Authenticity: Make a Promise and Keep It

“Authenticity is not doing or saying what you want when you want. Children do that. Authenticity is not a constant appeal to your base nature and the lowest common denominator. Animals do that.  It isn’t saying what you need to say to get a sale, regardless of your commitment to follow through.”

Think about the most authentic person you know. Take one moment and consider this. Go ahead, I will wait…

Got it? Now, who did you choose and why? While I do not have the faintest idea who you chose, I bet you that I can guess with a startling amount of accuracy who you did not choose. You didn’t choose the social media “influencer” contorting themselves into a pretzel to get the perfect shot for the ‘Gram.  You didn’t choose the person who uses NASA-grade filters on their phone to make sure they “authentically” capture an image that looks nothing like them in reality (just for social media of course).  You didn’t choose the slick marketing guy who you know will promise you anything just to capture your contact information. You didn’t choose that creepy Uncle Larry who tells you Vietnam war stories even though he was born in 1971.  In short, you didn’t choose someone dishonest.  You didn’t choose someone who projected one set of values into the world while practicing another set of values in their daily work and life.

It turns out that the way we identify and describe authenticity in our personal lives is much the same as the way we identify authenticity in our professional lives or with companies we do business with, to the degree with which there is very little difference between the two.  Consumers instinctively gravitate towards companies and people who have the courage to be specific about what services they will provide or how their product is able to provide a great deal of value to the user.  A company’s or person’s “brand” becomes a reflection of their ability to follow through on that specific promise. Do they keep their promises? One of my favorite, and often difficult to swallow, quotes about brand comes from Jeff Bezos: “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.” The consumer is looking for continuity and simplicity. They are looking for a specific and clear message with a level of service that supports (or exceeds) the inherent promise in that message.

Authenticity is not doing or saying what you want when you want. Children do that. Authenticity is not a constant appeal to your base nature and the lowest common denominator. Animals do that.  It isn’t saying what you need to say to get a sale, regardless of your commitment to follow through.

Here are a few local, recent, examples from the real estate industry that may get you thinking about just what it means to be authentic.

  • A local real estate brokerage launches a recruiting campaign with a bold promise for real estate agents. The specific promise states, “We got rid of our monthly fee, so it’s now a $0 cost.”  They go on to emphasize that they are the first real estate brokerage in Idaho to completely eliminate the monthly fee. When you click on the link in the text message or email and scroll down to the bottom of the landing page, you find the following in very fine print: “Monthly fee being replaced with $500 Annual Membership fee, due upon closing of first unit of fiscal year.” Further investigation reveals that the $500 annual fee is not refundable after they take it out of your closing. The promise was elimination of a fee; the reality was converting a monthly fee to an annual fee, taking it directly out of the real estate agent’s commission and making it non-refundable.  A classic bait-and-switch advertising technique that fails to deliver on the promise.
  • It is very common for real estate agents to greatly exaggerate or outright lie about their experience with a specific property type in order to get the seller to trust them with listing their property. This often ends in disaster when the promise is broken and the agent’s lack of experience costs their client money, time, stress, or all three. An authentic approach might be fully disclosing your true experience while assuring the seller you have the support and the people around you to get answers to any questions that come up. Of course, then you must fulfill on this promise. What is the long game here? What do you stand to gain from an honest answer? What do you want your brand to be (when you are not around)?
  • A real estate agent gets a listing because of a list of promises they make in the listing appointment with the seller.  Namely, they make a laundry list of promises about how they are going to invest in marketing and advertising for the property.  As it turns out, they get a full price offer the first day it is on the market and the seller signs the contract. Now, since they went under contract so quickly, the agent fails to follow through on all of their marketing and advertising promises used to secure the listing.  They do not pursue a back-up offer and advertise the property as promised, in case something happens with the sale (which it does 80%+ of the time). They fail to serve their client in the manner promised. They will also likely fail to get future referrals from this client.  As it turns out, it matters how we do things. The end result is not always the “be all and end all.” 

I have a two-part definition of authenticity and what it means in both my personal and professional life:

  • Part 1:  Am I making specific promises that relate directly or indirectly to my core values?
  • Part 2:  Do I keep my promises?

As the leader of a large real estate brokerage, I find myself reflecting on these same questions as they apply to my organization.  What is our Brand Promise at Amherst Madison? Is the About page just a page or is it a promise that we uphold?  Do real estate agents who use our Services have the experience we said they would?

The other day one of my agents heard from a prospective developer client that Amherst Madison was a “polarizing” company because we had “offended” or “challenged” other real estate brokerages and/or industry norms.  At first blush, this might sound like negative feedback. But is it?  It means that we are being specific. It means that we are expressing our core values honestly.  Those values, that way of doing business, will not always align with the marketplace.  It cannot, nor will not by definition. You cannot please everyone. In fact, as one of my mentors said with a laugh, “You can please some of the people, some of the time.” I was actually proud to hear that we were fulfilling Part One of my definition of authenticity.  Maybe I am unique in this way, but I have always admired the rebels, the outliers, those with the courage to be specific even when that was different. I feel an inherent and compelling authenticity in these people and organizations.

What about Part Two of authenticity? It is one thing for us to say we are different and make specific promises… are we? This question keeps me up, keeps me alert, and gives me pause to deeply consider how we show up in the lives of our agents, our clients, and our community.

Nick Schlekeway

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