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Authenticity beats all: the art of successful storytelling

The worst thing a brand can do when storytelling is to be untrue to themselves. Having a genuine purpose and sticking with it is essential, according to a group of senior marketers...

Authenticity beats all: the art of successful storytelling

Marketing chiefs and agency heads were unequivocal about the importance of authenticity in storytelling during a roundtable discussion hosted by Pippa Scaife (pictured left), commercial director of emerging brands at CNN International Commercial.

Anne-Laure Meynial-Coumaros, head of customers and corporate communications at EDF Energy, warned other brands never to lie. "Do not lie and try to say anything that is not true to you as a brand – it will bounce back on you," said Meynial-Coumaros, speaking at a roundtable discussion during Media360 in Brighton.

Meynial-Coumaros said storytelling is crucial for EDF even though as a utility company EDF is not a brand people are inclined to love.

"Storytelling only works for us if we tell the stories of our customers and what we bring to their lives," she said. "This year [advertising] will be about mobility and electric vehicles, because we think it is the right time to do it, we are working towards a cleaner future."

She described EDF’s campaign where Influencers will communicate the message, travelling the length of the UK in electric vehicles to tackle the "myth" that there are not enough smart charging points.

They’re watching you
An increasingly enlightened and empowered consumer is likely to call out any inauthenticity: "If the story is about losing weight and you have a McDonald’s logo next to it, do I really believe in it?" asked Pamela Brown, CMO of consumer IoT at Vodafone. "If it does not feel like it makes sense for the consumer and throws up more questions than it answers then it is just a badging exercise."

Anna Bateson (pictured right), head of UK marketing at Innocent Drinks, said authenticity has to be infused throughout the company for it to ring true.

"Authenticity is so important there is no point just telling a story because it is fashionable, you have to tell it well," she said. "Innocent was founded with a purpose, the challenge we have now is [our foundation story] does not feel as relevant, we are 21 years old as a company. We have to update that story or find a new story and what connects.

"A brand story can’t just be on TV, it is also about the customer experience and how it is retold, and the fame, sharing and talkability of it, you need a great story but be able to tell it in different ways internally and externally and it has to be authentic.

"There is an easy trap to fall into: story-telling as a tick box. There’s more complexity to it," said Bateson.

Internal buy in and a sense of brand purpose is crucial to truly push brand stories, according to Brown. She said: "Startup founders tell brilliant stories – some of them are slightly exaggerated but it brings the business together and it is at the core of what they are setting out to achieve."

Iain Bignold, EMEA client lead at The&Partnership, said that honesty is vital because there is "nothing worse than going out there and saying something that isn’t true to what you are as a brand".

No love lost
Scaife explained an increasing number of brands are approaching CNN about partnering to help communicate their purpose as a company.

"About 60% of our partnerships touch our in-house creative studio, which largely tells stories about issues," said Scaife. "It is much less about creating an ad and more about creating that sense of purpose."

Andrew Davison, managing partner and head of new business at MediaCom, advised marketers to be wary of stories that "paper over the cracks" in their brands.

Are they really interested?
Another potential pitfall is marketers overestimating the interest consumers have in their brand stories. "I don’t know how much time consumers have for a brand story," said Brown. "Social proof and hearing other customer stories are probably more relevant."

Once brands have an authentic and relevant story to tell the next step is to ensure the message does not get lost in translation across different platforms.

"CNN started as a TV company but more than 70% of campaigns are now multiplatform and we don’t tend to see that as TV or digital because both are fundamental to most of our partnerships," said Scaife. "It is about being able to maintain the core message regardless of what format or platform you are distributing it on.

"So when consumers find that content – because consumers are not looking for content any more, they are just finding it wherever they are – it continues to resonate.

"They might have seen it on our YouTube channel and then on our TV channel and then on our Twitter channel but because the core message is consistent, it will have that triple impact."

Swagat Choudhury (pictured left), digital and media head of global travel at Diageo, said the days of creating a "long story" are gone and now brands need to make sure it works in a six-second format for mobile and social.

Michael Tripp, general manager of brand communications at Lexus, said previously agencies would pitch a film to brands and then the rest of the marketing activity would be built off its back.

"We are now pitched on the mobile idea – the five second ad – then ask ‘is there enough to build a film?’," said Tripp. "The way we consider brand content is the reverse of how we used to."

Simon Edward, VP and CMO at IBM UK & Ireland, concluded that stories now need to be flexible to ensure they work across platforms.

He said: "It needs to be modular and ‘snackable’ and being able to unpack it and go back for more is very important. The story can be the same core, but the way you consume it is very different."

The session…

CNN hosted this roundtable at Media360 in Brighton in May. Attendees were: Pippa Scaife, commercial director of emerging brands, CNN International Commercial; Maisie McCabe, deputy editor, Campaign; Pamela Brown, CMO of consumer IoT at Vodafone; Simon Edward, VP and CMO (UK and Ireland) at IBM; Anne-Laure Meynial-Coumaros, head of customers and corporate communications at EDF Energy; Iain Bignold, EMEA client lead at The&Partnership; Michael Tripp, general manager of brand communications at Lexus; Anna Bateson, head of UK marketing at Innocent Drinks; Andrew Davison, managing partner and head of new business at MediaCom; Ella Gardiner (pictured below), head of brand at Virgin Trains; Paul Rowlinson, MD at GroupM Digital; Swagat Choudhury, digital and media head of global travel at Diageo

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