In August 2011 I was ready to follow a dream: quit my job and launch a marketing business.
I had a vision, but needed role models – women entrepreneurs who rocked at online marketing. I searched for business-savvy goddesses and gurus for guidance. Storytelling, I discovered, can be a powerful marketing tool. When it’s done right, we feel an immediate connection. Relatability, in my observation, boiled down to one thing: honesty. Honesty satisfies our desire to know the humanity behind businesses, and it produces trust – the ultimate goal. I paid close attention to how certain people made me feel. Who made me a believer? Who made me cringe and click ‘close’? I identified two camps: successful truth tellers and awkward imitators. I was fascinated by both. Let me break it down for you.
Women who revealed their biggest struggles won my devotion instantly.
They shared the stomach-turning, keep-you-up-at-night work quandaries that every professional suffers but few disclose. Their hard-won wisdom resulted from dicey personal travails. Though their advice wasn’t necessarily original, the gritty details they shared were captivating and imprinted the lessons. Several women disclosed their experiences with familiar ups and downs in business: initial optimism after sealing a deal, misunderstandings that sometimes follow, pangs of insecurity, facing the hard truth, summoning courage, changing course, and emerging on the other side of the storm. Rough weather refined them, but they didn’t always come out on top. That’s the secret. These honesty experts didn’t shy away from sharing that sometimes we sink. Sometimes the deal falls apart and there’s nothing left to do but swim to shore. I empathized with the oh sh*t moments. I’ve been there. I was grateful for the inside scoop and stayed glued to their channels. I learned that if you’re willing to tell it like it is, you will be relatable, and possibly even inspire. Find the folks who let you in. Observe how you feel when they’re vulnerable. Ask yourself, Could I do that?
Equally instructive were the wannabees.
These were ladies who produced loads of content – blogs, videos, newsletters, e-books, (e-courses!) – on juicy topics without saying much. One woman I followed delivered beautiful materials and spoke with enthusiasm, but her message lacked honesty. Whenever I opened an email from her about building confidence in business or creating successful partnerships, she didn’t offer personal context. Instead of spilling details she played it safe with platitudes. Her emotionally-charged, (but substance-free) content never resonated with me or advanced my understanding of her. I felt uncomfortable. Sometimes I actually watched her videos peeking through my fingers! Hers was an act, a fruitless attempt to emulate the success of others. She knew what worked, but didn’t have faith in her own story. This, unfortunately undermined her business. She made it clear that aiming for effect over honesty bombs. It’s actually candor that makes people lean in and listen up.
When I applied the truth serum to my own marketing, I found it was easier said than done.
‘Being yourself,’ ‘telling the truth,’ and ‘owning your story’ turned out to be hard. These aren’t just tenants of strong communications. These are words to live by. Becoming comfortable with myself and articulating who I am, how I got here, and what I have to offer is a practice. Sometimes it’s in clear focus and other times eclipsed. It’s always changing. That’s the truth.
As I prepared my online debut, I feared appearing less than perfect or uncertain.
I was definitely tempted to copy someone else’s polished persona instead of embracing my own. But something deep down in me knew that if I rallied around my strengths, that’s what people would see. And, if I showed my true self (quirky, poetic, exacting, supportive,) that’s what people would trust. I practiced in private. I wrote unfiltered content. It felt good to be genuine. Relaxing. Energizing. The right words flow when you’re speaking from the heart.
In the process of prying myself loose from fear, Ralph Waldo Emerson chimed in with some serendipitous advice on public perception. I found this gem in a book on business just days before I launched my own:
“Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Your real self has roots, potential to connect and grow.
A façade doesn’t. Be the real deal. After all, in marketing communications the question you must answer isn’t What makes me just like my competition? The question is What sets me apart? Only your honest story can answer that.