How to make an authentic impact with brand storytelling
Customers are smart and discerning, and fakery simply won’t fly. Filtered Media Account Director, Charlotte Goodwin, reveals the incomparable power of authentic storytelling and how brands can best harness it.

Last year, a Consumer Content Report conducted by Stackla surveying adults in the U.S., UK and Australia revealed that 86% of consumers believe “authenticity is important when deciding what brands they like and support”. When it comes to millennials specifically you’re looking at 90%.

So if it’s important to customers, how exactly should brands go about demonstrating authenticity? The most effective way is to tell genuine stories that reveal the brand’s purpose, values and the customer experience they offer, in order to foster trust – ‘aka’ brand storytelling.In her book Stories for work: The essential guide to business storytelling, Gabrielle Dolan says that “being seen as unauthentic can significantly damage your credibility, your image and your brand… It’s not worth being anything but authentic and sharing stories that are authentic.”

The days when marketers could spin any old yarn about a product and attract customers are almost completely behind us (and thankfully so). This ‘fake news’ era has spawned a more informed and discerning audience that must be appealed to on genuine terms and eye-to-eye; rather than instructed on what to think, feel or do.


Real stories + brand purpose = trust

The 2018 NZ Brand Alpha study found “the most authentic brands combine: purpose, personality and a commitment to continuously reshape category value, delivered through beautifully designed customer experiences.” This underlines that there are specific markers which brands can aim to achieve in order to be considered authentic.

One example is The Guardian. In recent years it has made a move towards only serving branded content through storytelling and driving the publication’s brand purpose. This poses the question, if a legacy brand founded in the 1800s can undergo transformation but continue to be values-driven and remain authentic today, why can’t all other brands?

According to Brand Partnerships Director of Guardian Labs, Susie Bayes, who spoke at the World Forum Disrupt Digipublish conference in May 2018, consumers are increasingly ignoring companies’ words and looking into their actions.

“It’s no coincidence that The Guardian have increasingly transitioned away from just doing brand ads – which we still value and see performing – but to providing more of a service where we can leverage our reader trust in creating brand content. And now we’ve really pulled that further in moving on to an increasing ‘civic storytelling’ focus for brands… which reflects our purpose,” Susie said.

The roles within the ecosystem are clear:

  1. Brands must produce content that is purpose-driven, engaging and customer-focused in order to be trusted.
  2. Marketers by extension must provide customers with real and substantial evidence for why they should buy-in to a brand and its offerings.
  3. Customers develop trust in the brand through positive experiences and then share those experiences with the brand community to drive further trust.


“If you’re your authentic self, you have no competition.” – Anonymous


Customers are already sharing their stories

It can be easy for marketers to get caught up in pitching unique strategies and eye-catching creative to engage new customers and overlook the brand’s most powerful source of advocacy – their existing customer base.

A group of customers that have already trailed a brand’s conversion journey and have decided to stick around are a genuinely engaged audience who can speak to why they are loyal to that brand with authentic candour.

The Stackla report also revealed 60% of consumers believe user-generated content (UGC) is the most authentic, compared to content created by brands and stock imagery.

A good example of a brand broadcasting their authentic self online is LUSH Cosmetics Australia, which sports an average organic reach on Facebook of between 10,000 to 600,000.

“We don’t spend money on TV campaigns, on celebrity endorsement. We don’t promote social media posts. So everything we do is organic. So every Facebook post is organic. We have no budget to push behind it,” Natasha Ritz, former CMO of LUSH told The CMO Show.

“It creates an opportunity for creativity. And it means that we invest in things that are more important, like our ingredients and our supply chain and where we source things from. And our people.”

“I think the way that we cut through is that our stories are about real people, and they’re about our staff. All of our staff are the only people we use in our windows, in our marketing, in our social. We don’t Photoshop people. We get our staff involved in the things they want to be involved in and so I guess what it does is it creates an authentic brand story and an authentic position that people resonate with. And therefore choose to be interested in,” Natasha said.

Marketers can effectively leverage the customer feedback loop of social media – customer buys a product, customer enjoys the product and customer posts to social media about their positive experience with the product – by sharing and engaging with the customer’s content to build a community around it.

Importantly, UGC isn’t derived from paid promotion like influencer content and needn’t be rebadged as branded content with logos and taglines. UGC is ‘real’ customers giving personal brand testimony of their own accord. It’s arguably the most authentic brand story of all.


The ultimate storytelling vehicle

In this TL;DR age, video is one storytelling format with exceptional cut-through. It provides marketers with an evocative brand messaging medium. Putting a human face to a story readily elicits engagement, an assertion backed up by behavioural psychology.

Leisa Bacon, Director of Audiences at the ABC told The CMO Show: “[As a marketer] your job is to understand consumers and to do everything you can to meet their needs.”

The ABC’s recent brand repositioning campaign, ABC Yours, was led by a video content series both published as online content via YouTube and broadcast as ABC TV spots. The types of video storytelling they leveraged included a clipshow of ABC content overlaid by campaign taglines, a short history of the ABC, a music video and most powerfully, a series of short clips of real Australians sharing their personal ABC experiences.

This campaign serves as a solid example of the different types of authentic stories brands can tell through just one content medium – i.e. history of the brand, case studies, testimonials, explainers, product demonstrations, e-learning, corporate social responsibility efforts, the list goes on.

Do however make sure to keep accessibility and the intended channel of content in mind when intending to create authentic video storytelling to maximise the reach of the content to all relevant audiences.

A brand’s own story is the amalgamation of its history, purpose, values and most importantly, the stories customers tell based on their experience of the brand.

Telling real stories helps brands make an authentic impact in the market. There’s no room for fakery on the journey to cultivating customer trust. The old adage “being true to yourself” rings true for brands too.

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