Express yourself: Building an authentic brand identity

In the latest in our StartUp Studio Insight blog series, marketing and communications experts Astley Media provide insight into establishing an authentic brand identity.

Astley Media is a marketing and PR agency with specialist teams working in the tech, government and education space.


Being authentic as a brand is more than about having values. 

It’s about those values permeating all aspects of your company, underpinning your product and how you position your brand in the market.

When done right, authenticity is incredibly powerful. Done badly, it can ruin a company’s reputation overnight.

The benefits of having an authentic brand can be summarised by the three Ts:

  • Trust
  • Transparency
  • Tribe 

Let’s look at each in turn.


Trust is the bedrock of your company’s future success. It is slow to build and quick to throw away.

Vegan milk brand Oatly faced a backlash in 2020 over its decision to sell a stake in the company to an investor allegedly linked to deforestation in the Amazon.

The company’s actions appeared to starkly contradict its values as a planet-friendly, low impact brand. Boycotts and protests followed, which the company’s statement on the matter did little to assuage.

Facebook’s involvement in the Cambridge Analytica scandal is another example. The privacy concerns and secrecy around the scandal seemed to smash a hole through the company’s core values to “be open, and build social value”. A reported 66% drop in trust in the brand ensued. 

As Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, said at the time: “We have a basic responsibility to protect people’s data, and if we can’t do that then we don’t deserve to have the opportunity to serve people.” 

Words are easy – deeds are hard. 

A large bedrock

Trust is the bedrock of your company’s future success. It is slow to build and quick to throw away.

Building an authentic brand takes time, and the marketplace will punish you if your company’s actions fail to live up to your value statement. 

So, is it worth it? Absolutely. 

Taking the time to establish an authentic, trustworthy brand will pay dividends in the form of a committed customer base and long-term loyalty.

It is important to be honest with your brand’s messaging. Don’t be tempted to say what potential customers want to hear – say what you believe.

If your product is right, it will encapsulate your values by default. 

Pepsi was forced to pull its 2017 ‘Live For Now’ advert after accusations of trivialising the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality. The” tone-deaf” messaging of that ad failed utterly to reflect the company’s actual values and brand identity. Contrast that with the success of the Always #LikeAGirl campaign, which also touches on sensitive topical issues (in this case gender identity and confidence through puberty), but in a way which marries the brand identity with the campaign messaging.

Put simply, potential customers or clients are not going to trust your messaging if it fails to match your brand identity.

At Astley Media we work regularly with clients to help them find their brand identity. That might seem like an easy proposition but it’s not. 

Your brand identity encapsulates all facets of your company: your product, your people, your ethics, your employment practices, your price. 

The Astley Media Discovery Process helps founders and company leaders to plot a brand strategy, using audience and market insights, and establish clear brand messaging and proposition.

Only with a clear brand identity in place can you begin to create meaningful, impactful messaging. And with impactful messaging comes trust in your brand. 


Being authentic means being transparent with your customers, clients and stakeholders. 

The social media management platform Buffer pursues a famously open model, publishing information such as employee salaries, open source code and even end of year reports on its website.

This approach leads back to point 1 – trust. Their ‘default to transparency policy’, in the words of Himanshu Sareen of global IT consultancy Icreon, “imbues Buffer with a trustworthiness that they wouldn’t otherwise possess. If they’re willing to publish their employee salaries, after all, why would they have any reason to deceive users about something as simple as a license agreement or pricing model?”

Social media offers a new way for brands to be authentic in their communications. Online platforms allow for honest, authentic communication between brands and their community that pre-digital channels never could.

But here’s the thing: most brands aren’t taking advantage of that fact. And it’s especially bad with B2B marketing.

Transparent bubble

Being authentic means being transparent with your customers, clients and stakeholders.

Think to yourself: when you create content for your company’s social channel, do you put your soul into it or do you play it safe?

Do you tell a story, or rely on facts and figures? 

Luis Congden of Thriving Launch shared his experience of telling his personal story online, rather than playing it safe with corporate speak. “Initially, it was scary to push the envelope that way,” Luis says, “but as the fans grew, the engagement increased and more customers started to flood in — I knew transparency marketing worked.”

Telling the story of your brand is essential to building a transparent relationship with your clients and customers. 

As Adrian Wheeler FCIPR, author of Writing for the Media, says: “Personal narratives beat corporate statements every time. ‘When I visited our outlet last week I had to wait twenty minutes to get into the car-park’ makes us listen. ‘Like-for-like sales will be up by 30 per cent in the fourth quarter’ makes us switch off.”

Building a transparently human narrative around your product is essential to having an authentic brand identity.

The Astley Media team are experienced in a wide range of channels, including social media, long-form PR, visual campaigns, content marketing such as podcasts and webinars, events, and storytelling. 

Using insight-driven content, we help brands to successfully create honest messaging that gets results.


“There are two types of people in the world. Those who want to know, and those who want to believe.” Friedrich Nietzsche

Well, our man Freddie was a reasonable philosopher, but he certainly wasn’t a marketing expert.

When it comes to establishing your brand identity, believing is knowing.

When your customers or clients approach your brand, they don’t just want to know the facts and the figures. They want to understand the story behind your brand, to come on the journey with you. To believe.

Colourful graffiti saying 'Believe'

When it comes to establishing your brand identity, believing is knowing.

First and foremost, you should accept that you’re not going to sell your product to everyone. Apple is one of the most successful technology brands in existence, and yet there are millions of people around the world who would seemingly rather stick to paper and pen than use an iPhone.

Is that surprising? Not really.

A recent research paper called “Consumer Brand Hate: Steam rolling whatever I see” by S. Umit Kucuk found:

“Over 150 different brand names were mentioned by respondents as hated brands. About 50% of brand hates came from 30 brands listed in the most valuable global brand list for the year this study was conducted (the most hated brand, with 12%, was Apple, and, with 9%, Walmart). This indicates the phenomenon of “Negative Double Jeopardy”: the most valuable brands generate more Brand Hate than their less valuable counterparts.”

Take comfort in the fact that, if you want to create a brand as hated as Apple, you would need to become extremely successful first.

However powerful your product, you will never convince everyone to buy it. The task is to find the people who will buy it, and sell to them.

Once you accept that there are sections of the market you are destined never to conquer, it becomes an easier proposition to be authentic in your marketing. Why? Because, within reason, you don’t have to fear putting people off. Liberate yourself, be honest and transparent with your marketing, and your community will come to you.

That’s what we call a tribe and that’s what you want to build.

A tribe isn’t a group of customers. It’s an interconnected community with shared values and a shared goal.

Your tribe will share your messaging on social media. They will buy into your product and engage with your brand. They will take your content and circulate it, build upon it, act upon it. 

Your tribe gives energy to your brand.

At Astley Media we have worked with a wide range of clients to help them find, and connect with, their tribe. From supporting Plymouth Science Park to deliver business support webinars, developing cutting edge market insight reports with technology strategy experts Timewade, to helping Tech South West establish the Tech South West Awards, we make it our mission to connect brands with their tribe and build a community around them.

Building a tribe is the final step in establishing an authentic brand identity, and making your company more than an entity that sells a product, but a tangible force for good in the community it serves.

To learn more about how Astley Media can help your brand to develop its authenticity and grow, contact

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