The dictionary definition of authenticity is “not false or copied; genuine, real” and I spend every minute of every day worrying about it.

Why? Because I run the world’s leading signed football memorabilia company, Icons Shop Limited, and we constantly need to reassure our customers that our items are genuine. If Icons sold one fake signature we would pretty much go bankrupt overnight with our reputation in tatters. Living on that knife-edge does focus the mind somewhat.

At Icons, we go to extraordinary lengths to provide evidence of our authenticity. We have long-standing relationships with some of the greats of world football, including contracts with Leo Messi and Diego Maradona. We are the official memorabilia licensee of the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA Champions League. We provide a Certificate of Authenticity with all our products, along with photographic proof, holograms and videos of private signing sessions with the top stars.

Yet every day we’re asked if our products are really signed by the players. It seems all the facts on our website are often not enough. People regularly call and email us to express their concerns – they want to be reassured that they can trust us and from our side it becomes about engaging with them on an emotional level.

One of the things today’s digital marketers do is create ongoing dialogue between brands and their audiences. Traditional advertising shouts a consistent message with a megaphone while a smart brand strikes up a two-way conversation. Consumers want to know more about the products, causes and companies to which they choose to give their money. They’re looking for an emotional connection and digital marketing can bring this to life.

It’s also made me think about authenticity on a personal level. My wife is the communications director of a social enterprise called Leaders’ Quest, which works with leaders from all walks of life who want to use their unique influence to create positive change in the world. They talk to their communities about the importance of authenticity and how real leadership shines through when someone is genuine and true to themselves.

Most people are quick to spot self-interest and false charm – you only have to look to Lance Armstrong on how not to do it. The most successful leaders I know are genuine, honest and great at empathy.

Authenticity isn’t about being good and worthy, it’s about being who you are, warts and all. Personal authenticity is only achieved when people are honest with themselves. Brené Brown, in her TED Talk The Power of Vulnerability, describes how showing vulnerability allows people to connect with others on a human level. As brands develop their willingness to have open conversations, they will find ways to connect more deeply with their audience.


This blog was first published by Zone Digital on their Digital Distractions email newsletter in 2014.