What is Authenticity?

When I talk with people about authenticity in marketing, I am often asked what I mean by that term. I love this question — “What is authenticity in marketing?” – because I asked the same thing when this topic first really came to my attention in 2017 during multiple marketing conferences that I attended.

Business owners and marketers were saying, repeatedly: “We need to be more authentic in our marketing.”

Said in different ways by a number of different people in different contexts, I noticed that they all the same word, but it had different meaning. Some people meant “more transparent.” Others seemed to mean “more honest.” I remember one person in particular who, in the end, seemed to be looking for more trust between her company and her prospects and customers.

This observation sent me on a quest. I began asking the question:

What do we mean when we say that we want authenticity in our marketing?

For the last year I’ve been doing research, conducting interviews, and learning — about authenticity itself and authenticity in marketing. Sometimes the questions lead to more questions; sometimes I find clarity.

The complexity is, in part, due to the fact that “authenticity” is a vague word, a contextual word.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines authenticity as “the quality of being real or true,” highlighting physical examples like documentation or antiques. But how do you translate this assessment of quality to human interaction? Other thinkers have tried to tackle this question. Authenticity has been the focus of research across a number of sectors — philosophy, leadership, organizational development, literature. I’ve explored all of them.

And it is in the realm of social work that I have found the answer to my question.

What is authenticity?

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown explains what it means to create an authentic self when she says:

“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.

Choosing authenticity means:

  • cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable;
  • exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle; and
  • nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe that we are enough.” (p. 50, emphasis added)

In other words …

Authenticity is a daily practice & a choice. If it were a default position, we wouldn’t be walking around wishing we were more authentic. We’d already be there. Being authentic requires intentionality that we must renew daily. When we lose this focus, we go back to our default condition and feel off-kilter. We yearn to get back to the intentional version of ourselves (or our businesses), embracing ourselves, warts included.A key to this is that we don’t choose to “turn on” our authenticity and then we’re done. We have to choose to be authentic every day. Authenticity is something you move into, again and again.

Authenticity is married to vulnerability. You cannot have authenticity without vulnerability; and it is in our vulnerability that we find our authenticity. This is where fear lies. It is also where courage and truth can be found.

Authenticity requires courage. Because there is fear involved, we avoid the risk. We have to be brave and dare to be ourselves. Choose to be ourselves. As Brown says, embrace ourselves.

When you choose authenticity and vulnerability, also choose boundaries. You have limits and you should honor them. Authenticity does not mean “all in.” It means being real and being present. As a friend of mine once said, “I’ll show them behind the curtain, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to air my dirty laundry.”

Authenticity nurtures connection and a sense of belonging. When one person is authentic, they invite others to be authentic with them. That mutual authenticity creates a welcoming space where people feel connected. A sense of belonging is crucial in this world where technology simultaneously connects and divides us.

So, now that we’ve got that clear, what does it mean to be authentic in marketing?

What is Authenticity in Marketing?

When you choose to be authentic in your marketing — when you dare to be yourself — you connect with your audience. Your message resonates with your ideal client, creating a space where they can be authentic with you, in return. It takes courage, because authentic marketing is intertwined with vulnerability. In that context, you can still draw boundaries.

Authenticity doesn’t mean show everything. It does mean be real.

Authenticity invites authenticity. When you are authentic, you tell others that it’s ok to be themselves, as well. Whether you are online or in person, you create an authentic space where everyone involved can be themselves, can be real.

The challenge, I believe, is that we aren’t taught to cultivate authenticity in our marketing. It’s not in the schema from which we do our work. We write in third person, we use photos that have no connection to us personally, and we try to say and do what we think our audience wants to see and hear.

Authenticity means we write in the first person, we use photos that mean something to us, and we write what we think.

It is scary stuff. But business owners and marketers want it. As they should. It’s worth it.

Customers want it and will respond to it.

The people with whom your authenticity will most resonate with are ultimately your ideal clients. They will recognize you as one of their own. They will value what you are selling. They will become the keys to your success.

What next?

If this is something that you want to learn more about, join me on my Facebook page where we’re talking about what authenticity in marketing looks like, why it’s important, and what it can do for you and your business.

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