There is something magical about the things that are actually real. They elicit emotions and create a sense of proximity and trust. A real work of art, a real smile, a real friendship. Things that are "real" always share one key characteristic: they touch us in a profound way. In a world of illusions, there is a growing desire for something real, genuine and authentic. When it seems as though we are surrounded by copies at every turn, we start to yearn for something original again, while things that are genuine and real start to become more important.
The story behind what is real
The word "real" has a wide array of denotations. On the one hand, it can be used to describe something that is "not artificial", "original" or "authentic." A signature or an ancient gold coin can be gauged as real. A "real Picasso" is a picture that was actually painted by Picasso. Oftentimes, "real" can also refer to something that is "true" or "genuine." We talk about real friendships or sometimes about real problems.
The opposite of real is artificial, an imitation or a fake. All fakes aim to delude and mislead people. Some fakes are so well executed that you would find it virtually impossible to distinguish them from the original. And yet: when something turns out to be an imitation, we are usually disappointed and feel deceived. After all, we expected something different, namely the real deal, the original.
We attach particular importance to things that are real. Real banknotes can be used as legal tender, whereas fake banknotes cannot, even if they are identical in appearance. Two watches might appear to be exactly the same down to the very last detail. And yet there is a decisive difference nonetheless: one is a precious branded watch for which collectors would be willing to pay astronomical sums of money, while the other is (probably) but a worthless copy. But what exactly does the value of something that is real represent? And what distinguishes things that are real from things that are not?
In general, we deem something to be real when its authorship is ensured and its origin guaranteed. A real signature is the signature of the actual individual whose name it bears. A real banknote can only be one produced by a central bank. Whether or not something is real always requires a form of testimony, be it in the form of a watermark, a certificate or an individual.
But it is not just appearance that determines whether or not something is real. Sometimes, fakes can appear to be so real that even experts cannot tell the difference. But even if every single atom of the copy is identical to the original, it remains a copy all the same. Real things, on the other hand, always have a unique author and tell that author’s own special story – they have an "aura" about them, as the philosopher and cultural essayist Walter Benjamin once described it. Products also have a sort of aura about them. They preserve the spirit of their inventor, the creative idea and the hard work invested in their development. A fake product might well be just as good or even better than the original. But it is still just a cheap copy, a mere imitation.
You can tell whether a company is real or not by looking at whether or not it tells a story that has evolved over time. In a real company, you talk to real people with real knowledge and real experience. A real company offers real solutions, real added value – and not just an illusion. Digital technologies are making processes faster and things more convenient for customers. But they are no substitute for real, analog relationships. Real customer proximity requires real people who can provide real responses to their customers’ needs.
The word "real" evokes associations with an element of truth. A real friend is a true friend – and not someone who merely pretends to be one. A real friend is somebody we can rely on. Real products, real services and real customer contact are also all honest things. This is because they actually are what they appear to be – instead of turning out to be something different entirely.
Only genuine relationships can foster real trust. A computer algorithm works strictly according to defined rules. You cannot enter into real dialogue with it. It does not have to take responsibility if something goes wrong. You can only really trust people with whom you have a personal relationship and shared experiences.
You need honesty for something to be genuine. Be it a friend, a product brand or a company: we must not be deceived. We have to know where we stand. However, honesty alone is not enough. Someone can be honest – and boring nevertheless. We expect things that are real to be more than just genuine. We expect them to be something special, unique, original. If genuine things were replaceable, then they would not really be genuine.
A real friendship is one that cannot simply be replaced overnight. It is founded on special qualities and stability that we can trust. We do not want to swap it for another one. We also expect genuine products to meet certain criteria and standards. We expect the quality and reliability to which we are accustomed from that particular manufacturer and brand. Real things do not always have to be the best. But they have to offer the right quality for my specific purpose.
Things that are real and authentic do not change on a whim. They always remain true to themselves. As such, things that are real always have something stubborn and resistant about them, too. Sometimes, a real friend might say something that we do not want to hear. A real customer relationship can also handle criticism because it is about more than merely selling products and services. The salesperson and the customer have a close relationship and something to say to each other.
A fake, on the other hand, does not stay true to itself. It adapts to fit in with others, it ingratiates itself, it pretends to be something it is not. A fake is false to its very core, which is exactly why it is not genuine.
Real customers have real needs and real problems for which they want to find solutions.
That is why a fake product is something we trust as little as we trust fake news or a fake relationship that feigns a sense of proximity that does not really exist.
Customers have real needs and real problems to which they want to find solutions. And they are real people with emotions, moods and worries. Good salespeople show a real interest in their customers and listen to them first before talking themselves. And when they talk, they stand by what they say. They keep their promises and do not promise anything they cannot deliver. A real salesperson cannot simply be replaced at the drop of a hat. Real salespeople are no fakes, or sales robots with a false smile that deal with customers based on the same algorithm time and time again. Real salespeople are unmistakable originals - people with real values, experience and a story behind them.
The value of things that are genuine is becoming particularly evident in the digital world, in which products and relationships are becoming increasingly abstract and expendable. This is where being genuine really makes a difference. Real things have a name, an origin, an individuality. That is why we can establish sustainable relationships with them, which is something we cannot do with a fake.
Things that are real differ from things that are not in the sense that they are unique and original. They are inextricably linked to people and ideas that determine their special character. Ultimately, it is the unmistakable real people behind something that make it real.