From an organizational perspective, authenticity is the degree to which an organization’s behavior is guided by its true self and its persona or identity and demonstrates consistency with its core values in making decisions, carrying out actions and operations, and planning and implementing strategic communications to build relationships with consumers, clients, and a variety of internal and external stakeholders. “Claimed” authenticity is not the same as “perceived” authenticity. That is, consumers, clients, and internal and external stakeholders are exposed to, engage with, and evaluate organizational claims and promises that reflect the organization’s true self and persona/identity against the organization’s behaviors and actions to form perceptions of authenticity.
Harvard Business School professor Stephen Greyser notes that authenticity as a construct can be approached from four perspectives: (1) communications (talking authentically), (2) corporate core values and track record or behavior (being authentic), (3) corporate stewardship of core values (staying authentic), and (4) reputational reservoir and long-term generated trust (defending authenticity). Authenticity as a construct is relevant to the study and practice of corporate reputation because ideally organizations develop a public persona based on their core principles and values. This allows the formation of a corporate reputation that is sustainable over time. Any inconsistency between what the organization claims itself to be and the way it behaves may jeopardize its relationships with a multiplicity of stakeholders and tarnish the quality of these relationships. This entry discusses a strategic model of communication corporations use in conveying their authenticity, reveals the five genres of authenticity, and provides an example of an organization’s authenticity efforts in relation to external stakeholders’ perspectives.
A Strategic Model
Theoretically, a model of strategic public relations and communication management starts with the articulation and interpretation of the organization to the publics or stakeholders, continues with the monitoring of stakeholders’ responses and reactions, and ends with a summative evaluation of relational outcomes, such as overall experiences, active engagement, trust, commitment, and satisfaction. For instance, an explicit commitment by both stakeholders and the organization to ideas, causes, programs, projects, and so forth is considered a desired outcome.
Claims and offerings of authenticity come from the organizational narrative or history. They are articulated in the organization’s message system (e.g., themes and key and supporting messages) and branding techniques and efforts. Expressions of what an organization is and justification of the way in which it approaches business and operational challenges and opportunities are at the core of organizational narratives. This is why storytelling has become strategic in an era of emergent communication technologies and platforms. Visually, verbally, and textually, claims and offerings of authenticity can set an organization apart from its competitors, but it could also provide ammunition for critics or watchers of corporate behavior in complex and dynamic environments. An organization must be authentic if it claims to be authentic.
Types or Genres of Authenticity
In 2007, James Gilmore and Joseph Pine defined the genres of authenticity by analyzing five economic associations. They explained that (1) natural authenticity corresponds to the idea of commodities, (2) original authenticity with goods, (3) exceptional authenticity with services, (4) referential authenticity with experiences, and (5) influential authenticity with transformations.
According to Gilmore and Pine, consumers, clients, and/or stakeholders tend to perceive objects and actions as authentic when they exhibit the following characteristics:
- Something in a natural state, untouched by humans, not artificial or synthetic, such as the claims and images used by Evian’s products as sourced from natural spring water of the French Alps, which the company calls “a geological miracle.”
- Something original, not a copy or an imitation, such as the actions taken by Elon Musk, Tesla Motors CEO, and Jeffrey “JB” Straubel, chief technology officer of the firm, to conceptualize and communicate the Model S, which according to the business executives is rather different from other cars (the premium electric vehicle of the Silicon Valley startup, as an object, is also considered an original).
- An action that is exceptionally well done and that exhibits care and attention to detail, as shown by the policies and the staff behavior at companies such as Nordstrom and Southwest Airlines, which are known for their excellent customer service.
- A product, service, cause, or idea inspired by history, shared memories, and longings, such as the emphasis Wells Fargo puts on its pioneering spirit and its role in the growth of the American West since 1852 (moreover, it has 10 museums in Alaska, Arizona, California, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, in which it offers glimpses and artifacts relevant to its roots and development).
- Something that exerts influence on others by calling them to a higher goal and offers them a positive vision—for example, companies that emphasize that their efforts work to make their products ecologically sustainable. Natura, a Brazilian cosmetic company, works with Amazonian communities to harvest renewable raw materials to produce its products. According to Natura, the company uses sustainable practices to offer quality products that also contribute to the well-being of their customers.
These five descriptions correspond to the types of claimed or perceived authenticity (i.e.,  natural,  original,  exceptional,  referential, and  influential). Consumers, clients, and internal and external stakeholders are exposed to them by the use of strategic communications and by providing experiences and opportunities for engagement. The opportunity for people to participate, experience, and engage with the organization appears to enhance people’s perception of organizational authenticity.
The assessment of claimed and perceived authenticity could be achieved, for instance, by evaluating to what extent all the types of texts or contents and other resources produced by an organization or its stakeholders/consumers convey the following components:
- Imagery of or claims that evoke pleasure or fun, achievable by targeted consumers, clients, or stakeholder groups, individually or collectively, when they encounter or are exposed to the organization’s offerings, promises, or experiences
- Access to an original idea or design and how accurately it represents the original (moreover, an accurate representation of an original idea or an original design for products, services, ideas, or facilities)
- Corporate values, beliefs, and principles that guide the organization’s management or managers
- Associations of commodities or products with materials or elements found in nature, such as nonrenewable or renewable natural resources
- The exceptional quality of organizational offerings, promises, and operations
- Heritage and references to historical events or the background of the organization or its context
- Sustainability and social responsibility programs, decisions, or actions
- Calls to become part of a public-interest action that goes beyond inviting target consumers, clients, and stakeholders to be consumers of the organization’s products and services or supporters of organization-backed ideas, causes, or projects
- Imagery, statements, or testimonials of internal or external stakeholders’ identification with the organization’s offerings or promises, or core ideas and shared values
In an era of interactive communication technologies and platforms in which organizations, consumers, and all types of stakeholder groups produce content and engage in communication exchanges, the articulation and diffusion of authentic claims and offerings will have a dynamic life. Co-creation is the best concept to describe this interactive communication process, which should facilitate an assessment of the gap between what an organization says it is and what others think about it.
Experiencias Xcaret (pronounced esh-ka-ret) is a group of cultural and ecological theme parks and attractions in the Mayan Riviera, in the state of Yucatan of the Mexican Caribbean. This consortium is 100% Mexican owned and operated. It consists of six operations: Xcaret, Xelha, Xplor, Xoximilco, Xenotes, and Xichen. The first three are parks, and the last three are excursions to underground springs, rivers, and archeological sites, respectively. In particular, the corporate mission of Xcaret, the first and main theme park of the group, is to provide its visitors with an experience of Mexico’s cultural traditions, heritage, and nature. It cleverly uses the five genres of authenticity to articulate what it is and to assess how it is viewed by local, national, and international visitors and an array of internal and external stakeholders, including associates, communities, vendors and suppliers, media, and regulators and government officials.
This section will focus on the main attraction of the consortium, the theme park Xcaret. The articulation of the true self or corporate essence of this tourist operation is based on internal and external levels of commitment and support:
- Organizational level: Mission, vision, values, purpose, strategy, and leadership by top management
- Departmental level: Identification, understanding, qualifications, and continuous training of communication and marketing associates
- Institutional level: Multisector partnerships with nongovernmental organizations, private enterprises, media outlets, influencers, and governmental agencies
- Societal level: Programs involving artisans, indigenous groups, and nearby communities
The message system of Xcaret highlights the five types of claimed authenticity:
- Natural: The theme park is surrounded by flora, fauna, and underground and coastal waters. In a special event to commemorate the Day of the Dead, a revered Mexican tradition, the park’s communication emphasizes the earth and its association with the resting place of the dead.
- Original: Features of the park are combined with rooted traditions, using complex and tractive visual and architectural designs. The Day of the Dead takes place in Xcaret with the Festival of Life and Death Traditions. Every year, the park hosts a state of the country for this celebration. Natives of the guest state prepare and sell homemade meals from exclusive recipes and a special mix of spices and autochthonous ingredients.
- Exceptional: The park grounds and attractions are carefully produced, with attention to detail and coordination of themes. The execution is of a consistent high quality, with designs that incorporate elements of the cultural traditions and the natural environment.
- Referential: Celebrations of national holidays and of Mexico’s cultural heritage take into account important events in the country’s history. For instance, in 2010, the Festival of Life and Death Traditions celebrated the Bicentennial of Mexican independence and the centennial of the country’s revolution. All the public relations and communication strategies and tactics were centered on these historical dates.
- Influential: The park is a for-profit enterprise, but more than a commercial enterprise the main aim is the rescue and maintenance of traditions, the protection and enhancement of the natural environment, the preservation of indigenous communities, and the institution of strategic philanthropic programs for the betterment of groups within the nearby communities, especially in areas of health, education, sustainability, and cultural preservation.
Authenticity is a construct that has been studied in cultural anthropology, rhetoric and speech communication, psychology, and other fields such as advertising, marketing, and public relations. The most useful aspect of the study of authenticity is the analysis of the gap between the claims and the perception of organizational authenticity. In fact, the articulation and communication of the types of authenticity may influence aspects of the identity proclaimed by the source or the organization. Authenticity may also further the articulation and interpretation of corporate reputation indicators, such as emotional appeal, quality of products and services, corporate responsibility and professionalism, visionary leadership, workplace environment, and financial performance. The constant evaluation of the organization’s decisions, actions, behaviors, offerings, and claims in relation to what the organization asserts as being its true self determines the gap between staged/claimed and perceived organizational authenticity.
The usefulness of the definition of the five genres of authenticity and how they are consistently woven in and out of communication plans and public relations programming may be related to the efficiency and effectiveness of these relationship efforts and techniques. One assumption of the communication management process states that organizations should avoid over- or underrepresenting themselves. It may be better to underpromise and overdeliver. Assessments of Xcaret, the example used in this entry, indicate that most visitors are very satisfied with the experience and engagement with the park’s attractions, natural environment, and associates. Visitors have said that the symbols, stories, and other written and audiovisual contents they were exposed to before coming to the park fell short in capturing what the destination has to offer. Marketing and communication teams of Xcaret consciously avoid overrepresentation and overpromises because the experiences the park offers cannot completely be captured by any description. They work hard to provide stakeholders with opportunities for direct experience and active engagement with the physical spaces and the cultural traditions embedded in this operation, combining all authenticity types in their strategies and tactics.
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