Stop Trying To Be So Authentic

Authenticity is not a goal.

It’s a byproduct of something else.

It’s not something you can put on like a coat. It’s not a strategy. It’s not something you can posture at. It’s not even the goal. It’s the result of something else that you’re doing.

There’s the old story of the archer who misses his shot because his eye is on the trophy he wants to win and not the bullseye. If you try to get the trophy, you miss the target. The only way to get the trophy is to stop focusing on it.

Every once in a while, I will hear people say things like, “I’m a very authentic person.” Or, “Well, to be really authentic about it . . .” And I also see courses on how to learn to market authentically.

I’ve seen email subject lines say things like:

This is the most vulnerable thing I’ve ever shared.” 

Or, “I’m really scared to share this with you . . .

Then I read it and that vulnerable thing is something so sales-y that is clearly not very vulnerable at all. They used my caring for them as a hook to get me to open the email. That didn’t feel good. As another colleague of mine, Teray, shared, “When someone sends too many “vulnerable,” and, “embarrassing” subject headings in a row, it starts to feel like me-me-me-me.”

Often this strategy rings hollow. Some of it makes the person marketing seem like they’re trying really, really hard to be authentic.

Authentic also doesn’t mean hippie, conscious, new age, spiritual, or any of that.

Want to know who has the most authentic marketing of anyone I’ve ever seen? Jay Abraham.

Jay Abraham is a hardcore capitalist and doesn’t hide this at all. His offers are direct, candid and he is extremely transparent about his own selfish motives for making the offers he makes.

Nothing is being hidden.

And though my political views couldn’t be more different than Jay’s, his marketing feels authentic to me.

Being authentic doesn’t mean speaking in soft and sweet tones all the time. It can sound sales-y too. Believe it.

Authentic doesn’t look a particular or specific way.

But when you use the language of authenticity and you aren’t actually being authentic . . . it’s the worst. And it’s often obvious.

So what is the bullseye on which we need to focus?

In marketing, I think it’s the truth.

But a particular kind of truth. It’s the truth of “is this a fit?” rather than “how can I get the sale?”

If your agenda is to get the sale then no matter what you do, short of telling people, “I really just want the sale,” your actions will be manipulative and they will land as inauthentic.

Most sales training is an attempt to cover this original sin, the type one error of focusing on the sale. It’s all about how to build rapport, elicit buying strategies, overcome objections, etc. So much of marketing is about trying to seem authentic while we pick clients’ pocket. It’s full of justifications for our own selfishness and desperation. It’s full of rationalizations for doing things that don’t actually feel right for us.

Having said that, collapsing and giving away the store for free isn’t particularly noble or authentic either.

But what if our focus wasn’t on trying to seem authentic.

What if it wasn’t even on trying to be authentic.

What if our focus was just honed in on creating something wonderful, giving great customer service, and getting the word out? What if our focus was – in those wonderful moments when someone expresses an interest in our work – on helping that client sort out if our work or offering was really the best thing for them or not?

What if we looked at marketing as filtering and not seduction?

Let your focus on providing value for your customer be the most authentic thing about you. Don’t use authenticity to sell something.

Recommended Resources:

The Seven Graces of Marketing – Lynn Serafinn

Marketing for Hippies 101 – Tad Hargrave

On Fake Vulnerability and Giving a Crap (Dear Marketing Guru…) – Ling Wong

About Tad

  • Justin Bonnet

    Amen. Authenticity isn’t a commodity, no siree!
    … As if on cue, I JUST got an email with the title “You won’t want to miss this…” :)

  • Loved this, Tad! First two sentences are powerful. I was enthralled by Patsy Rodenburg’s video you posted in your email. And I also read your post on collapsing/posturing which was excellent. Lol, as I was reading what you’d written about posturing, Donald Trump was in my mind’s eye. And then you mentioned his name. Could there be a better example? :)

  • Mónica M. Arias

    What a great article Tad! Yes, there are so many “sweet lines” on emails just to induce opening which end up sounding and being NOT authentic at all. Besides, truth is honesty can only be explored and recognized inside. It is an inside job, a peeling off, a discovery “adventure”, a voluntary commitment with who we really are, and ARE NOT. Then, and only then, we can share what we find – which is changing as life itself – with others. Love your blog and posts! Thank you :)

  • Iris P. Weaver

    And now I know why I hated some sales training I received. This is great. Thanks, Tad.

  • Say halleluja! I feel it straight away when people use the ‘charm offensive’ as a strategy. I deeply DEEPLY detest it. It’s manipulation and abuse of power even when it doesn’t look that way at all. But when ‘vulnerability’ is used as a medium of exchange (I give you my ‘vulnerablity’, now you give me your trust (you must!) it’s a game. Eric Berne (with the best book in the world “Games people play”) wrote about this so clearly. It’s a game to …. avoid (!!) intimacy. Because wait until you push the real buttons of pain in those people.

    Now, and that is why I recognize this behavior like no other, I need to share my shit too. I have done it a LOT in the past too. Oh Lord. (I have nothing to sell, so I can safely share this ;-) Please, people, don’t. You’ll be ashamed forever and you’re greatly devaluating your customers, your friends and whoever is in your inner circle.

  • Elisa Antonia Negroni

    Great article Tad. I was just told a friend the other day how I hate those emails that say “Being vulnerable here” or “Sharing this with you is really scary” or “Am going to be real here” .. it is phony and I am always immediately turned off. Authenticity is being who you are naturally without having to make a statement saying you are being authentic or vulnerable. Love what you said about focusing on creating something wonderful for, giving good customer service, etc. Thanks for putting it out there!

  • thanks pal!

  • honestly? ted cruz might be a better example…

  • amen.

  • interesting! i’d love to hear more.

  • it’s not a game to play. amen.

  • thanks elisa!

  • Denise

    Thanks for writing this, Tad. When I receive some of these “authentic” emails (even from people I know), they make me feel slimed. some are just TMI. Some feel manipulative, and some are just plain boring. Ironically, the most authentic emails I get are from hard core internet marketers who tell good light-hearted stories that really make their point (and yet manage to communicate “what’s in it for me”). They don’t seem to be trying for authenticity but rather customer value. For those who are attempting to use authenticity to sell something… try creating real value instead.

  • AMEN! Thanks so much for sharing this! To me, the word “authentic” has lost its authenticity in the whole “heart-centered (or pretend to be or being sucked into buzzword usage)” marketing space. I actually wrote a post on fake vulnerability put forth by some “marketing gurus” a few months ago, I hope it’s ok to share here:

  • Boom. Nailed it. “They don’t seem to be trying for authenticity but rather customer value. For those who are attempting to use authenticity to sell something… try creating real value instead.”

  • i love it. added it to the post :-)

  • Vladi Jordan

    ?Well, since only the INFP has the authenticity as their core value (they can’t be not authentic) and they rarely become entrepreneurs… pretty much every one in the business world is faking it.

    But that’s not the point, as you said.

    What I’ve learned so far, a?s an entrepreneur, you must

    be better than everyone at one thing: how much you care.

    Care more than your intelligence. Care more than your credentials.

    You can hire all of the smart people. Just care more than any of them.

    When your child hurts himself, you don’t try to be authentic. You just do everything possible to ease his pain. Because you care, right?

    It’s so focking simple.

    ?Oh, by the way caring for others is the most profitable endeavor you can pursue.?

  • Glad to hear… and thanks!