Logically speaking, it shouldn’t really matter whether Dr. Seuss is still alive or he isn’t. But it does. Yesterday my five year old asked me about him. It’s the sort of thing kids always ask. Is this real, or isn’t it? Wondering whether or not something is real is a common occurrence  In fact, it’s a filter that we sometimes use for trust and believability as well. Last week on the reality show the Shark Tank, one of the sharks (Barbara) decided not to invest in a company because their presentation seemed a little “too slick.” In other words, it was too perfect.

Wait a minute – too perfect? Businesses spend countless hours trying to get everything right. Retailers obsess about store layout. Entrepreneurs hone their pitches.  Quick service restaurants optimize everything down to the ideal ice to soda ratio. Brand guidelines detail everything from the optimal colors to the best distance from logo to tagline. In many organizations, marketing itself is defined by an unwavering obsession with brand consistency.  Yet there are plenty of signs that things are changing.

Perfection is no longer the ticket to success it once seemed.

For years, reality television has offered a less scripted (though still exaggerated) form of entertainment. Even the ultimate form of perfect story – the fairy tale – has changed. Shrek made the hero an Ogre. Despicable Me and Megamind makes him a GOOD bad guy. Even at the Academy Awards this weekend, three of the most popular (and predicted to be the most awarded) films are “real” stories – Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, and Argo. So, what does it all mean?

Being real has become the ultimate competitive advantage.

We value something that is real above everything else. For further proof, my favorite example of a brand that lives this every day is Trader Joe’s. Their store aisles are crowded by traditional grocery store standards and the items are often moved around the store. The brand name routinely changes from Trader Joe’s to Trader Giotto’s (for Italian food items) or Trader Ming (for Chinese items). They even sell wine for $2 per bottle (ok, $2.49 after a “dramatic” 50 cent price hike last month).  Yet it all works – giving the brand growing sales and some of the highest customer loyalty in their industry.

What Trader Joe’s has figured out about offering a great experience is something every brand should consider … sometimes being perfect isn’t as important as just having a real personality and being yourself.