Copywriting and the Art of Authenticity

“Perhaps the only truly authentic version of you is just a few days old, lying in a crib, pooping in your pants.” – Seth Godin, sethsblog.com

Copywriting with Authenticity? It really is possible!

Let me tell you a story.

A number of years ago, working through some inner angst and trying to prove myself as an alpinist (think mountain climbing, but with less walking), I started a personal blog. The internet, I’m embarrassed to admit, wasn’t full bore like it is now; Google existed, but search engines still weren’t the absolute workhorses they’ve evolved into. My little site stayed obscure and unseen, and in relative comfort I blurted my words out on the pages, regaling my non-existent audience with the pangs and struggles of my heart.

And then one day I received a Facebook notification that a friend had mentioned me in a post. Browsing to his feed, I read the words “This has been a secret for too long! It needs to be shared!” And of course, below his tag was a link to my blog. I thanked him for the mention, and then a few days later I turned off my web server and never fired it up again. I was afraid of some kind of backlash to my honesty, but I’ll never know what there was to be afraid of because I ran and hid.

“I’ll never know what there was to be afraid of, because I ran and hid.”

Several years after that, another friend of mine who develops websites encouraged me to start blogging again. She threw together a simple WordPress site and gave me the reins. I wrote feverishly for a few weeks, checked my analytics, and listened to the crickets. Again I had the opportunity to expand the depth of my community. I was tired of keeping my thoughts hidden from the world, but also afraid of repercussions – professionally and personally – for exposing my “feelings.” One day, after writing a very honest account of my deadly experience with an avalanche, I copied the link and pasted it to my status on Facebook. I clicked Post, and my life changed.

People started to read my blog posts and understand in a small way the person that I am. Instead of a seeing me just as a relatively prominent leader in public education, friends and acquaintances started treating me differently. I had conversations with people I barely knew, real and personal dialogue. I became a confidante, a counsellor, sometimes a bartender. But the common thread, was that I became a friend. My relationships weren’t measured by the amount of time I spent in someone’s company, they were measured by the authenticity of the experience. Clearly, showing the world my true colours, was what the world wanted.

What does this have to do with copywriting?

Well, let’s take a look at the world around us. Social media, like marketing of old, is vilified for misrepresenting how good life actually is. Instagram on the 1st day of school is rife with smiling children and parents, but unbalanced because the screams of “Get out of bed!” and “Hurry or you’ll miss the bus!” and absent. Beyond the digital world, it’s a rare day we don’t hear someone pitch about being our “true selves” or taking care of our emotional well-being.

The world has tuned into the emotional side of being human, in the workplace, the malls, the coffee shops. We’ve become aware and accepting that the human race might have become distracted by industrialization over the last century. There are things in life that might matter more on a personal level than a 40 hour a week factory gig. And even in those few remaining factory jobs, there are health benefits and mental wellness tips and yoga at lunch. The trend (thank goodness) is that people are really starting to give a damn. We want to be involved in goodness.

Whether we’re writing website content or blasting out social media feeds, our writing needs to reflect the trends occurring in our industries. Customers these days want conversation with your brand, they want to feel connection and that you’re message is, well, authentic. Your audience wants to do business with someone who cares enough about them to be honest.

How do we write with authenticity?

Authenticity derives out of a cluster of factors, but for The Write Cheese, it boils down to three things: vulnerability, acceptance, and consistency. Trust me, I’m a doctor!

Vulnerability

Copywriting with authenticity starts with showing the world something that makes the audience realize you’re just like them, and largely that something is vulnerability. Regardless of your politics, remember Barack Obama’s speech on gun violence? The man, one who’s personality commands respect, power and strength, cried – on national television! I don’t recall a more poignant instance of such a prominent figure showing the world that they “get it,” that they too feel the way the rest of us do.

So roll up your sleeves and show the world that you’ve picked your cause because it has genuine, human purpose. Prove to the audience that in an imperfect world, you share their imperfections, but you’ve got at least one little thing to sell that will help solve at least one little problem.

Acceptance

Once you’ve exposed a chink in your armour, the world will treat you differently. You and your brand need to accept that some might see your vulnerability as weakness. That’s their problem. Your goal is to strengthen relationships between your brand and your audience. Any detractors aren’t likely to be part of your target market, so don’t lose faith when a nasty tweet rifles across your feed. Know that you won’t make fans of everyone, but the ones you make are likely to be more loyal. Even those closest to you or your brand will treat you a little differently because they see you as a little more human. Some might even share the same vulnerability, and that’s a good thing for your cause.

Consistency

I found this little gem from Seth Godin:

“We call a brand or a person authentic when they’re consistent, when they act the same way whether or not someone is looking.”

helping hands
Solve at least one little problem

In other words, your message and actions have to click, and they have to do so over and over. I think of the outdoor clothing company Patagonia and their message of environmental stewardship. I know of no other company that is as consistent about their beliefs, and their actions back it up. Most recently the company boycotted one of the largest outdoor retail conventions based on the convention being hosted in a state seen as hostile to sustaining the environment. That’s authentic!

It’s funny. I re-read everything I write over and over, and when I read this bit on copywriting with authenticity, it smacks me with the fact that this isn’t a post on marketing, it’s a post on life in general. If you want to build your community in a decent and moral way, be vulnerable to others, accept and dismiss that you won’t win every battle, and be consistent in your beliefs! If you believe in what you’re doing and you’re not hurting someone by doing it, your writing will be true, and in this day and age that’s what compels us, your potentially endearing public.

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