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A Jackson Pollock painting is auctioned and sold in November 2006 for $140m. Michael Graves' teakettle 9093 sells briskly for $145, while its limited edition predecessor sells for $25,000. Al Yeganeh's seafood soup sells for $30 a quart. What gives and what do all these examples have in common...?


Perusing the December 2006 issue of Harvard Business Review, I focused on a particular article, "Innovation through Design" by Roberto Verganti. In the article, Verganti discusses how Alessi, a northern-Italian home-furnishings manufacturer, has sold 1.5 million teakettles designed by American architect Michael Graves for a princely sum of $145 a piece.

Being the utilitarian that I am, I had a hard time believing someone would pay $145 for a tea kettle, especially since Target contracted with Graves to make a replica of the exact same kettle for a more reasonable price of $25! Yet, the $145 tea kettle continues to sell.

As I encountered and continued to park and amalgamate other examples in the dark recesses of my brain, I came to the following conclusion: most people are searching for authentic and are willing to pay any price to get it. I'll define "the authentic" the following way, it's a product, service or experience that is:

* Scarce: not easy to come by, you need to go out of your way to get "it"
* Special: unique and differentiated, you can't find it anywhere else
* Valuable: as Warren Buffet would say, valuable not because of the dollars you pay, but for the value you get
* Real: the product, service or experience "speaks" to the core of who you are, your mission, your purpose

"The Authentic" is why people are willing to pay a premium for a unique teakettle, a scarce work of art, a great bowl of soup, or a spiced latte they can only get at their local coffee shop. Authenticity breeds passion and the examples of the authentic are endless.

The pursuit of the authentic then, for a marketer means:

* Incrementalism, or simply adding a few new features to an existing product or service, is the path to mediocrity
* Imitation, while "the highest form of flattery", will always be challenged to measure up to the original
* Boldness, is taking a new direction, even when your customers of today are telling you they want more of the same

People are hungry for the authentic and are willing to pay any price. What are you doing to make your product/service/experience "the real deal"?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Barsch directs services marketing programs for Teradata, the world's largest data warehousing and analytics company. Previously, Paul was marketing director for HP Enterprise Services $1.3 billion healthcare industry and a senior marketing manager at global consultancy, BearingPoint. Paul is a senior contributor to MarketingProfs, a frequent columnist for MarketingProfs DailyFix, and has published over fifteen articles in marketing, management, technology and healthcare publications. Paul earned his Bachelors of Science in Business Administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He and his family reside in San Diego, CA.