September 26, 2016

5 Paths to Authentic Storytelling

Be authentic. It’s easy to say but hard to do.

Problem: Brands today face a major “authenticity deficit” where only 1 in 5 consumers say that brands and companies are open and honest, according to a report by Cohn & Wolfe.

Here are five ways that you can use authentic storytelling to not only reach audiences, but also resonate with them.

1. Ditch the Script

Within 1.7 seconds of a commercial starting, your audience knows they’re being sold to.

Perhaps, if you’re a lucky little leprechaun, it’s a product they are interested in. Barring that, you get the eye-glaze at best, and channel-turn at worst.

Whenever possible, use real people to communicate your message. We know authenticity when we see it.


Whether it’s your first year, intern-turned-junior-account-executive, or your call center middle manager, people relate to real people. In fact, the human brain is biologically programmed to hone in on faces. They also find frontline employees more believable.

Here’s an example of a product endorsement video Scenic produced that could have been a straightforward commercial but instead, utilized storytelling to get the brand messaging across.

Never do you doubt that this is a real vet. By driving in his truck and capturing his real life, (remember “Hi Doc! Hi Doc.”?) you get a sense of authenticity for the brand. You don’t think he’s an actor being given scripted lines. You believe that he believes in this product. Some have pushed back on this as native advertising, but if it’s delivered as content, your average consumer doesn’t necessarily see it that way. Or even care.

2. Go Behind the Scenes.

More than ever, today’s consumer wants transparency. Take them behind the scenes of your latest off-Broadway production, into the rarely seen recesses of your museum, or introduce them to the people working on your factory line and show how your product is so carefully put together. It makes your audience feel like they know you and that you invited them in as a VIP. It creates affinity and loyalty.

McDonald’s took the giant leap of taking teams behind the scenes, and while it did experience some pushback, consumers rated the brand in the top 10 most authentic brands in the U.S. in 2014.

3. Follow Your Passion. What’s your mission?
Cause marketing is a way to reach a new generation of consumers who want to buy products from companies that stand for something. Whether that’s curing childhood cancer, preventing domestic violence or saving the rainforest, lay out how your brand and employees are making the world a better place. If you don’t have a cause, get one. Don’t force it, though, or be self-serving, because that defeats the purpose of it being authentic. Just find something your team or leadership can rally around and be truly passionate about, and let your light shine.


4. Spot Magic in the Moment


authentic storytelling
Authentic storytelling in photography captures real moments – via Kate T. Parker Photography

Learn to recognize those moments at work when the magic happens. Magic is when you’re deeply moved by something a team member did or said. It can be something that made you laugh until you cried (like a good-natured practical joke), or when you just cried (like an employee gave up a kidney for a kid). Large or small, if something happens that you want to talk about later around your dinner table, that’s Magic. Share it on social. Make a video on it.  Be sure to follow Photographer Kate T. Parker on Instagram of #StrongIsTheNewPretty fame and she’ll show you, every day, how she captures outright magic in ordinary moments.


5. Drop the Façade
Stop trying to act like you’re perfect, whether that’s as a brand or as a person leading it. You’re much better off admitting (quickly!) that you made a mistake, because people are willing to forgive mishaps and largely believe in second chances. If you admit your mistake, your audience will be more likely to trust that you will fix the problem. Just don’t burn them twice.

Sometimes being authentic is hard to do, because it’s hard to see yourself from up close. You have to tap into what makes your brand unique, and what your brand promise is. If you don’t know, ask your audience. They’ll tell you. Authenticity is not just a buzzword. By showing your audience you’re genuine, you build a relationship to last.

Have you seen (or created) a great example of authentic storytelling lately? Share it with me and I could feature it in an upcoming blog.