Transparency, Authenticity, and the Customer Experience
Paul Graham's latest article is on PR. In it, he writes about how many stories are fed to journalists by PR companies, which is also a theme in the last book I read, Never Eat Alone. The result is news that sounds like PR copy (which I ripped into a month ago).
Graham posits that people are moving away from newspapers because they subconsciously prefer the authenticity of blogs:
I think the main reason is that the writing online is more honest. Imagine how incongruous the New York Times article about suits would sound if you read it in a blog:
"The urge to look corporate--sleek, commanding, prudent, yet with just a touch of hubris on your well-cut sleeve--is an unexpected development in a time of business disgrace."
The problem with this article is not just that it originated in a PR firm. The whole tone is bogus. This is the tone of someone writing down to their audience.
On this point, Graham's right. The author of the above quote would be laughed at (and would be "unsubscribed") if it appeared that she was writing it on a blog without tongue planted in cheek.
It's things like blogs and open source that are increasing the value of authenticity and transparency in both the online and offline worlds. The blogging community sniffs out and rips insincerity (see the Raging Cow debacle, for example). Most blogs have refreshingly candid voices when compared with marketing copy, which only reinforces that when done well, they are becoming a great vehicle to convey a company's message.
Thinking hard about how the customer experience is affected by your product's messaging, and changing the messaging so it's more authentic, can have a dramatic impact on the success of your business. When you stand head and shoulders above your competitors because your message is from the heart, odds are both you and your customers will be much better off.