A well-researched and documented concept such as “authenticity” is often misunderstood when executives such as many in my former field of community marketing begin to salt and pepper it into use as a buzz word, rather than understanding its real meaning.
They are easy to spot because they haven’t really read the research behind the term, hoping their community can bluff visitor prospects by liberally adding it throughout its communication resume.
The thing about authenticity, though, is that to consumers it is not a buzz word making it easy for them to detect a fraud.
Linked is an article forwarded by a friend of mine about how Asheville, North Carolina is losing its authenticity. A three and a half hour drive east, Downtown Durham too may also already be on the backside of that tipping point.
Having destination marketing organizations with a good sense of what makes these communities authentic is not enough if even the best intended developer and public officials carelessly enable destructive mainstream forces instead.
Soon the existence of authenticity in North Carolina may be extinct except for history museums, greatly diminishing its appeal in the eyes of travelers including more than 80% of those who visit fantasy attractions and events.
Few DMOs and even fewer consultants to DMOs have actually read this research about authenticity which was conducted in 2009.
Bill Geist is one of only three consultants to DMOs that I recommend, but it isn’t because he was necessarily a visionary during the nearly nine years he was a DMO exec or because we are friends or because we have always seen eye to eye.
I recommend Bill because in the twenty years since he ran a DMO, he has never stopped learning or repopulating what he had learned to others. He understands that it isn’t what a community DMO knows or has accomplished but how eager it is to learn that makes all the difference.
Innovation is another attribute that is overused but those who merely salt and pepper it into resumes or initiatives are easy to detect.
Even fewer truly grasp “disruptive innovation.”
According to the Harvard business professor, entrepreneur and consultant who coined the term more than 15 years ago, a “disruptive innovation is not a breakthrough that makes good products a lot better.” Those are sustaining innovations.
A disruptive innovation transforms a product or service to be more affordable and accessible, giving a much larger population access to them.
When Clay Christensen and I briefly overlapped as classmates at BYU the only computer programming we learned to do was creating punch cards for the university’s huge mainframe computer.
By the time Christensen coined disruptive innovation, the organizations I led had been using desktop computers since the early 1980s.
By the time my career was coming in for a landing, Steve Jobs, who wrote about powerful influence of Clay’s book, had put that computing power in a smartphone.
What distinguishes Bill Geist and Clay Christensen is their humility, a prerequisite to lifelong learning. Consultants who believe they know it all are a dime a dozen and worth even less.
Christensen famously tells the story of getting a call from a notoriously gruff and impatient Andy Grove at Intel, asking the professor to fly out and explain the theory of disruptive innovation to his execs because he was too busy to read.
When he arrived, crises had arisen and Christensen was told that the execs didn’t have time to even listen to the theory so he would need to just tell them what they needed to do in the ten minutes available.
Pivotal is that Christensen held his ground and insisted they listen to an explanation of the theory because he didn’t know much about Intel but that the theory of Disruptive Innovation would have an opinion.
Grove listened and made the connections.
Christensen eloquently describes the challenge of a consultant. You can’t be suckered into just telling an organization what to do because there is no way a consultant can ever know enough about an organization or community to do that.
The value of a consultant is to show you how to think differently. Data can only tell you about the past and help illuminate patterns and connections. But strategic direction is about connecting data, connections and patterns with a good theory.
A consultant can only teach managers how to think differently and see “through the lens of a theory into the future, you can actually see it very clearly.”
All of this is to say that if you think you don’t have time to read and think about the data behind something like community authenticity or delude yourself into applying buzz words as a short cut, you have no business masquerading as a community marketing exec.
Nor will consultants, even those few who are the best, be able to connect the dots.