The Sweet Spot: Content That’s Both Authentic and Relatable
How to master the subtle art of balancing the two
How do you create content that’s both engaging and compelling?
Alex Lieberman is the co-founder & CEO of Morning Brew, a daily business newsletter that has over a million subscribers.
During his final years in college, he decided to help students in the business department prepare for job interviews.
He’d always ask them what they read to keep up-to-date in the business world.
They all had similar responses. Usually, they read some “dry” business journals like the WSJ because there weren’t many alternative high-quality options.
And Alex noticed a pattern.
Realizing that a younger generation would appreciate business content delivered in a more relatable way, he began creating a newsletter to help inform business students at his college.
Word-of-mouth spread fast. One would think that he had a master plan for developing his subscription base.
Quite the opposite.
In fact, when sharing how his co-founder and himself built Morning Brew, he admitted, “We went into it so naive [because we were finance people]; we basically created a product that we thought we would love.”
This is an important lesson when building our audience and businesses.
Many times, we get stuck trying to create content that we think other people would love. We focus on relatability.
Relatability is important. But it’s only part of the equation.
Authenticity is also wildly important. Because without it, your content will lack passion. It won’t be compelling.
And if you aren’t creating authentic content, then others will begin to notice. They’ll lose interest over time.
And honestly… you’ll probably lose interest too.
I’ve heard similar advice from entrepreneur and writer, Michael Simmons:
“Don’t write for your role models. Write for your younger self. Your younger self wants what you’ve figured out.”
From personal experience, the sweet spot is content that’s both authentic and relatable.
Are You Creating Robotic Content?
For the longest time, I focused on being more relatable and put less emphasis on authenticity.
It was useful for awhile. Empathy grew and I gained a stronger ability to put myself in other peoples’ shoes. But as I double-downed on relatability (and disregarded authenticity), my content was lacking power.
A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to my buddy Matt. And I was sharing where I was in my life and business.
I was telling him how I felt that my content was too “cerebral.” I tend to go deep into concepts, ideas, and models.
And at that moment, I realized a pattern in my content.
Other friends of mine have made similar comments without using the word “cerebral.” Some have said it’s “a lot to process.”
Others have mentioned that some of my content can be “intimidating” to consume.
All of this was amazing feedback.
My lack of authenticity actually made my content less relatable. I was trying to relate by directly explaining concepts and ideas. It was missing life.
Missing authenticity will impact your content in a myriad of different ways.
But for me, this created very cerebral content. Sometimes even “lifeless” or robotic.
Looking back, I was a bit afraid to share personal stories and different beliefs, as they may have been unrelatable to certain people.
But I’ve learned that the most powerful content comes from a place of authenticity. It’s what creates a connection with your community.
It’s how they begin to know, like, and trust you (key ingredients for building a brand and audience).
However, I want to mention that some people take this idea of authenticity too far.
They use this idea of authenticity to disregard other people.
“I feel like jumping on my desk at work and kicking all these important documents onto the floor. It’s how I authentically feel!”
This is authenticity taken to the extreme. Don’t disregard your audiences’ perspective. It’s important to create authentic content that’s packaged in a relatable way.
Being Authentic And Delivering Content In A Relatable Way
I’ve been a student of content creators for some time. Not only do I enjoy consuming amazing content, but I love studying why their content is great.
I’ve noticed that it’s a combination of authenticity and relatability. They’re not afraid to share their passions and stories about their life.
And they package it in a powerful, relatable way. There’s usually a direct benefit for your life.
Who’s one of your favorite content creators? Do they have a good balance between the two?
A Common Block When Creating Engaging Content
Once you understand how content is fundamental to your online business success, you’ll begin asking the following questions:
- What kind of content should I focus on?
- Should I create content that I’m purely passionate about?
- Or should I focus on helping others? Answering their questions. Solving their wants & needs.
I think a common trap is falling into black and white thinking… when you focus on either extreme and ignore nuance & balance.
Imagine a traditional weight scale. There’s a fulcrum with a beam positioned on the top of it. On each side of the beam, you have strings or chains that attach to a plate. If you put too much weight on either plate, then one side will fall.
Balancing between authenticity and relatability is key. This is how you create compelling and engaging content for your audience.
What Happens When You Refuse To Balance The “Content Scale”?
Emphasizing any extreme is less effective than creating content that integrates the balance between the two.
You have a couple of scenarios.
Let’s say you just want to create content that you’re interested in. It’s all about you and your passions. If you don’t consider the relatability of it, then it’ll have fewer chances of connecting with an audience. This is detrimental to business success. But on the flip side, if you’re creating content that only focuses on relatability, it’s going to lack power. It may even come off as “robotic.”
This is like using a generic content template that generates dull content outputs. It looks like everyone else's content. It doesn’t stand out.
Let’s say you have a list of 20 or 30 questions that your audience has around a given topic. But you aren’t interested in these ideas AT ALL. They don’t resonate.
If you only create this kind of content, you’re in danger of falling into the “people-pleaser” category.
I’m NOT saying you shouldn’t answer your audience’s questions. And I’m NOT saying you shouldn’t focus on their problems.
But there’s a fine line between creating relatable content versus being a lifeless content creator who only creates for validation. Be careful not to fall into the latter.
Focusing on the extreme side of relatability may give you some results in the short-term. But long-term, it’ll be hard to build a community of raving fans.
The reason why is because building a strong bond with an audience is contingent on your level of authenticity.
Your delivery. Charisma. Stories. Personality.
Without this, they won’t get to know you.
If they don’t know you, it’s hard to like you.
And if they don’t know or like you, then you won’t gain their trust.
Trust is how you build your brand and audience.
Going back to the example with Alex Lieberman and Morning Brew, focusing on relatability (and disregarding authenticity) is kind of like reading a dry business journal.
It’s useful. It’s valuable. And it may get some readership for a specific niche of people who’ve already built a habit around reading it.
But it’ll have a harder time building a strong connection with a community.
This is the genius behind Morning Brew. The content is essentially the same as a dry business journal. But it includes storytelling. Maybe some humor. And casual language.
There’s a reason why their newsletter grew to over a million subscribers in just a few years.
If you boil this blog post down to its essence, what I’m ultimately saying is that engaging and compelling content comes from creating relatable content without sacrificing your authenticity.
So let me define both authenticity and relatability. This’ll empower you to start creating content that your audience will love.
Sharing Authentic Content
When I refer to authentic content, I’m talking about content that resonates with you.
It’s content that’s based on your current beliefs towards a topic and your personal experiences.
It’s honest. And it could often reveal something vulnerable.
It’s the process of making what’s inside of you transparent to the world.
As you can imagine, this is challenging for most people. Vulnerability is not an easy task.
But vulnerability is the future of business.
Let’s imagine you’re creating content on the vegan diet.
You’re sharing how it’s the best diet ever. It’ll help you get in shape. It's great for your immune system. Etc.
But in reality, let’s say you’ve never tried the vegan diet. And perhaps you secretly don’t believe it’s the best diet in the world.
If this is the case, then you’re being inauthentic.
You’re not being transparent with your content.
But if you truly loved the vegan diet and all the health benefits it brings, then you’re being more authentic.
Your audience is smart. They’ll be able to detect inauthenticity.
And this is important because if you really want to build a tribe or community, then this is what draws people to you like a magnet.
The process of being transparent will allow your audience to know, like & trust you.
At the end of the day, your content is meant to speak to other humans. We’re meant to build relationships. And being inauthentic is going to hold you back from being able to build that strong relationship and connection with your audience.
Build Connection With Relatable Content
So what makes content relatable?
At the root, it’s about connection and empathy.
It’s content that your audience would find helpful and valuable.
It’s being able to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and seeing their partial point-of-view. It’s understanding their “map of reality” and where they’re coming from.
What do they want to achieve? And what they want to avoid?
So going back to the example above, let’s assume that no one in my audience actually cares about the vegan diet.
Sure, nobody may hate it. But imagine if I began ranting about the vegan diet and all its benefits.
I’m guessing you didn’t come here for that.
No one is reading my content to gain insights into the vegan lifestyle.
An analogy, metaphor, or other creative storytelling devices could be relevant, but only if it aligns with the main topic (like I’m doing right now).
If no one cares, then it’s not relatable.
If no one in my audience sees how the vegan diet can be used as a vehicle to accomplish their goals (or avoid pain), then it’s not relatable.
If I was passionate about this subject, then I’d need to find an audience who cares.
If it’s not relatable, then it reveals that you’re not attuned or tapped into another person’s reality and what they value.
This is an important idea because the way to be successful in business is to understand how to create value for other people.
And being able to create value is contingent on being attuned to another person’s perspective. Empathy.
Checklist For Creating Engaging And Compelling Content
So how do we create content that’s both authentic and relatable?
Once you have an idea for your next piece of content, I’d recommend using the following checklist.
Here are 5 guiding questions that’ll help you create compelling and engaging content:
Guiding Question 1: Is this content idea something that you’re personally interested in?
It doesn’t have to be your life purpose or mission. But you’ll want to at least be interested in the topic. If you don’t care about it, then why should your audience?
Guiding Question 2: If you were writing this for your younger self, would they find it helpful?
Guiding Question 3: How would your younger self find this helpful?
Guiding Question 4: When would your younger self find this helpful?
These three questions will allow you to drill down on authenticity. It’s largely rooted in your personal experiences and something you’ve personally found useful in your life.
And finally, let’s look at building connection.
Guiding Question 5: Is this content idea relatable to your audience? Does this help them achieve what they want? Does it help them avoid what they don’t want?
Feel free to use these questions as a checklist when you want to make sure your content is both engaging and compelling.
Building A Community Of True Fans
Imagine you were creating compelling and engaging content consistently.
And every week, you’d share tons of value with your audience.
They found it so interesting and valuable that they ended up sharing it with other people.
They keep recommending it to their friends. And their friends keep sharing it with their friends.
Over time, you build a community of people who love your stuff. They’ve gotten to know, like, and trust you.
How would that impact your business?
How would that change your life?
How would it impact the lives of others?