Authentic storytelling: 5 rules for the new frontier of marketing

Contributor Peter Minnium explains why brands need to market with authenticity to win consumers’ trust and outlines five steps to help you craft and curate more authentic stories.


In ye olde advertising world, broadcast time was the most scarce resource in marketing; the most influential campaigns were the ones that best leveraged 30-second soundbites.

In the brave new digital world, media space has become virtually infinite, and the scarcest resource has become trust; the most influential campaigns are those which create a lasting bond with their consumers by marketing with “authenticity.”

Social media platforms have driven profound change not only in media, but increasingly in messaging as well. They allow people to broadcast their authentic selves and to connect with others who are like-minded, no matter how narrow their field of interest may be.

The result is a populace with a keener appreciation and more aggressive filter for what they are willing to accept as genuine communication. In the new world, marketing tactics must aim higher than just getting in front of consumers — they now must strive to elicit trust on the spot.

TV, newspapers and print are still powerful and massive mediums; heck, many of the established platforms and publishers are still the only places to reach millions of people simultaneously and repeatedly.

But, because of the way social has altered our mass media paradigm, what works as an effective message in those places now absolutely hinges on the perceived authenticity of the communication being delivered.

Viewability does not mean that an ad is truly being seen. Authenticity-based marketing is meant to ensure not just message visibility but that an ad is really seen, absorbed, trusted and acted on.

This includes a wide umbrella of tactics such as Influencer Marketing, Story Seeding, Native Advertising, Content Marketing and Product Placement, but can also be applied to long-standing advertising channels such as TV — see Dove’s “Real Beauty,” P&G’s “Thank You Mom” or Chipotle’s “Back to the Start.”

Messages need to resonate with consumers in so many different places and environments today, successfully marketing authenticity is as much about being an architect as it is about being an artist. When done right, however, the benefits are enormous.

Authentic benefits

Authenticity breaks through, skipping past personal spam filters. Humans have a sixth sense for the genuine and reward it with attention.

This allows major companies to advertise to consumers who are increasingly skeptical of proclamations by big companies. Losing the baggage of corporate communication and flexing authenticity instead gets a brand noticed.

Authenticity makes a deeper connection. The genuine resonates powerfully with people. We know this to be true with literature, paintings, architecture and friendship — and with advertising.

Authenticity differentiates from the non-authentics. Advertising clutter and near product parity make standing out harder than ever. Most marketers look outside of their brands for clever cultural connections to gain attention. What really stands out among the oft ham-fisted claims is the truth.

Authenticity is contagious, which spurs sharing. Letting people get in on the action, especially through enabling your super-fans, will further spark and cement the bond between your brand and your consumers.

Five steps to authentic storytelling

1. Uncover your authentic insight. All companies start with a clear purpose, to solve a real challenge, to be a hero to the consumer by making a difference. What is the red thread that gets pulled through everything you do? Making sure your marketing campaigns stay true to this red thread is critical for your perceived authenticity.

Too often we try to trick ourselves about what we need to stand for in order to be followed or loved. Consumers, in this new world, are accepting of the truth about products and brands; we need to embrace it as well.

2. Create an authentic big idea. What is the core idea that brings your insight to life in a way that can connect with consumers across multiple platforms? Big ideas need to be stronger and more flexible than ever.

Start with your truthful insight, and then figure out what the connection is to consumers; it’s often as simple as expressing common sense in an original way. Remember, your brand and product already occupy a unique space in the world — how can you succinctly capture that?

3. Find your authentic voice. Your campaign needs to speak volumes of truth. What is the appropriate voice for doing so? What tone do you use? This will become a distinctive asset for you.

Create a list of “would say this” vs. “wouldn’t say this” so that you can get specific with expressing what your brand stands for. It’s important to be as defined as possible because this voice will not only need to be communicated through your brand, but also from the many third parties (content partners, influencers and spokespeople, for example) who will be speaking on your behalf.

4. Select your authentic spokes-vehicles. In the Oval Office, the president has a cabinet full of secretaries who advise and execute on categories of policy. They’re selected based on experience, capability and how proficiently they will be able to execute the president’s will.

Your brand needs a cabinet. Who are the right people or vehicles to communicate your message? Is it media, a person, an event, a celebrity, a cartoon?

What is the right balance of branded vs. unbranded content? Most importantly, how will they communicate what your brand stands for? Selecting and maintaining your spokes-vehicles, like a president in office, is an ongoing process, not a set-it-and-forget-it tactic.

5. Iterate and reiterate. You have an authentic insight, idea, voice and spokes-vehicles. Now you need to figure out what your communication priorities are and map out an execution plan accordingly.

TV, social, digital video, print content, product placement — all of these are potential placements for your message, but each requires a different tact to be effective in communicating with authenticity. Make sure to be where you are welcome, where you fit in, where you can be additive. This will require experimentation, learning and continual fine-tuning.

Planned authenticity

The mild irony in writing an article detailing steps to carefully craft and curate more authentic stories for brands to win consumer trust (and their money) is not lost on me, dear reader.

Unlike some of the smoke-and-mirror tactics the industry has collectively been under fire for in the past, however, this call to authenticity was not engineered in a board room on Madison Avenue or Wall Street, or even a yoga studio in Silicon Valley.

It stems from the fact that the world is hungry for more truth, realness and transparency. Social media platforms are enabling our consumers to express their authentic selves — and they expect the same from the brands they choose.

As marketers, we have a unique opportunity to home in on this shift in values and knowledge, which we can use to transform the way brands interact with consumers and influence how those companies grow in a more scrupulous setting.

Whether you view this from the perspective of a hungry capitalist or tireless do-gooder, facilitating more authentic stories has just become good business.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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