The Power of Authentic Storytelling in the Digital Age
Storytelling has always played an instrumental role in how we as marketers connect with our audience. Storytelling is a persuasive technique that enables people and brands to connect in a deeper and more meaningful way. But the power of storytelling goes far beyond the application of marketing; “storytelling is a fundamental part of being human” (Hennebury). We, as humans, use stories every day to share and spread information because stories make information more digestible and memorable. They make information more memorable because they provide context to an idea, opinion, or fact. Stories contextualize the way we interpret the world around us. They are the history that helps us understand where we came from, the fairy tales that taught us good morals as we grew up, and most importantly, the key to building relationships and connections. Stories are the key to connection because they allow the storyteller to communicate their message effectively. Thus, authentic communication is the means by which marketers accomplish effective storytelling.
However, over the years, the marketing landscape has drastically changed, and therefore so has the way we tell and share our stories. Marketing is no longer a one-way communication channel, where marketers send a message or promotion out into the world and let it run its course. Social media, in particular, has transformed that. Instead, marketing is now more of this back-and-forth, a two-way communication channel where consumers can respond to, interact with, and share a brand’s message.
While social media can be an extremely powerful marketing tool, the level of transparency it presents a new challenge for brands: authenticity. Authenticity is this idea of staying true to who you are. It’s when your words align with your actions, and your actions align with your words. The problem occurs when there is a disconnect between the words and the actions. Social media provides transparency for consumers to identify any issue in a disconnect easily, and it also provides a space where consumers can address that issue. However, if a brand can embody this idea of authenticity, then it can overcome this obstacle in our current marketing landscape. And to do so effectively, a brand must tell their story in a way that is true to their core values and remain authentic to that story as they grow.
This article will explore the importance of authenticity in your storytelling marketing strategies. And to get a good understanding of what it means to be genuinely authentic in storytelling and why it’s essential, I have asked five marketing industry experts to give me their definition of authenticity and why they think it’s a vital part of storytelling.
Jonathan Teplitsky,CEO at Pipeline Marketing
“An authentic company promotes a particular point of view in all aspects of their business. They enforce processes consistent with their beliefs in marketing, hiring, product design, supply chain sourcing, and business development. Authentic companies will sacrifice short term profits or efficiencies to remain consistent with their core beliefs.
If a bank publicly touts their contributions to climate change while offering loans to companies contributing to deforestation, I don’t consider them authentic. An authentic bank would phase out partnerships with companies not aligned with the bank’s values. A truly authentic bank could take it a step further and offer current non-conforming clients cash incentives to quickly take their business elsewhere. Stories are the fastest way for a marketing team to explain the “why” of a company – the company’s deeper reason for existing. Apple sells products, but their deeper purpose is to “challenge the status quo of product design.” Authenticity is essential for storytelling because the repercussions for inconsistency are swift and severe. Companies caught portraying their values in a way that is inconsistent with their business model face severe consequences, especially with millennials. Relationships are built on trust, and losing that trust can cost a company a lot of money in damage control, or in the case of many startups, completely destroy them.”
Shelly Stromoski, Senior Web Marketing at Citrix
“Authenticity means honesty and transparency in your words and actions, and it is a critical element of successful marketing. Today’s consumers are more discerning than ever. They need not just a good product, but a “why” behind their choice to support your brand. Articulating your brand’s story with authenticity is just as, if not more, important than the product itself. Without that “why,” consumers are likely to look elsewhere.”
Sarah Cherres, CMO at Brand Fusion Lab
“Authenticity comes from a company or brand that is clear on its mission, vision, and values. Authentic companies are also clear on who their customers are and focus their efforts on serving them. They also work actively to provide an engaging experience at every touchpoint. Storytelling is one of the methods by which a company or brand can connect with its customers throughout the customer journey. It is an opportunity to express who they are and to share that experience with the customer through their channels.”
Alexis Betterson, Senior Sponsorship Coordinator at ACAMS
“Authenticity to me means being true to yourself and your brand even if that means you have conflicting interest. Not wavering on what you stand for and not just speaking about it but putting actions to it. The tiniest of actions can show what you stand for. I think that with storytelling you need to be authentic in order to make genuine connections with your audience and customers. If you’re not authentic then you lose the foundation of that connection and it’s not easy to get that back once your audience and customers feel they have to question who you are or your motives.”
Anna-Michelle Lavandier, Marketing & Sales Coordinator at Trip2 NEMT Software
“Authenticity is giving your real voice based on real experiences. There is a noticeable difference, either in tone or in text, when something is presented that is inauthentic. I believe that in storytelling, whether it’s marketing, journalism or any other kind of communication, authenticity is a major part. It brings the voice of the author/storyteller to life. If someone else is sharing that story, keeping things in the same tone of authenticity would be the best way to keep it genuine. It’s important that your voice, or the voice of the brand, shines through. It would be inauthentic if a brand or a person was represented in a way that is not true to who they are in essence.”
Considering all of the contributing experts’ interpretations of authenticity and its significance in storytelling, we can begin to see common themes arise around the topic of authenticity in storytelling. Those common themes are trust, consistency, and consequence. Trust is the idea that we believe in someone or something. As Johnathan mentioned, “relationships are built on trust,” and losing trust results in a damaged relationship between a brand and its consumers. But building trust doesn’t happen overnight; it requires time and consistency.
Consistency means you prove yourself each and every day to your consumers, like Johnathan’s example about a bank boasting about their contributions to a climate change foundation. A bank’s donation is nothing but a PR stunt as long as that bank is supporting companies that are massive contributors to climate change. One good deed doesn’t negate a bad one. A brand can’t just make up its own narrative and dictate how the world will consume it. They have to share their story and then continue to show up every day to embody that story of who they are. There’s no day off or exception. Consistency is key.
When you consistently build on that trust, you achieve authenticity. If you fail to be consistent, the consequences are “swift and severe,” as Johnathan noted. And your “consumers are likely to look elsewhere” because they no longer understand your “why” or your story, as Shelly mentioned. In other words, when you fail to be consistent, the consequence is losing the trust, or possibly that consumer. Authenticity is important in storytelling because it builds trust with your consumers, but to be genuinely authentic requires consistency. And when you lack consistency, the consequence is dismantling that trust. Thus, to achieve effective storytelling, be authentic to build trust with your audience and be consistent to maintain that trust.
Hennebury , Christine. “Storytelling Is Not Just Entertainment. It’s a Fundamental Part of Being Human | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 29 Mar. 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/storytelling-is-human-1.5511027.