroll the exhibit hall aisles among the 11,000 attendees and 3,000 exhibitors.

What I witnessed those three days in mid-September were the newest fashions, gadgets and innovations for an ever-evolving mode of transportation and recreation–that archetypal pedal-powered vehicle commonly call “the bicycle”.

Whether you were a recreational mountain biker, ebike commuter or shaved-legged criterion racer everyone felt a special vibe, a palpable “cool factor” in the air. Between the latest fashions in herringbone clip-in cycling shoes, Spandex knickers, neon CoolMax socks or the freshly minted 1000 watt e-bikes,e-trikes and e-unicycles, heads were turning everywhere.

Until you wandered over to the Urban Yard. That’s when most people stopped dead in their tracks.

Set amidst exhibit hall mayhem was a visually modest 50 x 50 foot island of quiet confidence and authenticity. It was the exhibit space for one of Interbike’s brightest stars: Chrome, arguably the hippest brand of the planet for messenger bags and too-hot-to-handle commuter fashions, footwear and accessories.

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What makes Chrome so cool? What’s the secret sauce that drew crowds to their exhibit like moths to a headlamp?

Authenticity.

Perhaps it was the legions of professional messengers laden with tats and-gauges from San Francisco’s Battery Street, sitting around Embarcadero-imported picnic benches waiting for party time. Maybe it was the assembly line of seamstresses who were feverishly stitching custom messenger bags for the ever-growing, ever-gawking crowd waiting patiently to grab their iconic piece of Interbike history…living proof that they were actually there. At Interbike 2012 in Las Vegas. And to boot, they even got a handmade Chrome messenger bag, the ultimate bragging right for anyone riding BART, Seattle’s free zone buses or the Bainbridge ferry.

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Whatever it was, the Chrome’s brand magic served as a clear message to the likes of Timbuk2, Pearl Izumi and Cannondale: This new kid on the block is leap-frogging over incumbent metro bike apparel and accessory brands with a quiet authenticity mixed with a dash of gritty, street-cred attitude.

How did Chrome pull off such a surprising David-and-Goliath feat so quickly in an over-saturated market?

In my opinion, real authenticity and the cult following generated in a great brand’s wake begins with the author—the founder of the company.

In Chrome’s case, that would be Mr. Steven McCallion.

Amidst the merchandising chaos I visited with Steve and his lieutenant Adrian for a few minutes at Interbike. In my exchange with both guys it took me no time to realize this whole scene had little to do with selling stuff to as many people as possible. For them it was about embracing a lifestyle, a calling to provide a super-quality product with a great back story for every Chrome customer to make a subtle statement about who they are and what they’re about. For the Chrome executives it was about projecting their personalities into the marketplace as an extension of the brand…

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Very smart, very funny, very unpretentious.

And did I mention the most important thing?

Very real.

You can’t fake authenticity unless your company or your brand exudes it from the core.

As they say…“An apple never falls far from the tree.”

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