Authentic Communication: What Does It Mean, Why It’s Important

Gail Thornton
Thrive Global
Published in
5 min readOct 22, 2018

How to build an authentic brand and give consumers a reason to care.

“green and white tile flooring” by Alex Block on Unsplash

Authentic communication is in demand within today’s business world. Regardless of whether the conversation takes place with a government official, an employer, or a business manager, the expectation is that all voices should be heard and respected. At all levels of society, people are expecting greater levels of humanity, understanding, and honesty from their leaders, which entails leaders to be engaged, committed and genuine in their thoughts and actions. Leaders sometimes need to be willing to make unpopular decisions and take unpopular positions if that’s what needs to be done to stand by core beliefs and values.

What does it mean to be “authentic?” Neil Patel, a top social influencer, one of the country’s top 10 marketers, and a New York Times best-selling author, believes that being authentic means “staying true to who you are, what you do, and who you serve.” It is this human element that “continually creates value, benefits your customers and improves your business.” Patel’s advice is that companies need to first define its core values, goals, and beliefs and then prove that this exists at the core of their business.

Another definition of “authentic” involves a level of integrity which includes honesty and transparency. The Journal of Consumer Psychology defines authenticity as, “The extent to which consumers perceive a brand to be faithful toward itself, true to its consumers, motivated by caring and responsibility, and able to support consumers in being true to themselves.”

And why is authenticity important? Consumer behavior has evolved during the past 30–40 years and traditional marketing no longer sees lasting results. So, businesses need to shift their thinking of how and what they communicate to customers. For example, it’s no surprise that Millennials and Generation Y are shopping very differently than Baby Boomers. For Millennials, brand authenticity is second only to loyalty discounts in importance when choosing companies to support, according to the Boston Consulting Group study.

Today’s consumers, Patel said, are informed, keenly aware and socially connected, which means they are empowered to make decisions. He believes that companies need to keep some of these characteristics in mind to create authenticity:

· Build identity and image of the company above the competition,

· Enable consumers and other stakeholders to relate to the business,

· Help people understand what a company offers is of benefit to them,

· Build the company’s identity and image, and

· Give substance to a company’s business, which defines them as reliable and trustworthy.

All this helps a company increase engagement, turning audiences into advocates.

But who is your audience? Patel said that you need “to get to know your audiences well and let them get to know you, whether it’s through personal interaction, bios, videos, blogs and glimpses into the personal lives of company executives or employees.”

Authentic communication is vital in creating effective, efficient business relationships. To illustrate authentic communication, Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, talks about the simplicity and honesty of children, who state the truth, the facts. She is not advising business leaders to discuss the blunt truth, but rather points out that “true” is subjective. Therefore, Sandberg stresses that authentic communication occurs when a leader’s statements provide room in which others feel free to communicate their thoughts and feelings honestly and authentically.

Authentic communication is not a simple process, with individuals simply stating what they think, regardless of the consequences. Rather it is about communicating effectively, which means truly listening to what other people are saying. One of the principal elements in authentic communication is to take responsibility for the message. This goes beyond simply meaning what you say, but also ensuring that your message has been understood by asking for feedback.

Another important tip is to be clear in your language use, avoid ambiguous phrasing, as well as technical or specialist jargon, which may be misunderstood. Authentic communication means listening more often than you speak, and when listening, focusing on the speaker and his or her message content, rather than thinking about how to respond. Sandberg advises to tell the truth. This means avoiding making promises that you will not be able to keep, and, also, avoid over-generalization by making sweeping statements that do not necessarily reflect the facts. Working with the facts, as Sandberg recommends, means to avoid making assumptions about what might happen or what others are thinking and feeling.

Points which Sandberg recommends include developing a connection with the people with whom you are communicating. Demonstrate that you care for and are interested in them. It is also advised that authentic communication means being consistent and endeavoring to make one’s actions coincide with what you say you are going to do.

Authentic communicators create mutual understanding by being willing to share some of their personal history, and by showing interest in the personal background of others. This entails empathy toward others, and the ability to imagine yourself in their shoes.

Authentic communication provides benefits both to business leaders and their employees by providing a means to keep learning. By cultivating an awareness of one’s personal prejudices and negative responses, it becomes possible for individuals to learn to manage their reactions to issues, which are emotional triggers.

Companies that have embraced authenticity and honesty, such as Dove and Airbnb, reap the benefit of having their customers do much of the marketing for them. However, companies that have resisted the trend toward authenticity, such as Uber and Pepsi, are still endeavoring to regain the footing that they once had, with consumers watching their every move, ready to pounce at the first signs that they are returning to practices that have been judged negatively.

Dove began its Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004, and this campaign has demonstrated how Dove has succeeded in communicating with the American consuming public in an authentic manner. For example, the image of a smiling older African American woman is featured in the ad, next to two check-boxes labeled “wither?” and “wonderful”. As this suggests, the Dove brand succeeds in authentically championing women’s empowerment, as it redefines the subject of beauty. In a similar manner, authentic communication has the potential to benefit all aspects of business and contemporary American society.

Building an authentic brand means giving consumers a reason to care.

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Gail Thornton
Thrive Global

Communications executive and health literacy advocate. Views are my own. Email: gailsthornton@yahoo.com