Schulich research shows what Canadian whisky industry can teach business about authenticity

Schulich School of Business

New research from York University’s Schulich School of Business shows that a company’s authenticity narrative is bolstered by using knowledgeable people and tangible physical artifacts such as equipment, buildings and places.

Maxim Voronov
Maxim Voronov

The findings are contained in the paper, “Distilling Authenticity: Materiality and Narratives in Canadian Distilleries’ Authenticity Work,” currently in press in the Academy of Management Journal. The paper is co-authored by Maxim Voronov, professor of organization studies and sustainability at Schulich, together with William M. Foster, Gerardo Patriotta and Klaus Weber.

Their study looked at the Canadian whisky industry over a period of four years. The key implication of their findings is that constructing narratives by leveraging a business’s distinctive material artifacts – items such as production equipment, places, or buildings – as well as knowledgeable production staff, is most effective in constructing persuasive authenticity narratives because it signals that an organization is being “true to itself.”

“By promoting what the company does most distinctively, the company is less likely to be seen as merely trying to cater to consumers’ wishes, and in industries where authenticity is valued, companies may not always be able to cater to customer demands, without being seen as inauthentic,” said Voronov. 

According to the researchers, the consumers’ “experiential closeness to producers” can boost their perceptions of authenticity – especially when material artifacts that reflect a company’s character, values and spirit are utilized to enhance that feeling of closeness. This sort of experience can occur, for example, during a guided tour of a whisky distillery, where consumers experience an immersive visit that combines sight, sound, smell and other stimuli that make the experience more vivid and transparent, and the narrative more tangible. 

“Consumers desire authentic brands and businesses search for authentic leaders,” added Voronov. “Authenticity is increasingly seen as a source of competitive advantage in many industries.”