May 5, 2021

The Power of Authenticity

This is the seventeenth in a series of short essays I wrote as part of the Ship 30 for 30 program. You can read all thirty essays here.

I used to be a massive music nerd who obsessively collected rare records. Oddly, I often preferred the demo versions of songs to the official releases. They had an authentic, intimate, raw power that created a sense of connection between me and the work, which the studio versions failed to match.

Similarly, I am a compulsive reader but rarely read fiction. I am acutely aware that a fictional story is made up, which hampers my enjoyment. Even the fiction writers I enjoy—Kerouac, Bukowski—write about real-life experiences, which they present as thinly disguised fiction. They have the raw authenticity of non-fiction writing that works of imagination struggle to replicate.

I also love the peek behind the curtain that a writer’s published letters offer. They provide a greater level of authenticity than their works intended for publication.

Marketers understand the value of authenticity—it is a cornerstone of building trust and connection with an online audience. Its importance can be seen in everything from brand storytelling, behind the scenes footage, and user-generated content. When it comes to video, one of the current digital marketing mantras is, “The shakier, the better.” Brands used to blow huge video budgets on cinematic productions to capture people’s attention; now, gritty iPhone footage may be the best way to make your message land.

Nowhere does this apply more than personal branding. To connect with people, you have to be authentic. Online you could pretend to be anyone, but people will sense it and switch off if your persona feels like an act. And that is true of all human relationships, of course, not just online.

The most valuable thing you have to offer is yourself because you can’t be replicated. You are your greatest asset. Don’t “fake it ’til you make it.” Keep it real.