The Quest for Authenticity

We often hear or read personal branding advocates exhorting us to "be authentic." I'm fine with that- after all, what is the alternative? To be unauthentic, a fraud, a phony? Given a choice, being authentic aligns better with my personal values and I suspect will be better for the health of my personal brand. Convincing us of the importance of authenticity is one thing; understanding the attributes that comprise your brand's authenticity is a more challenging endeavor. 

What Authenticity Means
How do you know when you have found the purpose that drives your personal brand? You know purpose when you are able to observe consistent behaviors and actions in your interactions with others. That consistency also plays out in terms of being the same person across different life contexts- home, school, work, social situations- you cannot nor need  not turn your brand on and off  depending on your environment. This state of consistency is authenticity, which has been described as a “moral inner voice”  that develops from our experiences. Authenticity is an admired characteristic in corporate brands and personal brands because when we encounter authentic brands we can be assured that “what we see is what we get.” An authentic brand does not hide its true character behind mission statements or slogans; actions follow beliefs. 

Finding Your Authenticity
So, what does it really mean to be authentic? How do you develop that moral inner voice to align daily performance with your principles? Some personal branding advocates mistakenly equate authenticity with “being ourselves.” That works as long as who you are is who you want to be! In contrast, Seth Godin believes authenticity is based on doing what you promise, not “being who you are.” Thus, we can shape our authenticity by what we promise and how we follow through on our promises. Being who you are suggests a certain level of helplessness or inability to control authenticity, which  is not the case. Marc Ecko, the pharmacy school dropout turned fashion entrepreneur, has built a billion dollar business in part through a focus on brand authenticity. Ecko has three criteria for assessing the authenticity of his personal brand:
  1. How truthful am I to myself and others
  2. The emotional impact that can be made on others through actions
  3. How flexible I am to change.
Don't subscribe to the notion that your brand authenticity is predetermined based on "you being you." You have a voice in defining the authentic you. It requires deliberate thought to ask questions like those raised by Marc Ecko and make promises on professional and personal levels. It also requires actions to answer the questions and follow through on the promises. 

What does being authentic mean to you when it comes to personal branding? Share your take on authenticity.

Labels: ,