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Why Authenticity Is A Lie (Bad) Marketers Tell


Session: Creating Your Blogging Superhero
Speaker: Lisa Barone

Hi, I’m Lisa. It’s time for an intervention.

Bloggers and social media-types will stand on their heads to tell you that what your audience really wants is a more authentic, transparent version of your brand. They want you to bare it all on your blog, on Twitter and on Facebook so they can connect with you, engage with you, and so that you can become friends with your customer.

It’s a sham. All of it. And you need to get over yourself.

The truth is your customers do not want to know the depths of your soul or what keeps you up at night. Not even your mother wants to know that much about you, truly. What your customers want is the best version of you. The version of you that allows them to see themselves, where they want to be, and which helps them achieve their goals.

That’s what marketing is — Using yourself to show people their desired outcome. Even if that outcome is just your customer with a finally-working dishwasher.

As a marketer, you provide that experience by giving up the hokey authenticity act and creating a characterized version of yourself that exudes who your audience wants to be.

Whether you want to increase sales, build a community, or find new customers, building a sellable character, a caricaturized version of yourself, is how you do it.

Creating this caricature allows you to do a few things.

  • It gives you the freedom to magnify the personality traits you already possess to attract people.
  • It allows you to play on your strengths to establish a point of difference.
  • It makes your personality appear larger than life.
  • It gives you a cushion so that when the Internet gets mean (which it will), you’re not absorbing all the shots with your true self.

Said simpler – It makes your brand magnetic.

The characterized You is a heightened version of yourself. It’s where all the right traits are highlighted and where the ones that don’t fit the brand are simply deemphasized. It’s the You after you’ve had a few too many, when suddenly you know all the punchlines and you’re not afraid to take risks. That’s who you need to be to your audience. That’s who we’re drawn to.

No, you don’t need to be drunk, just compelling.

Wait! How can you relate to customers if you’re not being your “true authentic self” and are acting like a character?! You can’t just MAKE UP who you are!

Sure you can. You do it every day. Only you don’t call it acting. You call it being an adult.

  • You show one set of personality traits when you’re working at the office.
  • Another set when you’re at home playing with your children.
  • A different set when meeting your friends at the bar for Happy Hour.

It’s not deceptive there, is it? You’re not any less you, are you? You’re simply the right you for the right audience.

Same thing.

The authenticity lie has allowed too many marketers to make total blunders of their online persona, encouraging them to partake in Twitter rants, social media flame wars, and constant whining. Your 20 minute Twitter tirade about the bad service you received at your favorite restaurant doesn’t make you “transparent” or “more relatable”, it makes you appear unstable. Actually, sometimes it makes you an a**hole.

Which, fine, you probably are, but why broadcast that to the rest of the world?

Being a successful marketer doesn’t mean disrobing and letting all the nasty bits hang out. It means simply understanding what your audience needs and then identifying which traits that you possess that help you to be that person.

  • Blogworld speaker Shane Ketterman connects with people at Rewire Business by being so vulnerable and human that we can’t help but relate and be inspired by his words.
  • The Bloggess connects with people by being that person who says what we wish we could and by making us believe it’s okay if we’re a little off.
  • Chris Brogan connects with people by laying down in the middle of the road for his audience and being the most helpful guy on the planet.

I can pretty much assure you that there are days where Chris Brogan wakes up and doesn’t want to help or talk to a single person that day. But you never see them. Not because he’s not authentic or because he’s secretly a robot with no soul, but because those days aren’t part of the brand. And because of that, he keeps them out.

What you need to figure out is who YOUR character is. What natural traits do you possess that are helpful to your audience? What can you highlight about yourself that will help someone else achieve something? Because that’s what authenticity really is – it’s undisputed credibility. It’s you giving your audience the parts about you they need, and removing anything else that will distract them or take away from that credibility.

So maybe it’s not authenticity that’s a lie. It’s just our perception of what authenticity really means.

What traits make up your brand’s character?

Lisa Barone if the Co-Founder and Chief Branding Officer at SEO consulting firm Outspoken Media. You can catch her blogging about marketing at the Outspoken Media blog or on Twitter at @lisabarone.


  • Michael Martine

    Glad to see someone saying this, because it’s absolutely true. People can only handle a few emphasized character traits about you. That’s all they’ll remember whether you like it or not. If you want to have any possibility of influencing what those few things are, you’d better consciously work on that.

    • Lisa Barone

       I think that’s a great point – as people, we can only attribute so many traits and things to you.  As a marketer, it’s your job to make sure we’re remembering the right ones. And how do you do that? My emphasizing and showing us over and over again, what you want to be known for.  We don’t need the novel of your life, just the parts that are applicable and scene-stealing for us.

  • Amber Brooks

    I agree and disagree. Your authentic self IS the character you want to be, the person you want to show the world and the person the world wants to see. I think it’s your perception of the word and what it means that might be different and totally overused in our social marketing world. Being your authentic self may mean something different to everyone. “They” say be authentic, be different, be engaging, be enchanting, and each one of us is these things and we can be if we open up to it. We are jumping into the deep end of the psychological and intellectual pool here and that is not where I wanted to go but it’s hard not to on this subject. I think I agree with you more than disagree. I would just challenge you on the definition of authentic as it’s always the same to Webster but not to 5.5 billion people.
    People want to see the best side of you? Sometimes. Sometimes they want to know what makes you tick. Lara Kulpa’s bio http://www.larakulpa.com/life-updates/personal-growth/my-not-so-official-official-story/ ,who was the one who shared your link on twitter, was an interesting story. No she didn’t bare her soul or tell us all the times she scraped the mold off something in the fridge and ate it anyway, but it was an engaging bio.
    I guess you could test this by writing a fake life bio and a real one and see how many much interest you get and what the numbers show. I just think it’s all so subjective. 
    Good thought provoking article 🙂

    • Lisa Barone

      Thanks for the comment, Amber.  

      I actually think Lara’s bio is a great example of exactly what I’m talking about. In her bio, Laura presents a really compelling picture of where she’s been, how she got to where she is, and what her skills are.  But she’s careful about the parts she picked and the stories she’s telling, right?  You’re only getting the compelling, relevant parts of her life. She didn’t go off on a tangent and talk about that bar fight she got in one time (that didn’t really happen…as far as I know 😉 ) or too far talking about the plight of the gorilla. She keeps it relevant and frames her story (and her character) accurately. In doing that, she builds the right character.

      I think you got hit the nail on the head when you referred to her bio as an “interesting story”. I think that’s exactly what your brand needs to be.   But you’re the one picking the scenes of your life and your experience to include.

      • James Hussey

        At this description is sounds like you may be re-framing your description or I misunderstood you originally.  Of course you pick and choose what you share – but being “relevant” is what’s then at stake, not “authentic” per se.  The way your article describes being “authentic,” it’s re-defining the terms along the lines of the Sophists and simply bending the wax nose.

        I’m sure Chris Brogan picks carefully what he shares – but I find it to be altogether refreshingly real, I don’t get the picture he has it “all together,” he shows his vulnerabilities.  It’s authentic.

        What I picked up from your post was “hide those parts.”  Then again, maybe I misunderstood.

  • Daniel M. Clark

    I’ve never believed in the concept of using “authenticity” as a selling point. It’s ultimately meaningless for two reasons: first, you can’t really prove that you’re being authentic, can you? You can be… convincing. But you can’t prove it. Second, you might authentically be an a**hole. Doesn’t mean that’s good for business.

    I’m really happy to see someone with a [much] higher profile than me coming out and challenging the notion of “authenticity” like this.

    • Lisa Barone

      Ha, I have to high five you for the “you might authentically be an a**hole” part, because it’s so on the money. I think way too many people have taken this “authenticity” thing and run with it, using it as their blanket excuse for why it’s okay to spend their time ranting on Twitter, why it’s okay to call that person out, and why it’s okay, to essentially, act like a ROYAL JERK.  You’re not being authentic, you’re being an idiot. Let’s not confuse the two. 

  • Anonymous

    Wow, so true. I have made the comment more than once that with me what you see is what you get, but if you really boil it down it’s still what I want you to see.

    I laughed out loud when I read the line about appearing unstable. I know some bloggers who definitely let it all hang out and they wonder why they don’t have more people stopping by. 

    This was so appropriate and to me, very accurate. Of course, you don’t mind if I copy and paste and use it for my Monday post, do you? 

    First time reader, but I’m very impressed ma’am (I’m southern, I can say that right?).

    Thanks for sharing this today, it certainly made me smile; made me laugh; and made me say ‘that is so true’. Good job……….

  • James Dabbagian, M.A

    While I’m all for having a personality different from all the other wonderful people on the Internets, there is a line, and you hit it on the head. You gotta be professional. This is why I let anyone follow me on Twitter, but I RARELY add anyone as a friend on Facebook…it’s the network I’ve designated as the place I don’t have to be as…well…professional. 

    My own blog, I’ll swear on it, but I don’t act like an asshole. 

    My ultimate tip: Be nice and courteous like the rest, and SLOWLY develop your own twang to things. 🙂

  • amymstewart

    I think the point here is really simple:  Being “authentic” shouldn’t mean being unprofessional. You need to access your authentic professional persona, and leave the TMI and childishness for your immediate family, who are forced to love you. As for being a “character”–some people are bigger characters than others…just naturally.  You should still be you, but emphasize your best traits, whether that be sharp-witted or unfailingly helpful. The truth is that we all form snap judgments of people.  It doesn’t hurt you to think about how you are received and proactively work on your image.

  • Kevin Martone

    Lisa –

    Great post. I completely agree. Somewhere along the way I heard this referred to as your “best authentic self.” I think that phrase is the best way to explain how you put best foot forward online but in an authentic way.

  • Peter Westlund

    First of all – thank you for a well written article – wor(l)d class.

    This makes me think really hard – is this not something that some sales persons try to do in a physical store, I mean try be “friends” with a potential customer? Show their best? If you can transfer this to web – bingo..

  • Sharon

    Good points. It makes sense the way you related it to showing different parts of yourself in different situations.

  • DJ Waldow

    Disclaimer: I love Lisa and plan on Bear Hugging her (TACKLING?) in LA in November.

    (Phew. Got that out in the open. Feel much better. Wait. Was I just being “authentic?” Crap.)

    In all seriousness, I am in the “agree and disagree” camp.

    I agree that this notion of “being authentic” (can be) a load of crap. It’s overplayed. Overused. Overdone. How about just being yourself?

    Where I disagree (ducks) is the caricature concept. I mean, I guess for some people it works. For me? Not so much. I’m pretty much the same dude online, in person, when I’m playing with @babywaldow:disqus, when I’m with my family, when I’m with my friends, etc. Yeah, I try not to curse online or in front of my daughter (she’s at that age where she repeats “stuff”). I may talk a bit differently to my high school friends than I do with my mom, but still – I am me. There is no other DJ Waldow (crap – just referenced myself in the 3rd person!).

    Where I lean back to the “I agree” side is that sometimes (gasp!) I fake it. I’m generally a very very positive person. I mean, my 4 favorite words are Pumped. Dude. Love. Awesome. However, I’m human. I have bad days, bad hours, bad minutes, bad seconds. Far and few between, but they happen.

    One of the things that has been stuck in my head lately is when I engage with someone online so much that I feel like we are BFFs. Then, we meet in person and I’m let down. They are not the same person face to face as they are online. Is that because their online “caricature” is not really who they are? Note: This is not always the case. Often, they are the same awesome online and face to face.

    Lisa: I hope you are ready to get tackled.

    • BlogWorld Expo

      Thank you for a really really great post Lisa. I am definitely in the agree camp but understand where people can get sidetracked or not quite understand your point.

      There is no doubt you need to act professionally with your customers and in your business circles.  Sometimes that will be different than how you act with your friends, even with a group of girl friends vs. a group of guys and girls together. You don’t act the same way in church as you do at the football game do you?

      It is called acting appropriately. Most of us understand that. It doesn’t mean you are completely different people in different circumstances or that you are “fake” in one case and real in another. It means you act appropriately for the occasion, crowd, setting, etc. It means you are professional. It means you are smart enough to understand what behavior and language is suitable for the occasion.

      There are several words to describe people who don’t get this, Jerk, idiot, clueless, and immature are a few that come to mind.

  • James Hussey

    I disagree with the approach, but can’t argue that this is or is not how things are done.  This is branding 101, but it’s not authenticity.  It all hangs on what your ‘brand’ is.  Nike has an authentic brand.  But if you have a blog that hinges on your personality, or it started or continues (as its brand) to simply be “real,” then that’s also branding.

    It all depends on what your goals are for the project, but I think here “authenticity” and “branding” are getting mixed up, the two aren’t the same.  So on that note (and because dishonest marketing just isn’t my thing) I’d have to disagree with the venerable Lisa Barone.

    True: this is how things are done.
    False: this is authenticity…it’s not.  It’s more the art of persuasion, perception, a facade and inauthentic to the core.

    Not that I blame Lisa for it – this is how it’s been done since Socrates vs. Sophacles (and look how that wound up?).  Pass the hemlock.

  • Terry Heaton

    I’ll be shot for saying this, but there is no demand for “marketing” in the network. The industry must be very, very careful about this, because anything that smacks of manipulation will have automatic and drastic consequences. What you propose here is a very slippy slope, that the wearing of masks is acceptable in a horizontal world. I don’t object to picking and choosing character traits, but when it comes to pretending, I’m not convinced that companies can resist doing such for profit. This is not the old world where you can say one thing and act another, because the barriers to entry into the communications’ world are so low. Anybody can challenge anything, and as Umair Haque so brilliantly notes, in the 21st Century, it’s all about the quality you produce, not what you say about that product. Authenticity is the most misunderstood value of new media.

  • Kavya Hari

    Its really great point with the informative post on here 🙂 And, it will be attracting the marketers side too. Greats points are available on here 🙂

  • T. Shakirah Dawud

    Hi, Lisa, I agree entirely. I don’t expect everything about me to jibe with the people I’m trying to attract, so I use the rest to do that. That’s the reason I’m online and not inviting folks to come home with me to watch me do what I do. I wrote a post about Trey Pennington that comes to this point, too. Obviously, we’re doing business, and business is best done not between friends but between two people who have expectations of each other (call it trust, call it credibility) that will hold up a transaction until it’s complete. But generally after that, we’re not going out to the movies together. That is a GOOD thing, folks!

  • Stan Faryna

    This needed to be said. Because for some, authenticity had become a poor excuse to not be the best that we can be. Others may have even used it as an excuse because they lacked the virtues and/or skills to do the work.

    It’s only unfortunate that “authenticity” has been hijacked. Because being true (a la Aquinas) and having the courage to be (a la Paul Tillich) was never ever about a license and mission to fail, disappoint, and stumble blindly through life, the world, and relationships.

    Lisa, thanks for working to clean up some of the muck. So now that authenticity as a culturally-uplifting concept is dead (a la Nietzsche), the new black must be… being whole-hearted (a la Brenay Brown).

    Her TED talk is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o

    Stan Faryna

    Recently on my blog: Do you love strongly? And other social media DOHs. http://wp.me/pbg0R-nY

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