If I hear one more entrepreneur, creative or brand shout from the rooftops that they’re ‘authentic’ I’m going to…well probably not much other than roll my eyes hard and think good luck with that.
I’m really over the word authentic. And I’m here to tell you, just because you say you’re authentic doesn’t mean it’s true. In fact, you can’t tell someone your authentic, it has to be earned. You need to prove your authenticity.
But I get it. It has been and still is, a buzzword that made a lot of people feel like they could finally connect with the supposed uninterested millennials, and build a massive and engaged online community. It turns out, however, that a lot of people have been using the term incorrectly. And now they find their website content is stuffed with synonyms like genuine, real and honest, or their personal brand looks like every other personal brand with bright colours, and people standing around drinking coffee and looking at an iPad.
What does ‘being authentic’ actually mean?
Oxford dictionaries defines authentic like this:
“Of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine.”
Dictionary.com defines authentic as:
“Not false or copied; genuine; real.”
Authenticity means being yourself and being honest: Staying true to who you are, what you do, and the community you serve.
But what does this mean in practice?
I think it’s easier, in this case, to first define what it’s not:
- Making everyone in your team a brand ‘ambassador’ armed with happy snaps of satisfied clients
- Throwing 5% of your profits to whatever social cause is relevant at the time
- Putting yourself down and sharing general business f*uckups regularly
- Using buzzwords, colloquialisms and jargon to ‘connect’ with others and sound like an ‘expert’
What we have to accept is marketing and authenticity are at odds with each other. Authenticity isn’t about selling, but marketing is: It’s about creating a message that helps you sell stuff to the right people. Being authentic would be telling everyone that you’re trying to sell them your products, which isn’t going to be very successful. What most people are doing is confusing actual authenticity with calculated authenticity.
What is authentic to one person won’t be to another. This is why you can’t implement the tips in ‘10 ways to be authentic’ Buzzfeed article and not come out looking and sounding like everyone else. To be authentic, you have to know your values, purpose and personality and have a distinct visual and verbal identity. This takes time and is tricky, but it can be done.
I asked a few good friends to give me examples of how my personal brand feels authentic to them, to show you what it looks like in practice for me:
- My branding – Peach and orange are colours I wear most days, especially when I’m meeting people at networking events (they make me feel good and stand out from the crowd). People associate these colours with me in real life and now online, too.
- Language choice – I swear and say words like awesome, sweet, yippee and OMG, a lot. So I don’t remove them from my copy. This means I sound the same whether you’re reading my blog posts or talking to me in a business meeting. People now recognise my voice.
- Values – I have strong personal and business values which I make very clear on my website and share on my blog. People know what types of clients I will and won’t work with so there are no surprises. Bonus: my community knows which brands to send my way.
- Selling – I don’t like salesy copy or using a lot of marketing tactics so I don’t. But I do value my community: I always thank people for reading and ask for feedback. So when I send my “how are you?” email to new email subscribers, they reply straight away and tell me what they’re up to knowing I’ll respond. And we build our relationship this way.
Please do me this one favour: Stop saying you’re authentic and concentrate on being yourself instead. My eyes need a break from rolling into the back of my head.
Featured image from Unsplash.