For the past months I have had the distinct pleasure to work on the brand strategy of Larsen, the global cognac brand. I even had the privilege to visit the Cognac region in France in order to familiarise myself with the production methods, the brands, the stories, the history and the people. I was awestruck by the knowledge and expertise of the master blenders, how they were able to tell the difference between small nuances in tastes, how they knew everything there was to know about practically anything related to the production of cognac. It was a real eye-opener for me, in many ways.
Visiting Cognac, where everyone talked about the quality of the product, made me think about a problem that I encounter very frequently. That is the emphasis on quality as competitive advantage. Quality is, of course, very important. But from a branding perspective, where the name of the game is to create a meaningful difference that people are willing to pay for, quality is rarely enough.
Quality was a great differentiator back in the day when we had lots of bad quality products. Nowadays, however, we don't have so much inconsistency in quality. We have different strategies of price vs. quality rations, of course, but that is different from the kind of quality we still over-emphasize.
In a hypercompetitive world, where we have an abundance of choice, quality is rarely an issue, and it only rarely suffices to differentiate a brand. Instead, we have moved to other properties. Authenticity is one of them. Authenticity is on everyone's mind right now. Everyone want to be perceived as "real", as authentic. And as with quality, authenticity is difficult to fake.
Back to the cognac business. What does it mean to be authentic in the world of cognacs? In a business where each and every brand that calls itself a cognac comes from the geographical region of Cognac, how do you stand out? Can you be more authentic than someone else? Is age the meter of authenticity?
I believe we need to look at authenticity more broadly. This trend of revivalism, of looking to the old, rugged, worn etc. for authenticity will pass. Real authenticity means being true to what you are.So basically it means "not faking it". When you think of authenticity this way, then we can all use the allure of authenticity in our brands and offerings.
This post was originally published on my previous blog in the spring of 2014.