Understanding Authenticity

With everything going on over the last couple of months, I’ve found myself more and more preoccupied by the word “authenticity”. It’s one of those words that gets thrown around a lot, especially when consumer reports like this one find that 86% of consumers say authenticity is important when deciding what brands they like and support. However, “being authentic” seems to carry different meanings depending on the specific context it’s being used. For example, an authentic piece of art looks vastly different from authentic cuisine or an authentic sales strategy.

The very definition of the word is a bit muddled with Merriam-Webster listing five separate definitions for the word. One of those is listed archaic, and another deals with music theory. That still leaves us with three different ways to define authentic, and I think each one can act as a roadmap of sorts to figure out how we can better apply this to our work and personal lives.

Definition 1: made or done the same way as an original

This is the definition I was hinting at earlier when I brought up cuisine. After all, authentic Mexican food doesn’t have to be made in Mexico. It just has to be made in a similar style to what you would find there. A church can have gothic architecture without having been constructed in the gothic period for the same reason a Belgian Abbey ale doesn’t have to be brewed in Belgium. Our first definition of authentic just has to remind you about something specific or traditional. It has to get you close enough that you feel like the original, evocative experience is happening. It causes phenomena such as nostalgia, forlornness, and maybe even déjà vu.

This version of authenticity might be the most emotionally charged, but in my opinion it’s also the weakest since it relies on your familiarity to something original. And as we’re about to find out, there’s no substitute to the real thing.

            Definition 2: not false or an imitation

Merriam-Webster lists two synonyms along with this definition: real and actual. Something authentic in this sense needs to exist. It’s something you can clearly define with your senses. You can hear an authentic accent. You can touch and hold an authentic piece of ivory. You can taste fresh produce you just picked yourself from an authentic source. If our first definition was made or done in the same way as an original, this second definition is that original it’s trying to emulate. It’s that time you travelled abroad to visit another country. It’s when you landed your first “real” job after college. It’s listening all the way through your favorite album only to start it over again for another playthrough. Authenticity is real people doing real things, and that leads us to our last definition.

            Definition 3: true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character

To me, this last definition brings in many of the philosophical stances the word can take. This is where synonyms like sincerity, honesty, and genuine start to enter the conversation. It’s the definition I was grappling with the most when thinking about this article. It’s the least tangible since it deals with a person’s intrinsic principles. Authenticity not only means different things in different context; it’s going to mean different things to different people.

In this regard authenticity is very personal, and it requires you to be true to yourself. This is where you can really get into the weeds with different philosophies like stoicism or following self-improvement mantras like that of Tony Robbins.

For now, I’ll leave the self-help and self-reflection there because I think what this definition also can get across is how important it is to embrace a level of empathy and connect with others. Similar to what I wrote about Digital Transformation a while back, truly connecting with people is a powerful communication tool, and when you engage with someone earnestly and without false pretenses, we can start to see how authenticity affects us. Connecting to individuals at their personal level forges tight bonds between the two of you, and it can lead to not just better insights, but relationships too.

           So why does authenticity matter?

So now that I’ve broken down these definitions, I want to talk about why authenticity is important here at TruScribe. Our Creative Director and lead artist, Ben Schram, has always championed showing real people drawing the characters and scenes you see in our whiteboard videos because of the authentic connection it makes to viewers. “This is the foundation on which our method of message delivery is built,” he says. “Interest in human form and activity is baked into our psychology. Once the viewer’s attention is attained by a real human performing a relatable but interesting activity (i.e. drawing) the hand can direct the viewer’s attention.”

Grounding our videos by showing a real human hand complements our definitions of authenticity in a few ways. It fits our second definition perfectly since there is actually an artist drawing all the scenes, but this concept of leading the viewers’ attention also flows nicely into our third definition. This simple act of displaying skills earnestly and without trickery builds up the relationship with our viewers. They can empathize with our artists, and because of this, they are better able to learn a video’s educational message.

“Maintaining the viewers’ confidence,” Ben says, “is important. If they see something IS fake (our videos are not), it leads to an ‘I was fooled’ resentment, or just lack of engagement due to removal of the real human element.” We don’t want our viewers to play detective when watching our videos. We present the images in our videos as factual statements, and the artist’s hand in the frame solidifies that commitment to honesty. Visual effects are all around us today whether it be the newest superhero movie, or the graphics package from our local news outlet. When something permeates our surroundings to this extent, we learn to not notice them. As Ben goes on to say, the alternative we take instead is that, “the authentic human connection we offer leads the viewer through time and space in strict support of the message.”

This emphasis on real drawings limits what I can do as a video editor for the better. I have a background in digital animation, so before coming to TruScribe I was used to creating characters, scenes, and movement all digitally with software. While there is a need for that elsewhere at times, our artists’ human elements separate TruScribe from other media companies. They limit what I can fabricate, and that has presented me with some fun opportunities for creative problem solving. Relying on our artists avoids everything I hate about the “fix it in post” mentality. It instead lets us be real, genuine, trustworthy, and (most importantly) authentic.

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