Storytelling is the buzzword of the marketing world, but today’s consumers are super savvy and if something doesn’t ring true, they will quickly tune out.
That’s why organizations better be sure their stories are authentic when using this popular marketing tool.
But what does authenticity mean in a world where consumers are bombarded with social media and fake news and their trust in companies continually erodes?
We might define authenticity as honesty, but it means more than that. It also means staying true to the personality, spirit and character of your organization, and being sincere without pretentions.
A recent report underscores why being authentic is critical when it comes to marketing.
The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer (Canada), an annual trust and credibility survey of more than 33,000 people in 28 countries, found Canadians are trusting institutions far less than they once did. The survey also shows Canada was among the most distrusting nations for the second year. Canadians – 65 per cent of them – worry about false information or fake news being used as a weapon. Trust in social media is also low while Canadians’ faith in various industry sectors keeps declining.
The Barometer also found 51 per cent of Canadians agree companies that only think about themselves and their profits are bound to fail. Also, 68 per cent believe that CEOs are driven more by greed than a desire to make a positive difference in the world.
Canadians also think businesses must be agents of change, and they have a renewed appetite for credible, authoritative voices.
“Fears about fake news are pervasive, and we are seeing Canadians turn back to credentialed experts in their efforts to dispel them,” said Lisa Kimmel, president and CEO, Edelman Canada. “But in this uncertain world, rational conversation is essential. Canadians are signalling that trust will depend on clarity, balance and validation.”
Kimmel says this is an opportunity for businesses to be proactive in seizing upon these factors.
Businesses need to look beyond financial performance and leverage the kind of attributes that have traditionally made Canadian companies trustworthy through values and a sense of purpose, she added.
Businesses and organizations must find an authentic voice, no matter how they get their message out, even if it’s as simple as a blog or sponsored content.
Equally important is how the storytelling is executed. Sophisticated readers will quickly see through blatant advertising attempts. Content that has an obvious advertising bent will lose readers quickly and so will the use of jargon or corporate speak.
But if you can craft a story that people can connect to on an emotional level and leave them with a lasting impression, you’ll find success.
With technology and social media, reaching a large audience through storytelling has become easy.
“In my opinion, brand storytelling is the most valuable investment an organization can make,” says Tina Powell, a Toronto-based author and storyteller.
“Storytelling communicates brand differentiation, increases brand loyalty, and creates strong internal and external brand communities. It also can have a dramatic impact on revenue,” she says.
Powell points to a 2014 Waggener Edstrom report which found that brand storytelling through social media can result in a 257 per cent boost in incremental revenue and 90 per cent more consumer advocacy.
“Today’s consumer is both savvy and skeptical,” says Powell.
To ensure brand stories are authentic, she suggests they become part of an organization’s culture. “They should be sourced from employees, senior management, company founders, senior management and customers.”
Authentic storytelling, she adds, isn’t just sharing a company’s successes, but also its crises and conflicts.
“Customers experience struggles in their lives every day. A story without struggle is often not believable,” Powell says.
An organization that tries to alter or create its brand stories to align with marketing agendas can backfire, leaving customers and employees to view it as manipulative and inauthentic.
Mark Evans, who runs a consulting company in Toronto, helps companies focus on marketing plans that drive leads, sales and awareness and helps them execute plans.
Storytelling is a vital marketing tool, he says, but for it to succeed you must know the interests of your audience.
“To come across as a real brand, a brand that talks about not only the good parts of the business but the challenges of running a business, I think that’s important for people,” says Evans.
Find a way to relate to consumers on an emotional level.
“I think people want to connect with brands. They want to feel that brands understand what their needs are and what their challenges are. Authenticity is a way of demonstrating that you’ve got empathy for your audience. That you understand they’ve got problems that need to be solved and you’re a brand that can help them,” says Evans.
Still, Evans says that brand storytelling isn’t being leveraged the way it should be by many Canadian businesses.
“I would say that in Canada brand storytelling is undervalued and underused, unfortunately.”
Evan believes too many Canadian businesses, unlike American companies, focus their marketing efforts on tactics, such as customer acquisition and generating more revenue and leads.
“There’s not enough appreciation of the power of storytelling.”
“American companies understand storytelling. They invest in storytelling in a much bolder way. And their storytelling is much more creative. Canada’s behind the ball when it comes to brand storytelling.”