CHANNELS    |    Behavior Change      Leadership      Products & Design      Supply Chain      Marketing & Comms      New Metrics    |    MORE


News & Views

Why Authentic Marketing is Hard (and How to Make it Easier)

You hear the advice everywhere these days: Be authentic! Practice authentic marketing! This begs the question: What is authenticity, and why is authentic marketing so difficult to achieve? By Peter Korchnak

authentic, adj. = of undisputed origin, genuine; reliable or trustworthy

To be authentic is to be grounded in reality, to be real, to be yourself. If you’re authentic, you really are who you say you are and who others perceive you to be. If you market your business authentically, you represent yourself truthfully, genuinely. This is particularly important in sustainable marketing.

That calls for authenticity circulate through marketing conversations tells me there’s a need; a gap exists between who you are and how you market yourself or your business. Why is that? Why does anyone have to be reminded to “be yourself”? Why is authenticity in marketing so hard to accomplish? What can you do be authentic and practice authentic marketing?

The authenticity gap explained

Perhaps in your quest to meet your customers’ needs, you pose as someone you think they want you to be rather than who you are. If to be inauthentic means to not be who you are, something must be propelling you to behave that way. The most powerful explanation I can think of for the authenticity gap is role.

Role is a combination of behaviors and actions expected of an individual in a certain social situation. In everyday life, you perform a string of roles. You have little to no control over ascribed roles, like man/woman, child, member of a nation or culture. You do have a choice in assuming achieved roles, like parent, partner, member of a profession.

Business owner or manager or marketer is an achieved role you assume voluntarily when you’re running a business. You know your position as a business person comes with a set of expectations: people expect a business owner to behave a certain way, to do certain things. Because you know that conforming to those expectations will bring the rewards that come with the role (e.g. profit or status) and, vice versa, that failing to conform may mean lost rewards or other form of ‘punishment’, you conform. In the process of conforming to the role, you assume the identity of the role, losing your own.

If you think it a stretch to say role may erase personality, consider the Stanford Prison Experiment. To study the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or a guard, students were randomly assigned either role to play in a mock prison. Both guards and prisoners quickly became so absorbed in their roles that participants engaged in sadistic behavior, humiliating treatment, submission, and violence. The experiment was prematurely aborted to prevent further psychological and physical damage.

While becoming a sustainable business owner or marketer should bring out neither your sadistic nor your masochistic tendencies, the experiment underscores how role can affect your behavior. If you become absorbed in your role as a business owner, you will behave the way you think you’re supposed to as a business owner. So much so that the role will diminish or even overcome your true personality, the authentic self.

Making authentic marketing easier

Being authentic in your marketing, therefore, requires stepping outside your role as a business owner or marketer. It requires non-conformity. You’re not a businessman – you’re an individual who runs a business. You’re not a marketer – you’re a person who helps satisfy other people’s needs with your company’s offering. In fact, you will likely come across as authentic by not marketing at all (unmarketing).

How? Another piece of advice you probably hear often is, “Be helpful”. That means being helpful not only when your product can solve someone’s problem; it means being helpful in general, even when it won’t bring you or your company any immediate reward. Some call it “paying it forward”, others “common courtesy”, others still “building relationships” or “making friends”. What’s certain is that if you do it enough, you’ll become that person people know as helpful, which will breed trust, which will mean that whatever it is you’re actually selling will just happen to be a part of the package that is you.

What do you think? Why is authentic marketing so hard? How can you make it easier?

Printed courtesy of Semiosis Communications

Peter Korchnak is a sustainable marketer, blogger, and speaker. As the principal of Semiosis Communications, he helps socially responsible businesses empower people, restore the planet, and achieve prosperity. On his Sustainable Marketing Blog and in his trainings and presentations he explores the intersection of marketing and sustainability. A Slovakia native and a Portland, Oregon resident, Peter enjoys guerrilla yardwork, ice hockey, trail running, and studying politics and culture.
  Sign up for SB Newsletters
Get the latest personalized news, tools, and virtual media on a wide range of sustainable business topics in your inbox.


User login



Most Recently Viewed in the Library