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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

15 leaders share secrets to creating an authentic brand that inspires connections

Success in the modern business world depends on developing an authentic, genuine brand that makes customers feel understood and appreciated.

15 leaders share secrets to creating an authentic brand that inspires connections
Members of Fast Company Executive Board share their expert insights. [Image: Courtesy of the individual members.]
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Today there are so many established and new businesses—together offering a staggering array of products and services and easy to access online—that a company can no longer simply lean on their service offerings as their main point of attraction. Consumers want to support brands that they see as authentic and that share and practice their values. That’s why business leaders need to focus on creating a brand that encourages genuine connections and loyalty.

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Developing a brand is both a creative venture and a journey of discovery. Below, 15 members of Fast Company Executive Board share their top secrets to help you build an authentic brand that truly connects with your customers and audience.

1. BE TRUE TO YOUR BRAND WHEN TELLING YOUR STORY.

An authentic brand starts with being authentic. Businesses should be true to their brand when telling their story. You can’t humanize or be emotive if that’s not the essence of your brand. For example, Southwest Airlines is known for a fun, relaxed culture in marketing, customer service, and on flights. Other airlines try to mimic this, and it comes off as inauthentic because it’s not genuine. – Joyce Kim, Genesys

2. DELIVER EMPATHY.

Empathy is the true secret. Leading a brand should not be directed by what your ego says you should create. It should be done by listening to the needs of the customer and what they want you to create. Stepping into their shoes and listening to their feelings and perspectives is the way to get there. Show gratitude to them through tough times, and ask how they are actually doing. – Chris Schembra, 7:47

3. DEEPLY UNDERSTAND YOUR CUSTOMERS’ VISION FOR THE FUTURE.

Have empathy for the people you serve and hope to serve. When you deeply understand the collective futures that people are looking to build for themselves, you can help them build them. Through true empathy—a hard rather than a soft skill—you authentically join people in shaping the desired future. Together. – Meggan Wood, Innate Motion

4. REVISIT YOUR CORE VALUES.

Start with your company values—not fancy-sounding bullet points on a whiteboard, but what you truly believe at your core. We’re all sick of hearing platitudes from companies that don’t mean anything. When you know what you’re really about, so will your employees, and so will your customers. And those who believe what you believe will connect with your brand on a personal, loyal level. – Kristy Sammis, CLEVER

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5. BE RELATABLE AND TRUTHFUL.

Simply put, be authentic. The world is hungry for brands that understand them. Tell the truth, be relatable, solve an actual problem. Leverage the power of story, ditch the buzzwords, and engage like a human. That is the foundation to building a successful brand. – Bill Kenney, Focus Lab

6. FOCUS ON YOUR BRAND’S TONE OF VOICE.

The secret to creating an authentic brand is being authentic and staying faithful to your tone of voice. Produce content and share insights in an appealing way. Your target audience can identify anything that’s not “you” in your content. – Yoav Vilner, Walnut

7. EXPLORE WHAT YOUR AUDIENCE WANTS.

Start with what your audience wants, not what you want them to know. Our team hosts biweekly meetings that give us a space to think about bigger ideas. This allows us more upfront time to build our brand in a way that connects with our students and their needs. – Liza Streiff, Knopman Marks Financial Training

8. UPHOLD YOUR BRAND PROMISE.

Being authentic means upholding our brand promise and communicating transparently with a dash of vulnerability. Through surveys and a feedback loop between product, sales, and marketing, we know who our clients are and what their needs and pain points are—that ultimately drives our authenticity. – Ryan Simonetti, Convene

9. SPEAK TO THE RIGHT PEOPLE.

The first step is to ensure you are speaking to the right people. You can have the best positioning in the world, but if you are talking to the wrong people, then it will fall flat. When you understand your audience, you can make sure that your messaging resonates with them. With this in mind, make sure that you are creating value in every interaction or message that you share with your audience. – Andrew Miller, Agorapulse

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10. COMMIT TO LIVING YOUR VALUES, MISSION, AND VISION.

To connect authentically with your customers, you must live your values, mission, and vision through everything you do. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Choose your customers carefully for alignment and shower them with value early and often. There is no secret—just execution and consistency. The rest is really commentary. – Yuri Kruman, HR, Talent & Systems Consulting

11. ALIGN YOUR BRAND WITH A CAUSE.

Align your brand with a cause where there is an existing synergy. The cause should be something that your company is truly passionate about and committed to raising awareness of on all platforms—the media, your website, and social media. Consumers are extremely perceptive. If you want them to believe in your mission, it is important to be authentic and honest. – Kelley Higney, Bug Bite Thing

12. PUT PEOPLE FIRST.

You have to put yourself in your customers’ shoes to better understand their problems—and then fight for their success in everything you do. Communicate frequently, connect with your audience through honest stories, and let your actions speak for themselves. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

13. LET YOUR FOUNDERS SHARE THEIR PASSION.

Consumers crave authentic leadership. The first step to creating an authentic brand is to have authentic founders who are passionate about the mission and who connect with their audience. – Sara de Zarraga, Flare

14. KNOW YOUR “WHY.”

Know your brand’s purpose—your “why.” Make sure your employees, vendors, and partners know your purpose and are passionately committed to it. Lead to ensure that your purpose is manifest in all stakeholder decisions and actions. Then you will have a shot at authenticity. Brand advertising is the “icing on the cake.” Living the brand is “the cake”—it is what really matters. – Amy Radin, Pragmatic Innovation Partners LLC

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15. LOOK FOR WAYS TO SHARE HELPFUL INFORMATION.

Far too many organizations view communication as a one-way street as opposed to an ongoing exchange between customers and providers. That ill-advised approach can alienate and frustrate customers. Instead of employing social media platforms and other channels to push out information or constantly sell to prospects, look for ways to engage them with useful content that helps end-users. – Evan Nierman, Red Banyan