At the risk of sounding alarmist, there is a looming crisis of authenticity in brand engagement… 

It is a little known fact that the human amygdala takes 33 milliseconds to decide whether or not to trust someone.  Yep.  33 milliseconds.  Our collective human bullshit detector, honed to perfection through millennia of genetic culling, has become so advanced that we establish a bias before we can even consciously process an introduction. 

So, what does this have to do with brand engagement?

In short: everything.

Universally, barriers to entry and trade are collapsing while emerging technology is decentralizing and democratizing the means of production on a global scale.  Product, indeed entire industry, lifecycles are now measured in weeks or months vs. years.  Brand proliferation is exponential and differentiation is just a matter of degree.  Sustainable competitive advantage is more illusory than ever and – sadly - everything eventually becomes commodity.   

And, so it is.

As marketers we react.  We try to adapt to the aggressive speed at which these changes occur, to operate in the rapidly narrowing space between quarterly financials and some semblance of professional self-respect.  But instead of innovating from a place of purpose and vision we often end up simply chasing the dragon.

In an effort to appeal - or at least not offend - we steward brand personalities that can best be described as schizophrenic or, conversely, horrifyingly bland.  We check our authenticity at the door in favor of a myriad of costumes, depending on who we deem attractive and what we think they want us to be.  We concede to the gravitas of the marketing herd mentality and we believe that if we only say the right line we could breakthrough and seal the deal.  Of course, we neglect to remember 33 milliseconds.

Meanwhile, our customer has moved on.  With incomprehensible speed and stunning accuracy they have detected an imposter and turned their collective backs on manufactured authenticity.  Us?  Well, we just end up the guy at the college bar who’s just a bit too old to be there.

Don’t be that guy. 


As a brand, challenge yourself – especially when things are going well.  Challenge assumptions and those who hold them.  Let your authentic voice be heard.  The safest car is one without wheels; guaranteed you’ll never have an accident.  But, you’ll never go anywhere either.


Marketing is a science, to be sure.  Data architecture, behavioral pattern aggregation, queuing theory, on and on ad infinitum.  Computers can flawlessly recreate Picasso’s Guernica.  However – to date – they still can’t create it.


Unabashedly.  Unapologetically.  Unwaveringly.  You.  Not everyone will like you, but you will have the loyalty of those that do.

ABOUT:  David Houston is an experienced marketing industry and management consultant who has developed and implemented marketing programs on behalf of numerous Fortune 100 clients.  He is currently Principal and CEO of houston+GROUP, a full-service brand engagement agency and consultancy.