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How to tell authentic stories

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July 19, 2018

How to tell authentic stories

By Simon Kearney, CEO
A colleague went to an event about authentic storytelling the other day. It got me wondering; what makes an authentic story?

For a journalist, it’s pretty straightforward. Good journalism is truthful and honest and the truth is, by definition, ‘authentic’. But what does authentic mean for brand content?

If truth is the holy grail of journalism, authenticity is what content creators strive for. One of the worst put-downs about any brand content is that it is inauthentic.

So how do you create authentic content? In a video case study, for instance, it means not scripting your subject’s answers. Let them express themselves in their own voice. In a blog, don’t insert boilerplate press release material or marketing-speak. Outlaw buzzwords and jargon. Real people don’t talk like that (or shouldn’t). Your audience will thank you for it.

For a brand film or TV commercial, authenticity is harder to deliver. The challenge is to convince the audience to suspend their disbelief and buy into the story. That can be achieved with great writing, authentic dialogue, engaging scenes and acting, together with a gripping storyline.

Use an authentic advocate. Check out Roger Federer in this brand film for example – in the desert, making music with his racquet and a tennis ball. But think about it. Are we really hearing exactly what we see? Unlikely. But it’s authentic, and we instantly buy into the idea. Because it’s Roger Federer, the nicest man in world sport, and it’s cool. Is it dishonest? Untruthful? That’s simply not the point.

One way to dilute or dismantle authenticity is by committee. Brand content is produced in a very dysfunctional way – it is commissioned and edited by lots of individuals, sometimes with competing agendas and preferences, and with multiple layers of sign-off. Final decisions are then made by people who have little or no professional storytelling experience. No wonder the results can often seem anything but authentic.

But there are some ways round that.

Employ a bullshit detector. Find someone who can stand up to the boss and be honest about a story that is going off the rails.

Recognise that problems often take root at the start. Good commissioning is a vital first step for corporate content creators, and it is frequently a neglected part of the process.

Look for real stories. Employ an outside journalist to interview people within your organisation; they will undoubtedly reveal a host of stories that you didn’t even know were there. Good yarns are often hidden in plain sight.

Make telling a good story your primary focus – more than any business objective. An authentic story will create awareness or help you sell your business. Take care of the storytelling and if you do it well, the rest will follow.

Tell the story as simply as possible. If you’re inserting elements because you think they will make you sound smart or cool, that should raise a red flag.

Finally, fill your story with colour, movement, interesting facts and great research. A well written piece should jump from line to line, informing and entertaining the reader from sentence to sentence. A great video should make you forget where you are and cause paralysis in that finger hovering over the pause button.

Thank you

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