How To Truly Be Authentic When Everyone Else Is Being Authentic

If you’ve been exposed to your fair share of business advice online, I’m sure that the marketing advice you’re tired of hearing and may be genuinely perplexed by is to be authentic or just be yourself.

When did building a profitable business equate to showing up on Instagram or Twitter to talk about your opinions? Also, how much authentic sharing is too much? Will people think you’re out of line or are being unprofessional if you really act like your authentic self behind closed doors? Will you come off as an oversharer if you open the authenticity box?

In a world where everyone is following the be authentic tip, will it be harder to stand out when everyone is being authentic too?

Here’s the catch of the be authentic advice: authenticity can look different depending on the version of you you’re choosing to show up as. This is why this advice can be confusing. You can be the professional, buttoned-up version of yourself and still be authentic. You can be the fun, friendly version of yourself and still be authentic. You can be the quiet, introverted version of yourself and still be authentic.

With the various versions of authenticity that you can choose from, being authentic isn’t as easy as showing up in your state of being. This is why you can truly show up in a version of your authenticity and have it completely flop as a business strategy. It needs to undergo a branding exercise, because even your authenticity needs to be branded.

Whether you’re a personality-driven brand or a brand that needs to define its voice — here are branding guidelines to follow to make being authentic work for you.

Being authentic when everyone’s authenticity looks the same

Authenticity has become a go-to branding strategy in some industries, complete with an accompanying brand aesthetic.

In the coaching world, the authenticity formula is: vulnerable personal story of hitting rock bottom (ie losing money, identity, and/or direction) → phoenix rising out of the ashes story → now I can help you do the same, sales pitch.

The authenticity brand aesthetic of the womxn coaching world is soft pastels or golds and a lot of in-work-mode or power pose photos of the coach.

In the unicorn startup world, the authenticity formula is: genius who speaks with tech or numbers-driven jargon has a vision for changing the world → speaks (sometimes too) frankly about their business, industry, and other worldly affairs through their Twitter account → leverages this personal brand to skyrocket the popularity of the numerous other startups they end up founding.

The authenticity brand aesthetic of the tech startup is a non-offensive and laid-back brand color palette and a founder in a down-to-earth uniform complete with a basic t-shirt or hoodie.

Now that authenticity has a tangible image, it has created a go-to template that has resulted in everyone’s “authenticity” looking the same. In order to create a truly authentic brand, this is where you need to branch away.

Authenticity rebrands don’t work when you depend too much on this template, or look at a ton of competitors to inform your authenticity.

To truly harness authenticity for your brand, you have to embrace your interests and all the little details that make you, you. You have to create your brand image with the courage of getting a little weird to let your true authenticity shine and to rise above the fabricated version of authenticity that has become so popular.

Build an authenticity persona

When it comes to conveying your authenticity through your brand, there’s a sweet spot that you need to hit between your authenticity and who your customer feels comfortable purchasing from.

Aimlessly being vulnerable and sharing aspects of your authenticity without a targeted awareness of how this aligns with your target customer is the equivalent of shooting your shot in the wind without a clear target.

All of us have different aspects of our personality that we push to the foreground and background depending on what we want to highlight in the presence of a specific person. We create a compatibility mixture based on what we feel will sync up well with the person we’re speaking to.

If we’re speaking with someone animated, vocal, and outgoing, it’s likely that we’ll match their energy to stay on par. If someone is a bit more introverted and soft-spoken, we’ll meet them where they’re at.

Similar to this responsive adjustment, your authenticity should be curated in response to various personality markers of your ideal customer. Is your ideal customer someone who appreciates honesty and vulnerability from the brands they buy from? Do they seek transparency, especially when a mistake is made? Do they appreciate conversations that cut through the BS and offer behind-the-veil realness?

If you dig into your ideal customer’s personality, you’ll find clear preferences around what their definition of authenticity is and how they desire to consume authenticity from others. There are usually clues of these preferences in the accounts they follow and the brands they buy from, and how those brands convey authenticity.

No content is inauthentic

A question I receive a lot around building an authentic brand is what differentiates authentic content from inauthentic content. What type of content is out of line? What content is inauthentic and too random?

If you followed the two guidelines above and have arrived at a content theme that feels true to your authenticity, but you’re not sure if it’ll be appropriate because you want to post photos of you hiking or social activism content on your business's social media, here’s a rule of thumb you can follow — as long as your content is consistent, it’ll be authentic.

To me, no content is inauthentic or random if it’s consistent with the conversations you’re stewarding on your platform, especially if you’ve identified it to be content that feels true to your authentic expression.

What makes content feel random and misaligned is when it seems to have dropped in from nowhere, and doesn’t feel like a continuation of a conversation that your brand is having.

Even if it’s content that’s more “fun” and representative of your personal interests and personality, if it shows up as a consistent presence in your content, it won’t feel inauthentic because it’s clear that it’s a recurring part of your life and integral to your personality.

A great example of seemingly random content that comes off as authentic is Sara Blakely’s obsession with mugs. Sara’s Instagram is filled with photos of her with mugs with funny or empowering phrases on them. As the inventor of Spanx, there’s no direct correlation between Spanx and mugs, but the content doesn’t feel inauthentic or random because her consistency makes it clear that this is a true, authentic expression of her and what she loves.

I love writing thoughtful, personal Friday morning emails called The Crux to help entrepreneurs turn their startup chase into a victory lap. Join here to get my best musings in your inbox.

I create moneymaking brands with womxn entrepreneurs who refuse to settle for mediocre.

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Sophia Sunwoo

Sophia Sunwoo

I create moneymaking brands with womxn entrepreneurs who refuse to settle for mediocre.

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