To celebrate National Storytelling Week, corporate and brand storytellers Insight Agents commissioned Sussex University’s Innovation Centre to interview senior marketers in the UK retail sector to talk to us about the challenges they face in telling their brand’s stories. In this week-long series of blogs, we’ve been exploring the major themes from this research, as well as giving advice on how to overcome barriers to better storytelling. Today, Luke Baldwin explores why companies should strive for authenticity in their brand communications. And talk like people talk.
After ensuring consistency across all touchpoints and avoiding jargon whenever possible, an important third challenge facing businesses in their storytelling is how to be authentic. Authenticity in brand storytelling refers how genuine and honest a brand is in its messaging; how much it talks like a straightforward person might talk. It’s an expression of the corporate “why” or purpose, and it’s reflected in every aspect of its existence – from how it speaks to its representation in its products, its people and even its physical spaces. This includes offices, factories, and, in the case of retail, its shops.
Truly authentic brands tell a coherent story. Brands like Burberry. Brands like M&S. And, of course, brands like Apple. They’re memorable because they connect with us both rationally and emotionally. This matters because this approach enables us to identify with a message or mission as a reality we inherently trust. Like we trust the people we trust.
An authentic story is one of the keys to retail brand success. But a major challenge for the storytellers we spoke to arises when this message is blown off course by external forces, and the tensions of modern communication create challenges to brand authenticity. Digital technology has ushered in a new era of transparency, and Twitter, blogs and twenty-four-hour news cycles have bred an “always on – always open” culture of brand-to-customer interaction.
This means that brands are no longer solely the property of the corporations they represent. They are now owned just as much by their consumers and customers. Everyone is now a stakeholder and everyone’s opinion can be influential. Many more voices matter. And this is why social media is increasingly dominating marketing communications.
When asked how they would describe the tone they use on social, the marketers we spoke to in our research said their brand’s voice was “fun”, “chatty” and “convivial”. This was directly contrasted with their voice in other channels – such as corporate and trade media relations – which tended to be “exclusively rational” or “price-oriented”.
Using social in this way is to be encouraged. Difficulties arise, however, when brands use it as the only outlet for corporate personality. At its heart, authenticity is about practising what you preach; being clear about who you are and what you do best and owning a voice that reflects this consistently through every channel. If brands become too comfortable being chatty and conversational on social but cold and corporate in media relations, for instance, their voice becomes polarised. Soon, cracks start to show within the narrative. And brands suffering from corporate multiple personality disorder are rarely seen as authentic for long.
At Insight Agents, we believe that brands should talk like people talk. We know that simple, readable content in any channel is not only more engaging. It’s also more authentic. We believe that the brands that do this consistently can have an audience captivated before they even speak, eagerly waiting what they’re going to say next. And prepared to share content and become part of their volunteer salesforce because they like what they say and how they say it.
Take Innocent. We all know Innocent as a playful brand that makes juices, smoothies and fruit and vegetable snacks. Many competitors – branded and private label – also do this. But more consumers love Innocent because, from their cartons to their website, they speak in the same recognisable voice that radiates an authentic, light-hearted personality. Whether or not we actually consume the product, merely interacting with the brand can make us feel happier.
Innocent is incredibly astute in communicating its “why” in a simple and accessible manner, and this has created a brand that is very easy for us all to consume. As a product and as a brand.
We like them because they talk human to us. And human is the only truly authentic dialect of corporate speak.
Sam Knowles is a master data storyteller and the Founder & MD of the consultancy Insight Agents. His purpose is to help organisations make smarter use of data, talk Human, and sound like people. An established and sought-after trainer, keynote speaker, and podcaster, he is the founder and host of Data Malarkey podcast and chair of I-COM’s Data Storytelling Council. He’s a Fellow of the Market Reserach Society, the RSA, and the Professional Speaking Association.
Sam is the author of the ‘Using Data Better’ trilogy of books, all published by Routledge. These include the 2018 best-seller Narrative by Numbers, 2020’s critically-acclaimed sequel, How To Be Insightful , and 2022’s eagerly-anticipated Asking Smarter Questions. In 2023, Insight Agents launched Using Data Smarter, a comprehensive, online training course based on all three books.
Find out more about Sam’s approach to data storytelling in this 15-minute video.