16 Jun

Be authentic! Be, be authentic!


Lately it seems that everyone’s cheerleading about authenticity. The social media-driven realization that, “Hey! We’re all people after all!” has meant that capital-a Authenticity is, at least for now, a highly desired brand attribute.

But the whole construct of “be authentic” seems oxymoronic to me: You are what you are; you can’t be otherwise. If you have to tell people to be authentic, then you’re telling them to act in way they don’t normally act—to be inauthentic.

I ran across a panel discussion description the other day that posed the question: “Will the new economic reality redefine corporate philanthropy and what it means to be perceived as authentic?” (emphasis mine).

And that, I think, is what the advice is really about: how can institutions—and people—be perceived as authentic? The idea is that changing what we say, or the tools with which we say it (“Hey! I’m a CEO on Twitter! Look at how authentic I am!), can somehow improve our brand image.

If that’s true, does it really make a difference whether the authenticity is “real” or not?

Adrian Chan over at Gravity7 suggests it does, and I agree. Over time, authenticity—real authenticity—shows up, for reasons that are hard to identify. As pattern-driven as we are, there will be times when we’ll act against our better nature, or despite all rational evidence, or just simply because something “feels right” to us. In other words, we’ll be human.

But you can’t act human. You can’t plan for it, either, or brand it. Why? Because once your “authenticity” becomes too planned, too strategic, it loses that indefinable something that makes it real.

We spend so much time focusing on what we want to be that there’s a disconnect with what our customers and constituents experience right now. And with social media, they experience that disconnect—that inauthenticity—a lot faster than they used to.

But what if you want to be bigger? better? faster? If I can’t be otherwise, you say, how can I grow or change?

Because what you are includes what you’re capable of. And what you’re capable of relies on what makes you great—right now.

Yes, it’s hard (and Amber Naslund wrote a great post about why). And scary (because what we are usually isn’t yet what we want to be).

But really, there’s no other choice: you are what you are, you can’t be otherwise. As long as you say your brand is one thing, and your customers experience another, you’re going to be inauthentic.

I say there are only two paths to authenticity: change what you do to match what you say or change what you say to match what you do.

Which one will you do?

Note: this post originally appeared on ‘Round the Square.


  • http://twitter.com/BronwynDurand Bronwyn Durand

    I realise this post is from 09, but I’m so happy to have found it. I really like the astoundingly simple clarity of your description of actual authenticity – matching action and words. It’s one of those eureka moments that seem obvious afterwards. That truly is the essence of what is still wrong in businesses, and those that are acting differently and in a way they can sustain and be proud of are the ones that will survive the current times and thrive in whatever is next. Thank you for your thought provoking posts.

    • Tamsen

      Thanks so much, Bronwen!