Do People Really Want
Transparency and Authenticity?

Car Salesman

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.

Transparency

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.

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.

Print Friendly

Smarter is Better Solutions for Smarter Content Marketing

Here’s what we’ve got for you:

  • 15 high-impact ebooks on content marketing, SEO, email marketing, landing pages, keyword research, and more.
  • A 20-part Internet marketing course that lays out a comprehensive path for your own online strategy.
  • An organized reference guide to the “best of the best” of Copyblogger.com, and how it all profitably fits together.
Free Registration

Take The Conversation Further ...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this article.
Meet us over on Twitter or LinkedIn to join the conversation right now!

Comments

  1. Interesting thought experiment(s). I think a lot of this boils down to what Cialdini describes as Reciprocity. We want the car salesman to speak to us about what matters to us in the language we are most comfortable with. That doesn’t mean that we are so naive as to believe the salesman has no desires of his own, or that we require that he have no desires of his own, just that he place some faith in the fact that if he helps us to achieve our goals, we will naturally be inclined to help him with his. Since he wants to sell us a car, it’s incumbent that he place our needs first, in the same way that a good blog paces the needs of its readership first.

    Transparency enters into the equation as a means of building trust in an otherwise cynical age. I almost think of it as a real-world application of the writing adage, “show, don’t tell.” Transparency “shows” me the things that I need to verify for myself in order to generate confidence. I don’t have to take your word for it, I can see and judge it for myself. So a lack of transparency is only harmful to the degree that it undermines trust or becomes tantamount to dishonesty.

    The kind of wholesale transparency you describe in this post is qualitatively different than what I’m describing, since it has almost nothing to do with building trust or avoiding dishonesty and everything to do with bringing into the public sphere what should normally be considered private. The behavior you describe with the car salesman and PR Pro is quite literally obscene: it should be kept off-stage, so to speak.

    As for the executive who feigned a sense of humor and compassionate listening skills, I believe that the way you described him makes him psychopathic. A person who does not care about other people **at all** is, at the least, narcissistic to the point of socio-pathology. And regardless of how great he might be at a cocktail party, is very likely to end up as a murderer. His actions are deceptive, and the more transparency society has on him the better for all of us.

    But take your description and tone it down a few degrees so that he does care about other people but doesn’t have natural social skills, and what you have is a deep introvert who’s learned to fake an extroverted persona in order to get on in the world. This is no more deceptive than taking a shower, wearing deodorant, and dressing professionally when your “normal” wardrobe is cargo shorts and a t-shirt. You do these things in the hopes that others will reciprocate, thereby enabling a civil society. Whether or not you smell good naturally isn’t an issue I need to verify for myself.

    In the right social situation, on the other hand, if say, a date or close friend had just confided a vulnerability or personal confidence to this highly introverted executive, he might disclose this about himself as an act of reciprocity, and in that situation, it would probably be welcomed as an act of trust.

  2. Brian;

    You are talking about a core marketing principal that I keep preaching.

    The fact is that people like to talk about their needs and problems rather than your solution.

    By focusing on the needs of others, you:

    • Establish credibility
    • Create affinity
    • Begin the persuasive process (if you eventually want to sell something)
    • Draw in readers…

    The list goes on and on.

    Mike

  3. As for the executive who feigned a sense of humor and compassionate listening skills, I believe that the way you described him makes him psychopathic.

    I agree. That’s a real story I read somewhere, and I wish I could remember where so I could link it (but it may have been offline). Even as an extreme example, it demonstrates that the way he made people feel was more important than the “truth” as long as the truth was not made known. The guy who told the story did not name names, so I guess this guy is still out charming people.

    Thanks for the commentary, Jeff and Mike… really great stuff. It truly is hard to know where the line is when humans respond in certain timeless ways and yet the blogging police feel differently. And the behavior of some of those bloggers in the name of authenticity should truly be kept “off stage.”

  4. The key is the intention, but the problem is reliably reading intentions is extremely difficult, if not impossible

  5. Sometimes the deal is better than the person giving the deal. If the creepy car salesman gives me a good deal, I don’t care how much he like me.

  6. Great post, Brian. Very good information here. The commentary on this post has been great as well. Thanks to both Jeff and Michael for adding so much to the conversation. Your comments have given me as much to think about as Brian’s post has!

    On a side note, I too immediately though, “sociopath” when I read the description of the executive who faked his charming personality. But, the example still works.

  7. I’ve been struggling with this of late, too. I think people want transparency and authenticity, but we also want to be around people and do business with “good people”, whatever that means.

    A shark or a scorpion are authentic and transparent, but I wouldn’t want to be at a dinner party with them.

    When corporate bloggers are applauded for being authentic, it’s usually when they’re being human: admitting fault, letting down their guard, etc. It’s a welcome change from the normally guarded, corporate self. It makes us realize (or assume) that they’re human, too.

    So, maybe it’s not that what we want is transparency and authenticity, but what we DON’T want is concealment and dishonesty.

  8. Authenticity or transparency may not be the issue… It seems people do want that so long as you don’t use an Uzi to drive it home. Notice how outraged people get when they find someone has not been authentic. For example, said sociopath CEO.

    So perhaps tone is the real issue. Delivery of truth can vary from humorous gonzo to southern nice. I tend to lean towards the previous, but realize that hitting someone with cold, nasty truth can create permanent divides. In the end, we must remember the frailty of the human spirit and ego. A three second pause button would save many bruised feelings.

    It’s the old sugar versus spice cliche. In actuality , I prefer Dale Carnegie’s version of sugar. That usually boils down to think of others before yourself.

  9. I know a lot of people who would argue that all of these masks and acts are bad, evil things.

    Personally, I think that some degree of ‘acting’ is necessary in order for our society to function the way it does. If we were all perfectly transparent things would simply break down.

    Learning to act professionally is the entrance fee to the business society.

    Learning to eat with unbelievable manners is part of becoming ‘high society.’

    Acting tough and intimidating are key parts to playing in a professional sport.

    All of these different acts reduce transparency, but help our society to function. If everyone went around perfectly transparent, there would be no dividers between different groups, no ‘red flags’ to help us understand who a person is.

    Chris Garrett mentioned the real key point: intention. Acting to fit in with societal expectations is one thing, acting to cover up malicious intentions is another.

    Great conversation piece here Brian,

    – Mason

  10. Brian,

    This may sound naive, but I believe that people in general essentially want the truth – in fact, I think we’re hardwired to want that. That’s why there’s often such an immediate positive public reaction to people who are seen as not afraid to speak their mind and take the heat (as in, “a breath of fresh air”, that kind of thing.)

    The caveat is that in order to be something that is credible AND sell to the jaded consumer, the truth has to be presented in a spirit of charity and non-blowhardishness, by someone who really knows the topics and shows he or she can solve the readers’ problems.

    There’s a big difference between being opinionated and being a blowhard – a great example of how the first can sell your product is this blog I found last week on home security: http://providentsecurity.typepad.com/ – the guy is 1. passionate about the topic, 2. extremely well-informed, and 3. righteously indignant without being vicious. Oh, and 4. willing to take some heat.

    After 3 pages I was completely “sold” and would have signed up in an instant if the service was in my area. (By the way, he’s not one of my business affiliates, this is just an honest plug for what I see as an honest blog.)

    Saying something just because you think people want to hear it is the kiss of death, most importantly to yourself and usually eventually to your business. Most people would rather disagree with someone they feel is totally sincere than be shmoozed by someone who is not.

  11. It’s important not to conflate corporate Transparency and Authenticity with personal transparency and authenticity, isn’t it?

    Even so, I’d rather deal with a car salesperson who really does want to get me the best deal over one who is just pretending. The loud obnoxious one, I simply would walk away from. So, yeah, I do want personal transparency as well–it’d help me avoid the snakes.

  12. Hi Irene. I looked at that blog, and it’s a great example of how it should be done. This is not the type of foolish authenticity I’m talking about though.

    For example, in this post, he’s using the well-worn tactic of bonding with the audience by sharing an “insider” secret. He’s the industry renegade that tells people the truth.

    Whether this comes to him naturally or is a strategic move doesn’t really matter. He’s giving people what they want.

    I would never call you naive, just as long as you don’t call me cynical. Giving people what they want is key. As Chris said, hopefully your intentions are pure and you are trying to create a win-win situation. As far as I can tell, this guy you pointed out wants to do what’s best for everyone involved.

    Corvus, corporations are made up of people. You can’t have an authentic legal fiction. :)

  13. My question would be, “aren’t we all pretending to be something we’re not, almost all the time?”

    I know this is a tangent from your post’s original concept, but really, how many people are really laying it on the line? Don’t we all lie to ourselves constantly as a way of making sense of the world in a vain attempt at maintaining a notion of control?

    Where do you draw the line with CEO bloggers, we all wear masks virtually every moment of the day…why would they be any different?

  14. I blog about the art print market at http://www.artprintissues.com. Something I have harped on for more than two years is to get rid of limited editions for digitally printed reproductions, aka giclees. Originally, limited edition prints were necessary either because the plates would wear out or the cost of producing more than a specified amount was too great, or both. Today, a fine art printer can make thousands of the same digitally printed image, each perfectly matched.

    Any reasonably sophisticated person understands editions are limited for purely marketing purposes. I contend editions can be open, printed in the size most suitable for the buyer, numbered sequentially, but not limited, and it would not cost the artist and publisher money in the long. Quite the contrary, it conceivably could make them much more. In all likelihood the lower number prints of really popular pieces would be more collectible than higher numbered ones.

    The issue of artificially limiting reproductions speaks directly to transparency and authenticity. If there is no limit on the edition size of a giclee, transparency is apparent. If there are no concerns about the possibility more prints than claimed were printed, it alleviates questions of authenticity.

    Visual artists are the only artists who are forced by arcane marketing methods to limit the income available to them in order to attempt to quickly make more money upfront. The process, in my purview, casts a lingering pall of questionable marketing practices over the fine art reproduction market.

    In this case, I think the public would eagerly embrace transparency and authenticity, but it will take bold brave leadership for them to realize it is available and that they can demand it.

  15. Brian: going to echo what Jeff Sexton said. Technically, that makes the guy a sociopath, rather than a psychopath (someone to avoid, either way, but still there is a difference.) Reminds me of Martha Stout’s book, The Sociopath Next Door, which posits that as many as 1 in 25 Americans are technically sociopaths.

    Sociopaths aside, I think that we naturally create different personas to fit our different roles. Authenticity, IMO, is when there is something real and genuine at the core of the persona–not that the persona represents the full totality of someone’s self. ;)

  16. Authenticity, IMO, is when there is something real and genuine at the core of the persona–not that the persona represents the full totality of someone’s self.

    I like that, as long as the chosen persona is also well-suited for the audience. ;)

  17. Thanks, Brian. I’ve been wanting someone with the right insight to ask these questions a while ago…

    Transparency and/or authenticity isn’t about telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I think it comes down to showing the relevant sides of yourself or your company with a certain amount of tact.

    Every person or company has various faces, which may all be “authentic” even if they’re sometimes contradictory. The tricky part is determining which face or faces will get the results that both you and the other person/party want.

    In the car salesman example, the nice car salesman isn’t looking out for you needs and wants before his own. He’s simply found that by being nice and understanding what you want, he also gets what he wants.

    And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Just because he isn’t being completely transparent does not mean he isn’t being authentic. And no company can ever be completely transparent. It would simply lose its competitive edge, if competitors can see their value chain model, accounting books, marketing strategy, etc.

    In terms of do people want authenticity and transparency? It’s a Catch 22. They can’t determine if they want to know until they already know it, yes? I.e., do you really want to feel guilty every time you eat Nestle chocolate because the company admitted that they use 8 year old boys from Africa to harvest the cocao beans? Probably not.

    What do you think?

  18. People say they want the truth, but consider whether that’s always accurate the next time someone asks you:

    “Do these pants make me look fat?” :)

  19. Thought provoking post.

    People want to be lied to, but they don’t want to know about it.

  20. Fascinating conversation. I’m reading Seth G’s _All Marketers are Liars_ right now, and his answer is that everything is a story (a “lie” in his deliberately provocative premise). According to SG, the trick is whether it’s a story that makes the product (or whatever) better by believing it, or will make customers (or whoever) feel tricked and angry when they see that it’s a story.

    For example: Reidel glasses make wine taste better because we think they do. (SG’s example.) Good lie. Fiji water creates pollution and aggravates the lack of clean drinking water in the actual country of Fiji. (recent news example) Bad lie.

    There are a lot of blogs whose authenticity reminds me of a Jr. High student who thinks farts are the height of wit. That much authenticity I don’t need.

    Incidentally, I didn’t think “sociopath” with the CEO, but “Asberger’s.” There are a lot of AS folks who have learned the mechanisms of social behavior without really “getting” them. I don’t find that in and of itself offensive. A little weird, but as Chris G. said, intent is important.

    The mom test is a good one. No potty jokes at the table, and I don’t care if you’re just being yourself.

  21. By the way, congrats on being “Undiscovered”. :)

  22. You can look at this from the relationship marketing perspective. If the interaction brings additional value, something beyond the functional or transactional, it will build equity and contribute toward building a relationship. I don’t believe recipients care whether it’s transparent or authentic if it adds vale. At least not initially.

    Their perspective changes over time. The same approach used in the initial contact won’t work as the relationship gains equity. Think about meeting someone in a bar. The language, posture and presentation that works in this situation will not get you far six months into the relationship.

    I think the same holds true in blogs. If the goal is to build long-term relationships with participants then the blog should lean toward transparency and authenticity. In the Provident Security example cited above the goal appears to be lead generation. Transparency and authenticity will be required to cultivate the leads into viable, long-term customers and advocates.

    Great post. A simple question that raises many issues.

  23. Hey Brian,

    Coincidentally, Geoff Livingston and I were discussing this subject yesterday. The story telling isn’t really the problem; it’s in the presentation.

    It’s okay to have a cat blog (because nobody believes the cat is blogging), but it’s not so okay to pretend to be authentic when you’re only telling a story (eg. insisting it “really” is the cat blogging).

    As I asked in the discussion … what do you mean nobody actually writes their own bills on Capitol Hill? Or, are all those people in television commercials really actors? A lot of it is less than authentic.

    “Authenticity, IMO, is when there is something real and genuine at the core of the persona–not that the persona represents the full totality of someone’s self.”

    Yeah, I like that one too. Perfectly stated.

    All my best,
    Rich

  24. We see the world as we are. It’s all relative ;-)

  25. Not really sure about the twin “mantras” part, although there always seems to be concepts that come around frequently.It’s kinda like the little green dot on a sheet of red paper.The red is the hype,and the dot is the authenticity,and your attention goes right to the green dot. As Roy Williams said recently..say it straight,and simple and you’ll do just fine.

  26. Roy Williams knows how to tell a great story. A great story is chock full of authenticity, because like a good joke, it tells the truth.

    That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the story of your own life. :)

  27. Eventually, how you act becomes the real you.

  28. Everything in moderation. No one wants too much transparency or too much authenticity.

  29. Great post and great discussion as well… As I see it, transparency is a matter of saying the truth… truth about yourself and truth about your intentions.

    I know it sounds naive, but it’s quite easy: identify yourself, first of all, even if you are a character (fake Steve is transparently fake) and be clear about what you intent to… that will be fair enough for your readers, right?

    It’s an issue much bigger than social media… Social media just transformed the capability of reaching an audience and the way we do so.

  30. I’m completely from the “House” school of thought – people are after something that makes them feel good in and of themselves. If you do that, they’ll like you. Simple as that.

    If you can do that, and be transparent and authentic, great. If you can’t, don’t fake it, but report what others say. Use their position of authority to increase your own. Reputation by proxy.

    Then, when you’ve built up your own reputation and personal branding clout, you can use your own. Transparency and authenticity are all well and good, but actually people don’t want them; they want the idea of them.

  31. Excellent thread here, Brian!

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic too and have been drawing on two things that have been written about a lot in the past few weeks.

    1. Interesting to me that almost everyone is fine with the Fake Steve Jobs blog http://fakesteve.blogspot.com/ because the author makes it clear that the blog is “fake”. So while the entire blog is one humongous lie, that’s just fine from the transparency perspective.

    2. That’s very different than what people are discovering through the use of Wikiscanner, a tool for discovering the IP addresses of anonymous edits to Wikipedia http://wikiscanner.virgil.gr/ For example, Wikiscanner shows that someone using a computer at Diebold deleted paragraphs from Wikipedia that were critical of the company’s electronic voting machines.

    So it’s not so much the lie itself as the truth about the identity of who is telling it.

    Drawing from the car salesman story, a sleazy lying car salesman is OK because we understand the lie. But if the car dealership used a fake customer (someone who was actually on the payroll of the car dealer) to talk up cars on the showroom floor to real customers, my mother would say that’s wrong.

    David

  32. haha! great post, brian. great question! i liked the word authenticity. i think that is exactly what people are looking for from the bloggers they call their own.. the stars of their own feedreaders.
    they want to connect and identify with someone. they want some truth. some honesty. and some vunerability. because it is a personal medium. one on one.

    so, i do not think it matters if that is not 100% reality.

    like you said, we all assume roles. we make assumptions about others, and ourselves.

    i like the mom test.. because, not only is it hard to maintain pretense on a bloggers posting schedule (you will reveal your true voice, eventually..) but that is what people will be turned off by.. same as in life.. if what you are telling me to believe, and what you show yourself to be, do not make sense.. do not have congruence.. then i will feel mis-lead.. and because this is such a personal medium.. i will feel like you broke an unwritten contract.

    unless ofcourse you told me right up front you were full of sh*t. lol. for some reason violent acres comes to mind.. :)

  33. I want transparently authentic people to share with me what they know and I will buy from them, thus authenticating their worth and making our relationship transparent.

  34. “Transparently authentic (and truly nice) people” I should say.

  35. The lonelygirl question is an excellent one to bring up (thanks for thinking about it more than 15 minutes after the blow-up; it’s nice to read someone with a sense of history ;). I like your take on it. To me, that’s the most interesting part in this post, more than the contrast between Jersey Girl Nightmare and Mr. Pretends-to-Care. We wanted LG to continue, we wanted the episodes to spin out for years, as a group; LG seemed to meet some small need or desire that wasn’t met elsewhere.

    But lacking a well-aimed and attractive lie, truth is attractive too. Especially when delivered with a sense of humor and lack of pretension.

  36. Brian – I explored the same notion but with a slightly different bent: that people will tell you what they want as individuals, but their behavior dynamic within a group identity changes the game entirely.

  37. I wouldn’t necessarily refer to those tactics you mention early simply as PR practices. The majority of my colleagues are far more ethical than that, and lumping the cheap tricks of a few bottom-feeders into a broader industry classification just isn’t quite accurate… not to mention that these tactics are used in a negative way by far more people in Internet marketing these days than the general PR community (perhaps thanks to their slow move into effective online PR).

    Be honest. Be yourself. If your readers don’t like it, you’re targeting the wrong readers.

  38. No offense intended, Jenn… although the linked practices all qualify as a form of public relations, and at least one of them was orchestrated by Edelman, one of the biggest PR firms out there.

    But you’re right–a lot of internet marketing has become an exercise in buzz and publicity, whether carried out by “professionals” or not, and whether genuine or not.

  39. No offense taken Brian. :) Trying to gain awareness and recognition is definitely PR, but paying for publicity directly (like paying bloggers for positive feedback) is not… that’s marketing / advertising (more advertorial than anything else).

    Ouch… hopefully no one assumes Edelman’s actions are representative of the whole PR game… especially in online PR. ;)

  40. Brian, thanks for stimulating such an interesting debate with your questions and challenges here. I’m going to be focusing on writing with authenticity for the next few weeks, so it came at a good time for me. Although I have to confess that I didn’t find it easy to come up with answers to your questions…

    I don’t know if this is a cop out but I think it’s helpful to look at authenticity as something fluid rather than an absolute value. Thinking about how we write, it might range from (at the most basic level) learning how to write more like a human being, less like a machine or a corporate clone. Writing in a more conversational style.

    We might teach and encourage people to try and write ‘like themselves’ rather than copying someone else’s tone and style.

    Then we learn to write and sound more like ourselves, perhaps to include some ‘signature strengths’ like the kind of words we choose, the values we reflect in our writing, tone of voice, how we interact with our readers. Those are some of the clues we use as a reader to answer the question ‘how do I know it’s you?’

    Where we go from there depends on the purpose and intention – including the impact you want to have on your readers. In many contexts (including much business writing) it’s not appropriate to include more personal stuff – nor do most readers want to follow it. If your aim is to create trust and build rapport, to establish a relationship – well that’s not the way to do it.

    On the other hand we do like to see some acknowledgement of human failings and weaknesses – it makes the author seem more human and it reduces our resistance to the sales techniques. (This is an interesting question: how far can this ‘authentic’ style be managed in order to dupe people?)

    And then there’s those other times when you decide to write from a place that’s more closely connected with who you are, what you really think, what you believe, your values, the stuff that really matters. That’s not the same as deluging people with personal stuff that we don’t want to hear – it’s writing from what I can only describe as a different place inside of you in order to create a more powerful impact. It’s not always the time or the place or the context to do that – but when we do, it does (IMHO) make a difference, to our readers and the way that we as writers feel about our words.

    The transparency question is slightly different. I like the idea of a test attached, although mine might be a bit different to the ‘mom’ test. It’s something like: would I be disappointed if I found out that the ‘truth’ of the person writing this was different to the one I’ve been reading about? In many cases the answer is no – it doesn’t make a difference to my assessment of the quality and worth of your product or your words. If you’re pretending to be something you’re not and I find that out later – well that would be a different story.

    Thanks for the food for thought – good to see it prompted such a reflective set of comments here.

    Joanna

  41. Thought provoking post!

    I’m turned off to the idea of becoming what people are looking for simply to gain something from it in the end.
    I agree that it’s better to show interest in others and really listen to them versus the actions of the used car salesman. But its even better to REALLY CARE about people and empathize with their story because its the loving thing to do. If you have a solution or product to meet the need – then great. But whether you can meet their need or not should be secondary to listening and loving other people as though they were your best friend.

  42. Such and interesting topic, and the first comment by Jeff is on the money. Reciprocity is about authenticity and transparency in that it demonstrates one’s ability to comprehend context. Truth as we know it, is complex. By definition it requires a semantic teeter totter, balanced on some mutually agreed upon fulcrum. Anyone who has ever had an argument knows the truth rests somewhere in between dueling opinions, which are expressed with various objective facts for supporting evidence. And anyone who says “I just want the truth” has some factual information to lead them to believe they are being deceived. Or they’re paranoid. Either case, they already feel as if they are on the low end of the teeter totter. When someone is perceived as authentic and transparent there is a belief that they are capable of stepping outside their own interests enough to appreciate alternative information presented by the environment. They are trusted. Anyone who has been at a dinner table with someone who monopolizes the conversation understands that no matter what the verbose drunkard said, “truth” also came out in the from the awkward silences and lack of eye contact from all of the other diners throughout the meal. You don’t have to be a genius to know that transparency and authenticity is not the goal of the car salesman, but his inability to appreciate the context of the situation, calls his credibility into question. His client doesn’t need truth about him, his client needs truth about cars. Acting as an advisor in that capacity, acknowledges the context of their relationship. Note that context is a dynamic entity. A car salesman selling to another car salesman will no doubt interact differently when selling to the hot blonde or the MIT graduate. It changes with each individual, each environment, each social exchange. Depending on his sensitivity to the context he will either succeed or offend miserably. This is the premise of “pitch.” Know your audience. Which is why the same conversation on a tennis court is not the same conversation in the board room, even if the words are identical. Transparency and authenticity are matters of perception, and in order to be genuine it is necessary to be as human, which allows for connecting on the most universal of principles. Start there. And build. By distilling a concept to its essence, starting from that center point you offer up the possibility of building an authentic dialogue between parties by taking a stand within a known or anticipated context. To concern oneself with authenticity and transparency implies that the effort is contrived, and is thus by nature self defeating. It is the Koan of writing and marketing. How to be more authentic…? You cannot. You just have to be. The question you pose at the end is significant… what if no one likes the real you? And that is why we concern ourselves with this at all… what if no one likes us for who we are? Then we must make an effort to be likeable if only in order to have the opportunity to be known as our Self. We create a social self to parallel our essential self. But it is based on the general principle of being human. To the point on manners made earlier, we do NOT develop manners to attain social status. We develop manners out of respect for other human beings. We say please and thank you not for personal gain but to honor the time and effort of others. We clean up after ourselves so that those who come behind us do not have to deal with our messes. The RESULT is veneration from others with whom we are connected, and arises naturally as a byproduct of understanding reciprocity and context. We disagree to resolve a problem and create a third thing…a solution…not to hurt someone by using their vulnerabilities against them. When it comes to marketing, we often exploit frailty to expound upon product benefits. You NEED the airbags of a Volvo or your 4 year old will die is the implication, but sets a context for advertising safety. Obviously no one wants to shop out of fear. The absence of that understanding would be very awkward. Which is why most used car salesman (as described) “feel” threatening, poorly mannered and inauthentic…and are ultimately disliked. We respect people who are capable of finding the balance… someone who blurts out every detail, is not a truth-sayer, there is no honor in that. There is no honor in using your mouth. We might admire their guts momentarily, until they regurgitate some fact about us that is contextually inappropriate. Then we dismiss them as thoughtless and hurtful, because they didn’t take our feelings into consideration. “You’ll need an SUV because you’re fat.” Do people really want transparency and authenticity? People want trust. And trust is an extension of good faith. And faith only works in the absence of evidence. You cannot prove yourself to be transparent or authentic. You CAN be understanding. You can be yourself to the best of your ability, in the moment, and to recognize that we are all connected. If we do that, we are likely to find common points naturally, and we will also notice that we are never alone.

  43. The often loaded questions: “Do these pants make me look fat?” has little to do with finding out if the pants make them look fat.

    I find more often that not it is a way to open a discussion about how the other person is attracted to, appricates or values the person in the pants.

    Honesty is what I desire. Brutality and malicious intent is never welcome when sharing that honesty.

    websitePROFITS: Profit Boosting Tips in 37 words or less!

  44. ‘A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, a lot can be absolutely fatal.’
    ‘Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth.’

    Oscar Wilde

  45. Brian: The examples you chose don’t prove anything. They don’t refute the value of transparency and authenticity.

    1. We don’t want to buy from the “transparent” car salesman because he’s obnoxious and uninterested in our needs.

    2. The “lovable” businessman who pretends to care about others and fakes having a sense of humor — are you really suggesting that everyone will love us if we just fake interest in them and retell jokes that we don’t think are funny?

    Give me a break.

    • Kevin, I wasn’t trying to prove anything, nor do I want you to do anything. All I wanted to do was start a discussion. We had a great one above almost 3 years ago when I wrote this.

  46. Brian: You are the king of starting discussions, so fair enough. I just feel your examples in this article are misleading. But you are rightfully praised for all the great work you do. Thank you.

    • They’re extreme, not misleading. When you start at the edges you can work your way in to a healthy balance. The point is people don’t really want *you*,they want a you that pleases them. That’s not aways an easy thing to accomplish, hence my interest in the discussion.

      Anyway, sorry you didn’t dig it. Maybe I can cover the topic again from a different angle.