When Caitlyn Jenner began to reveal her transition to the world, I was impressed by the courage and bravery it took to so publicly acknowledge and address her situation. Personal inspiration abounds in this story of the Olympic champion now owning up to her real identity. I started thinking about those lessons and how they apply to business. We live in an age where corporations are treated like people and in return we expect a degree of humanity from businesses large and small. If that’s the case, then why can’t personal lessons be applied to business? How can the lessons from the transition of Caitlyn Jenner be applied to a box of cereal, a big box retailer or a tech company like Box?
First, let’s get beyond the “mechanics” of gender reassignment. It’s not the act itself that is teachable for brands and companies, but what Caitlyn Jenner represents is.
Caitlyn Jenner is a story of reinvention. That is something that brands go through to remain relevant to the shifting consumer psyche. Brand reinvention is often a reassignment of attributes, characteristics, and the presentation of oneself. Given how fast consumer attitudes and perceptions are changing, brands need to reinvent now more than ever to deliver the authenticity we, as consumers, are demanding with our wallets.
Here are three lessons I’ve drawn from Caitlyn Jenner’s journey that, when applied correctly, can help your business move forward.
1) Be Honest. Recognize when your identity is out of sync and admit it.
If you listen to a trans person talk about their early years, they often describe not feeling comfortable in their own skin, feeling that something is off. Some recognize very early on that they have the spirit of one gender and their body isn’t aligned to that. The journey of transitioning is about bringing alignment to your authentic self.
A brand can appear “confused” – trying to be something its not. Of course this flies in the face of the biggest macro trend of this century – authenticity. Prior to her transition, Caitlyn wasn’t being authentic. If your brand isn’t being true to itself then is isn’t being authentic either and is on the other side of what consumers seek.
For your brand or business – have some moments of introspection and ask yourself – is your brand aligned on the inside and outside? Do the core values or ingredients of your brand align to how consumers see and think about your brand? Is what you are presenting to the outside world authentic to what your brand is?
Remember “greenwashing” in the 00’s? Brands were jumping so quickly on the eco-bandwagon and touting their green-ness every chance they could. Yet consumers – which act like a brand’s psyche – saw through that and called foul. Ultimately the greenwashed brands retreated and left standing those that are authentic and aligned to their mission and values – which the consumer can see clearly.
2) Be Brave. Have the courage to do what needs to be done.
I know first hand the personal strength and courage it took to come out of the closet. I imagine that was only a fraction of the strength and courage it would take to re-align your entire identity to your authentic self. New name, new face, new body, new clothes, new way of being. And yet you are still you – the same spirit inside. Unlike a box of baking mix however, you can’t walk around with a sign that says “new look on the outside, same great person inside”.
I’m not going to insult the trans community by saying that the emotional stakes are the same as those faced by a business team. They are not. However, there are challenges within an organization in gaining alignment on what the issue is, the course of action, and how to best move ahead. That takes strength of character to be willing to stand up, acknowledge there is an issue, and lead a team to do something about it.
In today’s corporate culture where you are encouraged to be entrepreneurial, yet are incentivized for maintaining status quo, it takes true leadership to recognize and admit what’s out of whack and start the work to bring it back.
3) Be Bold. Shout, don’t whisper.
If you’re going to commit to making a change and being true to yourself, why not shout it out to the world. What do you have left to hide at that point.
Of course your brand isn’t going to land the cover of Vanity Fair or a reality series, but you can do more than drop a little “new look, same great taste” flag on your package. Come on, you’ve done something pretty remarkable. Own your truth. Let the world know about it.
Here is where the lessons weave together – be honest with consumers about your brand and who you are (or about to become) – be brave enough to make the changes that are necessary to bring your product into line with today’s consumer expectations. And of course, be bold and get out in front of consumers to show them the new you.
If the world’s greatest athlete can pull this off and still be a champion, why not your brand.
#caitlynjenner #iamcait #brandreinvention #brands #authenticity