Whether developing strategic communication programs, securing media placements, or navigating a crisis, best practices frequently guide a communicator’s recommended approach. To an outsider, this might suggest that effective communication programs are formulaic and easily replicable. But communications professionals know achieving success hinges on an appreciation for the X-Factor: authenticity.
I like to consider authenticity as the point where credibility, sincerity, imperfection and reputation intersect to evoke shared emotion. This requires the balancing of style and substance, and tailoring programs to each client. Cookie-cutter efforts are often ineffective, because generic programs simply don’t connect.
To ensure your communication programs have the X-Factor, it may be helpful to consider the following 4 questions during the planning process:
- Is the Emperor wearing clothes? Is the message you are aiming to communicate substantive and credible? It’s important to take a hard look in the mirror and undertake a critical assessment of your arguments. A challenging stress test during the planning phase can avoid charges of hypocrisy (fair or unfair) later.
- Can you say it with a straight face? If you’ve ever had the opportunity to be sitting on the other side of the mirrored glass watching a focus group, you know what an uncanny sense the public has for judging sincerity. Be cognizant of tone, your audience will be judging you and expecting you to present yourself naturally sincere.
- Does your personality come through? Too often there is a misconception that effective communications all follow the same path. While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, it likely won’t be memorable or compelling. Showcasing your brand’s individuality can help maximize your X-Factor value.
- How has your reputation preceded you? Understanding the lens through which your audience views you is essential for a successful communications program. Industry and corporate reputations will each add a contextual layer. Ignoring these environmental factors can result in a program that is perceived to be at best ineffective, and at worst, disconnected or insensitive.
As screenwriter Shawn Ryan aptly observed, “I think the bar is higher these days in terms of audience expectations of authenticity.” Though the bar may be higher, with the increasing array of communication tools and channels available, communicators are well-equipped to meet these challenges – if they can harness the authenticity X-Factor.