Radical Authenticity – Its Time Has Come (But Timing Counts)

Hank Barnes

Research Vice President, Tech Go-to-Market and Sales Strategies


A few years back, I had the opportunity to work with Nick Morgan on telling Adobe’s story for the opportunity we were pursuing around Customer Experience Management.  Nick’s combination of practical experience, sage advice, and creativity created an instant connection between us.  As a result, I downloaded the digital edition of his new book,  Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal Impact.

Power Cues

It is a great book that offers a lot of detail into the research behind influence, body language and that magical concept of charisma.  I highly recommend it.

But the one thing I remember from the book more than anything else is a section at the end on Community and Communication.  Nick talks about the concept of Radical Authenticity, saying “another way that communications has changed in the twenty-first century is that we now demand authenticity in a way we haven’t before.”   It links to an idea called “Radical Connectivity” that was put forth by Nicco Mele. The idea is the internet and social Web have made it possible for any voice to be heard (albeit that voice has to be found through the noise), but to be truly heard you have to be authentic.

I love the concept and it will stick with me forever.  I’ve long been an advocate for authenticity in marketing. but Nicks book really put it in perspective for me.  You have no choice but to be authentic to be successful long term.   If not, you will be discovered, you will be exposed, and you’ll be derided.

At the same time, this does not mean you have to tell your whole authentic story at all times.   One of my Gartner clients works on some of the most challenging IT projects imaginable.  The projects take a long time and carry with them a high degree of risk.   I’ve been trying to help them improve their marketing efforts and started reviewing their materials.   Boy are they authentic!   They tell everyone how hard the projects are and that they are once in a lifetime efforts.   They have been successful in largely attracting customers that are already committed to these type of projects, but often “stuck” in the middle when its not going as planned.  They come to the rescue and are heroes.  But, I was thinking after reading the materials, “Wow, these guys really understand this stuff, but I’m not sure I would ever want to do it.”

Yes they were authentic, but it is too much information too soon.  Instead, I’m helping them adapt their story.  They’ll still be authentic, but we’ll start by focusing on sharing the authentic value that clients have generated through their projects–we are talking millions of dollars in savings and a variety of other benefits.   With that shift, they’ll be able to help customers get over the first emotional hurdle,  helping convince them that this is a project worth doing.  From there, they can use their authentic approach and their experience as heroes that saved other projects to win the business with.   They are still very authentic, but they uncover the story in a more appealing way.

What’s the lesson?  I believe you should never compromise on authenticity, but be thoughtful about how you communicate, thinking about things from the customer’s perspective and developing the story in a way that engages rather than scares.

Now that is Radical Authenticity at work.

Jul 12, 2015