When companies talk about building an authentic brand, conversations often revolve around developing or changing the mission statement—or the logo, the tagline or some other tangible thing—and then, when that matter is solved, the build-a-brand item is checked off corporate agendas. Building a brand, though, involves so much more, and it starts with taking a step back and determining what the term “brand” really means.

An article in Forbes.com does a good job of tackling that task, distinguishing between a “brand” and a “brand name.” Brand names are objective, factually stated, with examples of brand names including Nike, Pepsi and Starbucks. A brand, though, is something much more than a company, product or service name. It’s subjective, consisting of what your prospects think about when they hear your brand name. Uncomfortable as this may make some company executives feel, you can’t dictate your brand as it actually exists only in people’s minds.

In other words, this means your brand isn’t who you think you are, or say you are. It’s who you really are! With that definition at the forefront, developing a brand might suddenly feel like being told to capture lightning in a bottle. So, now what?

Well, because your brand is defined by what people think about when hearing your brand name, developing an authentic brand—whether online or offline—is really about your reputation, your relationships, how well you understand your audience and respond to customers, and how you help your audience get to know more about you. The real you.

Who Are You, Really?

To define this, you need to take two key steps. First, list your unique offerings and how you describe them. This will likely involve getting rid of catchphrases you’ve come to cherish, and taking a deeper look at claims you make. If, for example, you state your FasterBusiness App will skyrocket productivity in the workplace, have you compared your app with those of your competitors’? Does your product really boost productivity or is that a too-easy (untested!) cliché to use?

If it’s the first, that’s fantastic, and now you’ll need to quantify to what degree your app boosts workplace productivity, and prepare to share that information with prospects and customers. If it’s the second, what truly is your unique offering?

As a second step, you must define your desired customers. If you’ve created personas, take another look at them and adjust, as needed. If you haven’t created them yet, put that on your priority list. Compare your personas to your actual customers. Is there a gap? If so, define it and determine what needs to change in your offerings to entice your desired customers. (Note how different this is from simply changing your messaging to what your ideal customers would want to hear!)

Once you’re clear about your offerings and audience, and you’ve addressed any gaps, what do you need to adjust in your messaging? Now would be the time to make changes in how you are presenting your brand in messaging both on and off your website online, as well as offsite.

Building Relationships

Now that you’re clear about your messaging, and it meshes with your targeted audiences and your products/services, it’s time to offer value to your online audience by providing your expertise. This includes, but isn’t limited to, creating useful content—with this content being created for people who are just starting to research your industry to those who are ready to buy products and/or services. It also includes methods for people to contact you to ask questions, and it’s essential that you foolproof how quickly and well you respond to those questions, including concerns and negative experiences with your products and/or services.

Social media channels are an excellent place to build relationships, so be sure to effectively respond to people who engage with you there. Also build relationships with people who might not buy your product but might help to spread the word about how you fulfill your brand promises. This group of people can include bloggers in your industry, people who share your posts and more. Cultivate relationships with influencers in all relevant niches in your space.

Be sure to monitor what people say about your company by reading reviews at Google, Yelp and the like. Do Google searches or set up Google alerts to see what shows up under your brand name and variations of it, the names of key members of your team and the like. Are you proud to read what’s written about your brand? Are there issues that clearly need correcting to strengthen your brand?

As you build relationships, be transparent, be human! Avoid corporate speak and show your personality.

Tangible Brand Building

You’ll also need to invest in the tangibles, building a great website that’s easy to use with an eye-catching design. The logo needs to represent your brand well, not just be a visual representation of your brand name, and the mission statement and tagline need to accurately portray your company.

Review your social media profiles and anywhere else you have an online profile and/or presence, and make sure that each accurately reflects what you’ve learned through the process of developing an authentic brand.

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