How to Build an Authentic Brand

And what not to do.

Hey folks đź‘‹, I'm Kenneth Burke. #BurkeBits is where I share stories, data, and frameworks to help you become a better marketer. Subscribe for free to level-up.

One question every marketer asks is: “How do I build an audience?” And 23 out of 25 responses are inevitably “Be authentic.”

I hate that advice.

At best it’s unhelpful, and at worst it tells you to do the wrong things.

The trouble is you do need authenticity to build an audience and create a lovable brand that customers want to buy from. Authenticity is part of what makes you relatable and worth listening to.

So here’s what “be authentic” misses and what you should do instead.

What “Be Authentic” Misses

I’m naturally sarcastic, arrogant, quick to correct people, and self-centered. I have to work intentionally to suppress those tendencies and turn them into positive attributes (humorous, confident, discerning, and ambitious, let’s say—probably deserves a whole other post on positioning).

If I were simply “authentic,” I would be me, but I wouldn’t represent the brand—personal or corporate—that I’m trying to build. I would turn people off instead of building an audience around the ideals my brand claims to represent.

What if instead of sharing my experiences to try to help people, I just told everyone why they’re wrong? Yikes…

What You Should Do Instead

3 simple steps have helped me—and will help you—bring authenticity to your personal or corporate brand, so that you can nail a consistent marketing message, rally an audience around you, and win more customers (or accomplish whatever goal you have).

1. Define your most important values.

What are the natural attributes that you want to shine through in day-to-day situations?

For instance, at Text Request we noticed a few specific values from our founders and key employees that come through in most situations and conversations.

So we codified them.

You can view them on our careers page. The short versions are:

  • Grit: work hard for a long time and get better along the way

  • Craftsmanship: make it best in class

  • Empathy: understand the customer’s view

  • Education: constantly learn, constantly teach

In any marketing materials, employee engagement, or customer conversation, we try to make sure one or more of these values comes through. They are not just things that sound good. They are us.

2. Articulate how you will apply them.

Get specific so you can turn your values into actions. You need if-then examples for both internal and external events, like how you’ll use these values to hire, or write a social media post, or differentiate yourself from competitors.

Quick Example: We apply empathy when drafting blog posts by intentionally thinking through how the reader—our target customer—feels about the topic we’re covering, and by applying that feeling to the blog post. We may emphasize the pain they’re feeling while experiencing a particular challenge, and celebrate their victory as they learn how to overcome that challenge through our content. It’s all about them.

Create 5 or 10 of these examples as guideposts for common or significant situations.

3. Hold yourself (and your team) accountable.

You’re probably not going to perfectly embody your core values 100% of the time. That’s okay. But you better embody them at least most of the time.

One challenge to this is that it’s so easy to just “set it and forget it.” To go through the above exercises, actually forget all about them, and then fail to apply to them.

Don’t let this happen.

Instead, set aside time—go ahead and block off your calendar if you need to—to review tasks, projects, and employee meetings in light of your stated core values.

Are you applying them like you said you would? Do you see room to refine them? Should you be doing things differently, and if so, what?

Be specific.

Creating an authentic brand is not about showcasing all your natural characteristics. It’s about productizing your core values so that you can consistently apply them to all situations and conversations.

Do that, and you’ll build a loyal audience of people happy to spend money with you.

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Have questions about this topic or something you’re working on? Ask away! I’m an open book and happy to help.