It seems like a strange question to ask, but I’d really like to hear what you think. Let me explain a bit where I’m coming from first.
The twin mantras of transparency and authenticity are the backbone of the blogosphere. When it comes to PR practices like astroturfing, shill blogs, fake CEO avatars and the like, it’s fairly easy to call these things wrong and undesirable.
People don’t want to be lied to. Except by LonelyGirl of course, which represents an interesting exception, doesn’t it? Was it because “she” was “entertainment,” or because “she” was not produced by a big corporation? Does it matter that as far as the careers of the creators are concerned, the whole thing was most certainly an exercise in marketing and publicity?
LonelyGirl demonstrated that what people really want is an experience. An experience that fills a need in their lives, whether it’s “real” or not. The obvious hard parts are figuring out what people really want, and where the line really is.
The “Mom” Test
David Meerman Scott recently defined transparency by saying that you should never pretend to be someone you are not. His examples involve anonymous personas designed to manipulate, which I think we can agree are wrong, but again, where’s the line?
If you are a student of psychology, or human nature, or good old fashioned common sense, you know that we play different “roles” in different contexts throughout the course of every day. We are, in reality, a string of personas that each step forward depending on context.
Should you write your business blog in the same voice you use when you’re out with your friends? Why do we put on our “game face” for work or an important business meeting?
Perhaps the best rule of thumb came in a comment from David to that same post:
You need to pass “the Mom test.” If your mother would say it is wrong, it probably is.
Let’s apply the Mom test to a couple of sales and marketing contexts.
You visit a car dealership. Not more than three steps inside the door, a smiling guy in a loud sports jacket gets in your face. He’s using every hard closing sales tactic in the book, relentlessly pursuing you around the showroom and the lot.
This guy couldn’t be more transparent—he wants to sell you a car, and he doesn’t mind you knowing it. And yet, we hate this guy. We want people to put our needs and comfort levels first, and those who do are the people we reward with the sale.
Are those friendly people any less interested in making the sale than the obnoxious car salesman? Or are they just less transparent about how they go about it? Do we care if they are being genuine, or do we just need to feel as if they are?
Just about every mom will tell you to put others first, even when you don’t feel like it. Just put on a happy face. Maybe transparency isn’t the right word for all situations.
Let’s try authenticity.
You’re introduced to some loudmouthed young marketing consultant at a party. She’s half-tanked, cursing like a sailor, and insulting every third person who passes by, all while trying to convince you to hire her. She even insults you and your wife a couple of times in lame attempts at humor.
She’s just keeping it real, right?
On the other hand, I once read a story about a businessman who everyone loved. The guy kept everyone in stitches with his jokes, and yet he always took the time to listen attentively when others spoke. In short, he made everyone feel good, and he was hugely successful in business because of it.
As I recall, the story was told by a close friend of his, who revealed that the guy actually had no sense of humor at all. He just repeated jokes that he heard others tell, even though he didn’t “get” why they were funny. Further, the man’s compassionate listening abilities were simply a learned behavior—he knew it made people feel good, but he never cared at all what people said or thought. He just wanted to be viewed as a person who cared, because it was good for business.
As strange as it sounds, isn’t he seen as the more desirable member of society as long as no one knows the truth, and her not so much? What would mom say about this contrast in apparent personalities?
Conversational Marketing is About Creating Experiences
When it comes to copywriting and conversational marketing, it’s all about “how you say it,” combined with a strategic decision as to “what to say” so that you can meet your goals. You’re trying to create an experience that others respond to favorably, just like you would in person. Think about the last great conversation you had with an engaging person. How did it make you feel?
That’s the difference between conversational marketing and corporate robo-speak, and yet you see plenty of utopian naiveté in the belief that people want the real you (whatever that is). Some so-called business blogging experts think “keeping it real” is rule number one, even when it’s completely inappropriate.
The secret to effective marketing is to focus on the needs of others, rather than our own egocentric need to “authentically” express whatever we’re feeling at the moment. We teach that to our children, and yet we’re to believe it doesn’t apply to social media?
Where do we draw the line with transparency and authenticity when what people really want is a story that adds value to their lives? What if no one likes the real you?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.