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Screw Personal Branding: Why Authenticity Is The Best Thing You Can Aspire To In Business


People don’t want to be sold on an idea—they want to learn from a real person through a natural conversation.  

We’re constantly bombarded with images, taglines, and “sponsored posts” that show us a perfect version of reality. Of course, when you’re trying to sell a product or service you want to show only the best side—any business owner worth their salt understands that. But after decades online, audience expectations are shifting.

Having a natural conversation with someone instead of slamming down a glossy advertisement works on several levels—it makes space to explain the product better, makes the customer feel more comfortable, keeps things natural, etc. But most importantly, conversational marketing (as it’s sometimes called) is authentic.

And that’s what audiences want—authenticity.

I was stoked to have David Cancel on my podcast to talk about conversational marketing, which is both the subject and title of his latest book. Cancel is a serial entrepreneur, angel investor/advisor and now founder & CEO of Drift, and he’s also a fellow podcaster for a series I’m obsessed with, Seeking Wisdom. In his wildly popular book Conversational Marketing, Cancel digs into why messaging systems are the best way to reach new clients and why using intelligent chatbots actually creates a more human sales experience.

Cancel brought his expertise while simultaneously giving a master class on entrepreneurship to our episode together, where we talked about why people want a more authentic touch in marketing and how crazy it is to see so many people “Following Their Different.”  

Ignore Influencers: Customers Want A Pro’s Opinion

First and foremost, I have to know—what is going on that people want to be an influencer?

It seems like every 23-year-old on Instagram takes a few Tony Robbins courses and all of a sudden thinks they’re an expert on personal branding. They’ll sell you teas, vitamins, workout plans, purses, clothes—the list is endless. And you’re supposed to listen to them, why?  

“I would think first you’d have to do something to be an influencer,”  says Cancel. He points out the people who are actually doing the hard work aren’t the ones posting about it every day on social media. And even the people who claim series milestones—Ty Lopez, Gary V, etc.—don’t offer anything useful in their podcasts or social media presences. They just repeat the same “hustle, hustle, hustle, follow your passion” nonsense.

I call them “pornstar” entrepreneurs.

But their hold on the internet is going to wear out. Cancel says he can see a progression in which people are moving toward a different mindset. One in which they want to know the person giving them advice is the same person who’s already put in decades of hard work.

Hopefully, this will spell death to the Instagram influencer craze and we can go back to listening to people who actually know what they’re talking about.

The “Old Advice” Is Bad Advice

The world tells us we have to play the game, we have to fit in, we have to do what’s expected. That usually means: go to school, get a degree, get a job, work up the ladder, and then retire.

But that’s not the path that builds groundbreaking work.

When I was writing Niche Down: How To Become Legendary By Being Different, the biggest response I got was people saying to me, “Wow, I can be myself and find a way to connect my difference to the world in a way that matters.” Readers loved seeing that they could build a business around what made them stand out.

Cancel didn’t follow a conventional path either, and he’s built incredible companies with a great amount of success—not everyone can say their company was acquired by a unicorn. He believes people breaking away from the norm and following their own dreams is the way the world is headed. “People are realizing all that stuff [we were told] doesn’t make sense anymore,” he says. “That’s for a world that no longer exists, right? That’s not the advice I give to my kids.”

Cancel says he tells his own kids to embrace their differences, to apply them to make the world a better place. We should all be so lucky to hear that from our folks.

People Want Authenticity

It’s okay to be inspired by someone else’s work, but copying it exactly isn’t going to help you build your empire.

Think about tribute bands—bands that cover songs from a popular group, but cover them exactly, including the sound and style as they were originally performed. Those bands may sound like Led Zeppelin, but they never ascend to the same rock-god level. Because when Zeppelin did it, they were being themselves. When the tribute band does it, they’re copying someone else.

And no one responds to a copy like they do the original.

When Cancel was growing up, being different meant getting beat up and teased at school. And now, he says, it seems that people are racing toward embracing their real selves, no matter how much that makes them stand apart from the pack. Because authenticity is what works—it’s what brings people in and keeps them. They want something real and to know they’re investing in a person or a service that isn’t going to fake them out.

When you get down to it, authenticity builds trust—and there’s no stronger way to keep people coming back to your business, podcast, or website than if they know you’re the real deal.  

Co-Author of “Niche Down” and “Play Bigger” | Podcast “Christopher Lochhead | Follow Your Different” Advisor & Investor to over 50 Silicon Valley startups, entrepreneur, former three-time public company CMO. Mediocre surfer & skier.

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