Be Authentic: Except if You’re the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch or Amy’s Baking Company

In the next several posts, I’m unpacking what it means to Get R.E.A.L, which will help your perfect client find you. You can read about being realistic (the “R”)  here and being engaging (the “E”) here.

If-Your-Actions-Never-Change-250x166I was all ready to wax poetic about the importance of being authentic in business. Today’s consumers are savvy,  and thanks to technology, a company that’s unethical or inauthentic will be skewered faster on social media than a hot dog during a summer picnic. I had the perfect spiel all ready. That is, until two companies chose to show their “authentic” true colors in a way that caused potentially irrevocable repercussions.

The first is Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, whose derogatory comments from a 2006 interview revealed that he only wanted the “cool and popular kids” to shop at his stores.

“We go after the cool kids,” he was quoted as saying, in reference to his company’s target demographic. “A lot of people don’t belong, and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

The backlash was fierce and immediate from all fronts, with everyone from celebrities to the general public comparing his statements to the bullies in schools across the country who harass kids for not wearing the right “labels”. I remember being in seventh grade and enduring this kind of abuse from my classmates. To hear the same kind of thing from a grown man who runs one of the most well known clothing brands and  should know better is appalling.

Jeffries has since apologized for his remarks, but it remains to be seen whether the Abercrombie and Fitch brand can reinvent itself and change public opinion.

The second company to blow it by being “authentic” is Amy’s Baking Company. Located in Scottsdale, Arizona,  this bistro has been in the news several times in recent years for publicly ridiculing customers who complained about the food or service. The whole ugly mess came to a head May 15 during the restaurant’s appearance on Fox’s show “Kitchen Nightmares”, which features Chef Gordon Ramsey using tough love to transform struggling eateries into ones with happy patrons. Unfortunately, ABC’s owners, Samy and Amy Bouzaglo, had a meltdown of epic proportions before a national audience that is hungry for drama. For the first time in the show’s history, Ramsey walked away before his work was done.

So, how do you be authentic without modeling these two horrendous examples?

Do more listening than talking

Know who your ideal customer is. What is their problem? How does your product/service solve it? Let’s face it; not everyone is your ideal customer. Nor would you want them to be. If you try to be all things to all people — repeat after me — you’ll be nothing to no one.

For Abercrombie and Fitch, their ideal customer may be the skinny, hip Hampton-going type, but if they were smart, they would make everyone, regardless of their size, feel like that by wearing their clothes.

Amy’s may be a lost cause, but since they remind me of the infamous  “Soup Nazi” on Seinfeld, maybe they should re-brand themselves that way and be prepared that their customers will follow them expecting a meltdown with their meal.

Be responsive  

If you screw up, own it. Your mistakes may not (at least, let’s hope they don’t) tip the stupidity scale like Abercrombie and Amy’s did, but remember that social media is like a lit match in a pile of newspaper. It doesn’t take long for bad customer service to spread like wildfire. Consumers are willing to forgive a mistake. What they are less willing to forgive is one that’s badly handled.

Be vulnerable

Being vulnerable has a bad rap for being weak. But, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about being so sure about who you are and what your business stands for that you will not compromise for anything. In retrospect, perhaps vulnerability is what got the Bouzaglos in hot water, but I think they were being just plain mean.

 By being vulnerable, let’s use Nordstrom’s as an example. Nordstrom is a retail icon, known for going above and beyond for their customers.

In July, 2012, when Logan Morrison of the Miami Marlins was shopping in Nordstrom’s and saw something he didn’t like (a woman breastfeeding her baby), he took a picture of it and tweeted it to his 123,000 followers.

Of course, this enraged women (and men) everywhere, but what is significant is how Nordstrom handled it. The store responded (Amy and Samy, take note) with a tweet that said: “@LoganMorrison we welcome breastfeeding mothers in our store.”  

Short. To the point. Classy.

Thank you for sharing this space with me.

Robin Taney is the owner and founder of Studio 4 PR and the “Get R.E.A.L Girl.” She works with creative, independent, and “kitchen table” entrepreneurs who are highly motivated to be found by their perfect client. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest, and sign up for her newsletter, Get R.E.A.L.  You are welcome to use this post on your blog, provided you do not alter it in any way and include a link to this blog.

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