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How to build your business by being authentic

A friend of mine once confessed: “I’d like to run my own business, but I don’t like lying to people.” It’s a telling indictment on the state of free enterprise in the 21st century.

Everyone seems to have an experience of being let down by the system. Whether it’s believing an ad only to find out it was a gross exaggeration of the real world experience of that product or service. Or being outright deceived by an unprincipled business owner promising things they didn’t deliver.

The nightly news provides endless fuel for our cynicism: an airline CEO refuses to apologise for dragging a passenger off a plane (while advertising their brand as “the friendly skies”), an oil company exec tries to deflect the blame for a disastrous oil spill (while marketing themselves as the most environmentally friendly oil brand in the world).

Distrust of corporations is now so ingrained consumers are shocked when their experience of a company matches up to the hype. Terrible right? Yes, but there’s an upside. If you’re an honest business owner offering genuine value free of spin and exaggeration (and I’m hoping you are), you can rejoice. No matter how small your company is, you now have an incredibly potent weapon you can use to take on the competition.

The truth.

In a world where every consumer can expose a company’s real world behaviour instantly and globally, truth is becoming the most efficient business strategy you can adopt. Why exaggerate the value of your product or service in that million dollar ad campaign and then spend a heap of time and PR money back-peddling when a 19 year old blogger from Dubbo uploads a YouTube video of your shortcomings?

That outdated corporate behaviour not only wastes time and money, it leads to low staff morale, high customer churn, higher cost-per-sale and all those other silent killers of profit.

The key to harnessing the commercial power of truth is to first understand your company’s true purpose – how it adds value to the world by meeting unmet needs, righting a wrong or serving a particular target audience better, instead of just removing value from the world via short term profiteering.

When you align business behaviour to purpose, a number of magical things happen:

  • You attract likeminded people as employees and partners who will help you fulfill the potential of that purpose (including all those smart young engineers and designers and entrepreneurs coming out of uni who don’t just want to make money, they want to make a difference).
  • Together, you will innovate products and services that create new markets and income streams (from Tesla reinventing global transport to a corner café with a morning express lane).
  • This leads to growth not just of quarterly income but long-term income, as well as industry respect, investor appeal and more (when Apple stopped thinking of itself as just a computer company and innovated to its true purpose of “harnessing emerging technologies to advance humankind”, its brand value began rising into the hundreds of billions).
  • All of which generate returns that go beyond money: the expansion and advancement of the sector of industry that you love, happy staff who go home and show their children that working for a living doesn’t have to suck and personal fulfilment for you.

In their book Firms of Endearment, authors Sisodia, Wolfe and Sheth showed that companies pursuing a purpose-first mantra experienced five times the growth of their nearest competitors.

It seems clear that when there is no longer any separation between company and brand image, truth can be an enduring economic engine. Only one question remains: “What’s your truth?”.

About the author

Mike Edmonds is Founder and Chairman of Meerkats, a creative business solutions company in Perth, Western Australia. Meerkats has been named Campaign Brief’s ‘Agency Of The Year’ three times and won awards globally for its creativity and strategic thinking. Mike is also the author of “Truth.Growth.Repeat.” – a jargon-free guide to achieving long-term business growth by putting your personal ‘why’ at the core of everything you do. He previously wrote Why being respected in business is much more profitable than desperately trying to be liked for Dynamic Business. 

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Mike Edmonds

Mike Edmonds

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