If you’ve long held dreams of creating a profitable business or want to take your modestly sized company to greater heights, you’re not alone. Plenty of organizations – from start-up to established to legacy – have similar goals.

But in order to achieve their goals, they attempt to simplify the process of connecting with customers. They create a simple, uninspired approach of moving from point A to point B to point C with as little effort as possible.

The following scenario is, unfortunately, all too common:

Step 1: Create (or improve upon) a product or service.

Step 2: Develop some marketing and advertising for the above-mentioned product or service.

Step 3: Wait for adoring customers to take notice and show up knocking down the door clamoring for said product or service.

Step 4: Profit.

Unfortunately, things rarely work out this way. Marketing that drives growth is more involved. A lot more involved.

While step 1 has its varying degrees of difficulty, it is steps 2 and 3 that often make or break an organization’s success. In other words, it’s the way you connect with customers that often makes the difference between success and failure.

Sure, the path to success requires the foundation of a solution that appeals to a group of consumers.

But even with a must-have product or service, very few consumers will purchase it if you’re unable to meaningfully, authentically connect with them during the marketing and sales phase.

In other words, the more authentic you can make the consumer journey, the more people will want to take that journey with your brand.

Simply put, authentic marketing – marketing that resonates with customers on a deeply human level – is one of the keys to success.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at seven ways you can create an authentic and unique bond with your customers.

1. Be Personal, Be Positive, Be Aware

On the surface, it seems a lot to unpack, but creating a personal and positive experience for your clients boils down to understanding who your audience is and what it is that makes your company appealing to them.

More than just addressing your clients by their names or not wasting their time (both of which are also vitally important), understand what your customer really wants and then work to meet those needs.

In other words, work hard to understand your customer’s pain points and then work even harder to answer those pain points.

To get personal, know who your audiences are and segment your pitch so that you appeal to the individual needs of each diverse collection of buyers.

If you have a product whose appeal crosses demographics, know the pressure points of each and highlight the positive aspects of what you offer to each unique group.

More than that, though, dive even deeper with your client base and figure out what’s essential beyond a product or service.

What really, truly matters to your customers? And what authentic experience do you provide that they can’t find anywhere else?

Does your company live by a core set of values or endorse a particular cause that might connect with a specific type of consumer? Don’t hesitate to build that into your messaging, showing you care about more than just your bottom line.

Consumers care about companies that speak directly to them and put in the effort to personalize their experience.

2. Use Technology to Enhance, Not Replace the Customer Journey

If you’re a fan of movies, you’ve no doubt watched many on-screen CGI fests filled with huge explosions and mind-boggling special effects.

As cool as those images might be, if they don’t serve the story, then you’re left with a hollow film of very little substance.

Your marketing is no different. Sure, automation is great at making your life easier, but also keep the consumer and their journey in mind when integrating software platforms into your approach.

Know when to peel back on the tech and insert a human touch into your marketing or sales funnel. For example, 30% of consumers consider chatbots effective, and 63% don’t mind using them as long as a human voice remains an option.

Did you catch that last point? Most people don’t mind chatbots as long as they can still have an authentic connection with a person.

Even if current estimates of future automation hold, people still like one on one engagement with a real person. So make it easy for them, instead of forcing a client to fight through layers of AI or automation.

Nobody wants to waste time watching movies buried under layers of CGI with no story to tell. People don’t want to deal with companies that do the same.

Employ techniques that both enhance your brand and let the best human qualities shine through. After all, a good story is an authentic one.

3. Use Social Media to Build a Community

You’re probably tired of hearing about social media and all the good that it can do for your business. Even so, if it’s still not a central focus of your marketing plan, you’re missing out on a vital piece of engagement with your audience – that which happens on their terms.

Websites like Facebook and Twitter are tried and true communication platforms that give your brand unique and meaningful ways to connect with would-be and current customers.

Over half of consumers 18 to 34 have praised a brand via social media.

Taking that a step further, a third of consumers use social media sites to complain about a brand or its customer service.

Those numbers demonstrate that social media can help your brand or severely hurt it.

To ensure it’s the former, embrace your company’s online presence and work to build a network of fans across multiple platforms, using each as a place to provide customer service and to engage with your audience.

Consumers appreciate it when companies come to them and offer engagement on their terms. Create your own social media space and watch your brand’s community grow.

4. Hire the Right People, Train Them Well, and Empower Them

One of the most underrated aspects of authentic marketing involves the people you hire to carry out those marketing initiatives, including both sales and customer service reps.

Why does this matter? Well, consider the following:

73% of customers form lasting connections with a brand due in large part to a friendly service representative.

By 2020, just one short year away, customer service, and not price, will reign supreme as what separates companies in a competitive marketplace.

These powerful stats drive home the fact that a substantial component in giving your audience an authentic, rewarding journey is providing them with the right people to help guide them during brand engagement.

Your employees are effectively the face of your company, so educate and empower them to take the lead on helping your clients and growing your customer base.

Workers that are trained well, highly knowledgeable, and unfailingly friendly are often the difference between your brand being one people trust or one that consumers leave behind.

5. Simplify Engagement and Promote Self-Service

Speaking of empowerment, don’t overlook what it can mean for your customers as well.

Consumers, especially those in the US, love to take control of simple tasks whenever possible. Self-service allows the customer to feel like they’re in control of solving a particular problem or getting an answer to a question.

Creating self-service tools will serve two purposes:

First, it helps to focus your customer service team.

It reduces call volume and keeps your reps from burning out on the repetition of solving the same consumer concerns day after day after day. In turn, that frees up more time to handle difficult calls that can make or break the customer experience.

Second, it provides the customer with more control over their journey. They can solve minor issues on their own time, when it works best for them, versus adhering to your company’s schedule.

Something as basic as an FAQ or a slightly more involved knowledge center will do wonders for everyone involved.

6. Be Honest About Your Limitations, and Seek to Improve Them

If you look at it too closely, the old adage of under promise and over deliver is a cynical way to do business. It implies that, to impress a customer and ultimately meet their needs, you must lower expectations of your brand.

Sorry, but that’s no way to find lasting success in any field of business.

Instead, take the approach of touting what you do well; be upfront about the limitations your brand might have, but then show your customers that you are working to be even better.

Train your employees to say, “I don’t know, but I will find out” or “Let me get back to you on your questions,” and then actually follow up with the client with a response.

Customers care more about a positive experience and getting the right answers to their inquiries (even if it’s not the ones they expect), than being placated with a reply that doesn’t actually solve their problem.

7. Keep Your Prospects Close but Your Current Customers Even Closer

Finally, in the drive to gain new clients, it’s easy to forget about the ones who boosted your business to where it is today. The customer journey, however, does not end at the point of sale.

We are a communal society, and we love to share our experiences. Building an authentic journey for your customers – from first engagement to final purchase – means they more than likely will share that experience with others.

That can result in huge dividends for you.

Customer retention, of course, directly relates to increased profits.

But keeping those current and past customers happy and on your brand’s radar ensures your book of business is an ongoing story.

Case in point, a whopping 88% of buyers look to online reviews during the purchasing process, and 90% are ultimately influenced by positive reviews when buying a product or service.

So reach out to your past success stories regularly through social media or follow-up email marketing. Don’t forget to make that communication personal and let them know that you’re a brand that is committed to them.

The more you can positively influence past clients, the more significant the impact they’ll have on future ones.

Final Thoughts

If all of the above methods of authentic marketing seem a lot like common sense customer service, then you’ve picked up on the most vital aspect of connecting with clients in a truly genuine manner.

People don’t want to be viewed as a number or herded around from one point to the next like cattle. Smart, savvy consumers with money to spend want to connect with the brands they choose to do business with – and feel valued and fulfilled while doing so.

Meaningful engagement, useful tools, and an experience that caters to a consumer’s unique needs are what will distinguish the great businesses of the future from those that are merely average.

There’s no better time than now to start your company’s own journey and turn your dreams of greater success into a reality.Opinions expressed here are the opinions of the author. Influencive does not endorse or review brands mentioned; does not and can not investigate relationships with brands, products, and people mentioned and is up to the author to disclose. VIP Contributors and Contributors, amongst other accounts and articles, are professional fee-based.

Hafiz Muhammad Ali is a Ph.D. candidate and holds an MSc degree in Digital Marketing Leadership from the University of Aberdeen. He is the Founder & CEO of Omnicore Group which houses a global diversified service, eCommerce, and media companies.

He is a best-selling author of “Digital Passport” which is the first of its kind career book that offers a practical roadmap to a promising career in digital marketing.