By Amanda Eastep
I was a little miffed at the Klingon.
My five-year-old and I were sitting on a low wall in the village square of the Bristol Renaissance Faire many years ago, taking a respite from the summer sun.
I, a simple peasant woman, eyed the immense Klingon seated to our right.
My little girl, sandwiched between me and the 300-pound Star Trek humanoid warrior, attempted to enjoy her very Renaissance-y chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick as she cautiously glanced up at the scowling face of the alien, then expectantly up at me.
“Don’t worry, Sweetie,” I said, meeting the fierce woman’s glare over my child’s head, “she won’t eat you.” The Klingon growled, “How do you know?”
Now I don’t have anything against Klingons, but I didn’t appreciate her veiled threat to devour my offspring. Even worse was her lack of respect for the authenticity of the Renaissance period.
I had to wonder what in the Elizabethan world made this Trekkie feel welcomed at the annual Faire.
This year, on our 20+ annual visit, I pondered this afresh as I roamed the dusty streets of the village, sipping honey mead, and considering a sheepskin rug (for those cold Chicago winters). The past encounter of the third kind caused me to ask, “How does a company maintain its business authenticity while keeping a varied client base happy?”
Ye Olde Rules for Keeping It Real…and Keeping the People Happy
To thine own self be true. Business authenticity begins with people who have a clear vision and purpose for what they plan to accomplish through their business. Sure, we’re in business to make a profit, but what’s at the core of what we do? I have several reasons I freelance, but my central purpose is to use my writing to help others communicate their purpose.
The Ren Faire must maintain its authenticity on two levels: 1) Strolling through the re-imagined world of 16th century England, you can see that one purpose of the event is to recreate a time in history in order to honor its achievements (art and chivalry) and to teach through its mistakes (privies) and 2) Faire organizers must also stay true to the deeper mission. Fun.
To thine own customers be true. As much as a business has to know who it is at the core, it has to know its customers, too. Businesses can be very intentional in choosing the types of clients they want to work with, but some customer demographics form in a more organic way, influenced, for example, by outside factors such as popular trends in entertainment. Companies have to decide how to best serve customers they might not have anticipated while still pleasing their original customer base and staying true to themselves.
Throughout the many years I have attended, more fantasy elements have been incorporated, serving the growing interest generated by gaming, cosplaying, and blockbuster fantasy movies. The fans of these trends are numerous and have become part of a long-standing demographic that includes Renaissance history buffs and re-enactors, families who encourage their children to be dragon slayers, and people who just want an afternoon of bawdy comedy and the ability to wear an entire yard of beer around their necks.
But no matter their differences–angsty teenage wiccan or ale-swilling biker–nearly every attendee shares a common quest, the quest for fun. Huzzah! It’s the same purpose of Faire organizers who welcome “anyone who is willing to get into the spirit of things and play for a day.”
Create an authentic world. When we think about environment in relation to a business, our offices spaces might be the first things that come to mind. But what about companies that can’t afford the corkscrew slide between the first and second floor or the businesses that operate remotely? Well, environment also involves the experience we create for the customer, beginning with the navigability of our website to the quality of the final product we deliver. Another integral part of delivering an authentic experience for the customer is inviting the right employees along with you on the journey.
Every Faire participant plays their part–whether wench or noble knight–to add to the overall authenticity of the experience. Music, vocabulary, and dress for actors and Faire workers follow specific guidelines in keeping with the time period. But authentic–even for a Ren Faire–doesn’t have to mean the absence of modern plumbing.
To accomplish the ultimate mission of fun, the setting includes products, activities, modern conveniences (long live the Queen!) and food that aren’t in keeping with Elizabethan England (e.g. the aforementioned chocolate covered cheesecake on a stick). Authentic does have to mean making customers happy.
After another swig of mead, it all became clear to me. If we are true to ourselves and to our customers, we can create a world that serves our greater purpose while also meeting the needs of others, i.e. the customers–whether Renaissance noblewoman or Klingon–we were intentional in gaining, as well as the ones we didn’t quite expect to meet along the journey.