Business Spotlight: True Branding – How to Create an Authentic Brand

Written by Kim Marie McKernan, MBA, MS, Founder of Inspired Outcomes and international marketing leader, facilitator, and presenter.  Her business is built on her passion for helping business owners bring their vision to life with a true brand that generates results. Kim serves business leaders who are ready to launch, renew and elevate their brand. She is also a mentor for Shift/Co and Collective Brains.

What is true branding, and how is it different from traditional branding?


To better understand the True Brand concept, let’s establish that we don't own our brands. A brand is held in the perception of our customers. It is made up of every interaction that a person has with you and your organization. 


True branding has three attributes:

  1. Proves what is unique and sets each business apart.
  2. Reflects a defined "why" or purpose.
  3. Aligns with the needs of its ideal customer and promotes loyalty.

The concept of "true" is especially crucial for owners of conscious companies because of our commitment to being authentic and purpose driven. When applying true branding, we look at the world through our customer's eyes and then define what makes us unique from that perspective. This impacts our entire business. As Terri Maxwell from Shift/Co teaches in the Differentiation Pathway – "if you get positioning right, we never have to compete."


Likewise, when our brand's "why" is based on our values and beliefs, and aligns with customers’ needs, we will attract loyal customers.


Aligning our brand with our "why" our unique value, is significantly different from traditional branding. Traditional branding has justifiably earned a bad reputation because it can prey on emotions for the sake of profit.  Branding can force the customer to buy something they don't need or can't afford.  True branding is all about using our company's power for benefit and purpose, not manipulation.


Said another way: A brand has always been the face of a business, but now it is becoming the heart and soul too.


Why should conscious leaders adopt this style of branding?


Conscious leaders are driven by strong values and beliefs from which they started their business. Yet, we may be cautious about sharing them with customers. The good news is this is changing, and consumers are rewarding businesses that share their values and beliefs.


The trend for people to buy products and services that align with their values has been observed since at least 2009. That year, one of my favorite change agents, Simon Sinek, introduced the concept of "Start with why." The idea that we spend dollars on products and services from organizations that share our values.  


A 2020 IBM Institute for Business Value Survey found some thought-provoking trends related to customer's preference for purpose-driven brands.  They found that 40% of consumers surveyed were what they called "purpose-driven consumers" who were "willing to pay a premium for products and services that align with their values and lifestyle. Purpose-driven consumers are also willing to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact and care about issues such as sustainability and recycling."


Can you provide three tips that every conscious company should follow to ensure their branding is authentic?


1. Define what sets you apart

Today, the biggest challenge for most brands is to stand out from the clutter. If it is not clear to your customers what makes you different and how you will solve their problems, you will not be noticed.


2. Invest in consistency

The key to any brand is consistency. From reading a post to buying your product or service, every customer will evaluate every interaction for consistency with his or her perceptions.  Thus, behavior such as promptly returning a phone call may be more critical to your brand than your logo. Our brains are also wired to notice inconsistencies, so your customer will quickly identify any lack of authenticity that you show. Each inconsistency creates doubt and may confuse your customers and cause the loss of your best customer over time.


3. Understand what your best customers value the most


My process for defining a brand explores the "who," "what," and "how" of a brand using a strengths-based and positive approach.  I encourage my customers to include their ideal customers in the process. It is always surprising and emotional for a business owner to hear from their customers what they value the most. In most cases, it is not the product or service but who they are and how they interact with their customers.


How will true branding have an impact on conscious companies? What results can they expect to see?


True branding is the authentic voice and face of your company to customers. This outward expression requires care and intention when creating your messaging. True branding is an accurate reflection of you and requires that you be proud of what you are expressing.  One of the universal challenges I find is that many conscious leaders are so humble, that they don't feel comfortable talking about themselves. One of the most critical functions of a true brand is to find a way to talk about yourself that is authentic, comfortable, and easy because you feel "that is me."


I see impatient business owners so eager to start the creative process of logos and websites before they really understand their true brand that sets them apart from others. 


To generate results, I advise business owners to follow a proven process to develop a true brand as the first step. You must do this before investing in foundational elements such as a logo and website or engaging in paid promotions of your business.


What advice do you have for those in the process of creating or recreating their brand?


I recommend starting your brand definition by exploring your strengths and successes. I use an Appreciative Inquiry approach based on extensive academic research, neuroscience, and positive psychology. Because it is positive, you can involve your customers and incorporate what they value about your company.  Even your brand's personality can be best understood by asking those around you what they think and feel about your brand.  This is always fun, but more importantly, it provides insights to ensure your brand is true.


How can company's get more information?


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About Kim
















Kim has earned an MBA from SUNY at Buffalo, an MS in Creativity and Change Leadership from Center for Applied Imagination, SUNY Buffalo State, and a certification as a facilitator in Appreciative Inquiry. Her academic credentials combined with over 30 years of experience in branding and marketing for diverse industries worldwide give her both strategic and tactical capabilities. Her proprietary Build a True Brand™ process combines the Science of Creativity, Appreciative Inquiry, and Marketing Best Practices to achieve fast, effective and inspired outcomes. She meets you where you are and takes you where you want to go.



  • Haller, K., Lee, J. and Cheung J. (2020). Meet the 2020 consumers driving change: Why brands must deliver on omnipresence, agility, and sustainability. IBM Institute for Business Value.
  • Sinek, S. (2009). Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Penguin Group, New York, NY. TED Talk.
  • Maxwell, Terri, Shift/co, Conscious Business Growth Platform, Differentiation Accelerate and Demand Generation Accelerate Pathways Course Content.

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