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The Uneasy Paradox of Authentic Marketing



There’s a lot of interest among business owners in authentic marketing because when it works, it’s powerful.

Yet very few businesses actually implement authentic marketing and oftentimes what someone calls “authentic marketing” is anything but.

Why is it that despite the promise of authentic marketing, there aren’t many companies doing it successfully?

The Simple Reason: Authenticity is Hard Quantify and Measure

Once upon a time, the opinion most business persons had toward marketing was best represented by the saying, “I know half of my marketing is working, the problem is I don’t know which half.”

Thanks to the internet and the ability to capture every click and keystroke, Marketing is no longer a black box. Google collects every click and keystroke then plugs the data into models which predict how changes in website layout, copy, and media elements can affect sales.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting better, more predictive strategies to understand the kind of return you’re getting from marketing. As someone who has spent years in the marketing industry, I’ve never been a fan of the “we don’t know why it works but you’d better do it if you want to stay competitive.”  I think accountability is important.

On the other hand when we focus on tactics and strategies, the message can feel cold and calculating because we’re putting all our energy into the mechanics. Not the spirit. And spirit is a critical element in effective authentic marketing.

The More Complex Reason

True authenticity requires vulnerability and vulnerability is an uncomfortable, even painful experience.  We, somehow, have to “be human” in the messages we create. Yet there isn’t much helpful information about how to actually be transparent in a way that fosters connection and trust while maintaining appropriate boundaries.

What I often see labeled as “authentic” is a sneaky way for the ego to get attention and approval.

I think it’s the reason I find so much marketing labeled as “authentic” so off-putting.  There’s a subtle, sometimes not so subtle undertone of “Look at us, we’re being SO AUTHENTIC!” And this reduces authenticity to being being just another gimmick.

In fact, I think this “faux authentic” marketing can have the unfortunate effect of actually pushing the people with whom we want to connect away because that desire for attention and approval is often based in underlying doubts and insecurities we have about ourselves.

People choose to work with us because they believe we can help them and it’s important to send the message verbally and non-verbally that their trust is well placed. A lack of clarity and confidence in our marketing, even when subtle, undermines our audience’s ability to develop that believe.

This means the ability to market authentically and effectively requires us to make peace with our own doubts and insecurities. In other words, we have to speak from our hearts which is very personal and yet not take the results personally. We have to stop making our marketing about the results when from a business perspective marketing is all about results.

The Uneasy Paradox: Authentic Marketing Isn’t About Results But Results Still Matter

If you have a for-profit business, marketing isn’t a hobby, you do marketing ultimately to get clients. The money, time, and energy you put into your marketing is an investment.

Authentic marketing still requires those strategies and tactics I mentioned at the beginning of this article. What makes it authentic is showing up as who you are rather than who you think you should be.

The paradox is how can we as business owners on the one hand put her hearts into developing and implementing marketing and yet not be attached to results? Because one thing I can tell you is this: if how good you feel about yourself depends on the success of your sales and marketing, you don’t have authentic marketing.

What this means is you can’t on the one hand be struggling with hangups and insecurities on one hand then turn around and present a polished, “got it all under control” persona in your business. Not if you aspire to authenticity.

Here’s the key: when your confidence in who you are grows, your desire for outside validation decreases and your marketing naturally becomes more authentic. The irony here is that you get more of what you desire because you no longer need it.

Authentic marketing is really about increasing our comfort with being authentic.

How to Increase Your Authentic Marketing Mojo

The best way to market authentically is to invest time and effort in your own well-being so you have more confidence and clarity.

The good news is there is a proven short list of activities you can start doing to improve your well-being and grow your confidence*:

  1. Get more physical activity.
  2. Cultivate kindness.
  3. Find meaning.
  4. Express your heart to those you trust.
  5. Discover and use your strengths.
  6. Find your flow.
  7. Treasure gratitude, mindfulness, and hope.

*Based on Dr. Martin Seligman’s work in the field of Positive Psychology. For details, read the 7 Habits of Happy People at

If you like the idea of authentic marketing and perhaps you haven’t had a lot of success getting putting it into practice, choose one of these habits and do something every day to strengthen that habit. For example, I’m going to write about things I appreciate first thing in the morning.

Do the activity for at least ten days then notice what’s changed.

Share your thoughts

What do you think about authentic marketing? Has it worked for you or someone you know? If you do one of the well-being activities, what has your experience been?