Give the Gift of Authenticity

“At its heart, a compelling brand story is a kind of gift that gives your audience a way to connect with you as one person to another.” Ann Handley

Just in time for the holiday shopping blitz, the WSJ reported at least a third of the online reviews for major retailers are phony.

In my neighborhood, inflatables sprouted on front lawns like weeds. Faux reindeer mixed with twirling snow globes and outsized Woodys or Charlie Browns.

And don’t get me started on the mall Santas. I know, I know – in some cases their hair and beards are real. But seriously – even if Kris Kringle isn’t just a childhood fantasy, these guys are just fronting for him.

Each year, we remind ourselves to focus on the real meaning of the holidays. We try our darnedest to appreciate the spirit of the season and avoid getting swept up in the tinsel and lights.

But it’s getting harder and harder to tell what’s fake and what’s real.

This is also true when it comes to marketing. “Authenticity” is still a big buzzword, but many of us aren’t sure what it means anymore. I confess to being suspicious of anything that is so heartfelt it smacks of false sincerity – whether it’s in a TV ad, a Facebook live video, or an Instagram Story.

And yet – right now marketing is all about connection. And as Brené  Brown says in her famous TEDtalk, “…in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen – really seen.”

So whether you’re flying solo or marketing a mega brand, you’ve got to be willing to let go of who you think you should be – and be more of who you really are – if you want to create a meaningful connection with your tribe.

“Be Human” always tops my list of tips for writing better brand stories. Like any good novel, your audience needs to care about the characters in your story and what happens to them in order to keep turning the pages. So you need to be honest and empathetic. You need to be vulnerable. And you need to engage the vulnerability of your audience.

Being “real” doesn’t mean spilling your entire life story on LinkedIn or pouring your heart out in your blog.

But it does mean tapping into what you and others value about you. It means defining what kind of relationship you want to have with your clients or customers – and what you want them to experience when they work with you or use your product or service.

It means not simply sharing a story about what happened to you – but how it made you think. Or better yet – how it made you feel. And it means putting thought behind the words you use to tell these stories.

This takes work – and for many of us, it takes tremendous courage. We’re afraid of offending or disappointing others. Afraid people won’t like us. Afraid we’ll let on that we’re not perfect.

Well guess what? No one’s perfect. And it’s impossible to please everyone. But by being truly authentic, you’ll connect with the people that matter.

So let this be the year you give the gift of being more you. To everyone you do business with – and to yourself.