Human beings never tire of stories. We enjoy narratives that engage our interest on an emotional level. We love plot, realistic characters, evocative settings, and we respond to the voice of the writer. Get it right, and you have a bestseller. The same goes for brand storytelling.

Good marketers can spin a golden yarn. Just today, I received a door-dropped flyer telling me the growing stories behind a new veg box scheme – and I’m hooked. I had a friendly email from a motherly high street retailer, reminding me of the season and my lifestyle requirements, and I have bought that new lamp. It’s clear that today’s creatives know how to contextualise products and services, and to convey brand values via editorial content. But there are still a few classic mistakes behind the scenes, and they are showing up on my doormat, and in my inbox and social feed. Brands: are you guilty of any of the following?

  1. Sticking to your brand tagline like a life raft because at some point, someone spent a lot of money on that carefully crafted sentence, even if the focus group no longer likes it. The strategy behind this creative might still be sound, but is there a new way to say it to attract a new audience? And what does it mean for content? You must allow room for flexibility, not only to appeal to different audiences but also to make room for growth, expansion and adaptability. Hats off to KFC, which launched a campaign amid the COVID-19 pandemic. After 64 years, they dropped the ‘finger lickin’ slogan, in response to the world’s focus on hygiene.
  1. Conversely, turning your back on the past, throwing out a whole archive of vintage advertising and marketing creative as it feels dated, instead of seeing the value of heritage and building on that. Today’s commercial landscape sometimes seems to be dominated by new, innovative start-ups but established businesses can engender trust with longevity – and a story-filled lifespan. Drawing from past creative and concepts can reinforce the value of heritage and reputability, especially for brands who have a long history and relationships with customers.
  1. Writing long tone of voice documents that insist all of your marketing materials will be ‘Open, Friendly, Lively and Authentic’, sending them around as a pdf and then sighing heavily as communications continue as normal, in the varying tones of the people who write them. How do you orchestrate that copy? How do you keep to style? Enter the experienced editor. Consistency brings success – your tone of voice instils recognition and trust.
  1. Relying on UGC for great customer stories and then wondering if you can photoshop the pictures without getting into trouble. Also, see “Engaging Influencers without a fully baked plan”. UGC and influencers need even more careful management than creative developed in-house. What might seem like an easy solution can quickly crumble without a considered strategy. Done well, it’s gold dust. For example, Canon’s Instagram feed is curated with content from its followers and users, but the platforms maintain a clear theme with community at the core. According to a study by Stackla, users are more than twice as likely to view user-generated content as authentic compared to brand-created content. But the UGC that works is curated with a plan in mind.
  1. Let’s talk about the unquestionable need for diversity and inclusivity. Brands have a huge part to play in redressing the balance and authentically reflecting our society. It’s easy to slip into token gestures if you lack a full commitment to the cause. The starting point is, of course, a diverse team. In 2018, Grey produced a campaign for Gillette around their Best a Man Can Get slogan to reflect what ‘best’ means for all men, combatting stereotypes and challenging sexist behaviour. Remember that the stories you are telling should allow people to see themselves reflected.
  1. Setting out with one set of KPIs and swapping to another mid-campaign. This is not an agile pivot, it’s a U-turn. Don’t start out looking for reach and engagement and then expect immediate sales. Back-fitting conversion tactics is a sticking plaster. Your creative will be focused on a specific outcome and will need to be strategically revised, not patched up mid-flight. Decide your long-term expectations before take-off. Specific driving tactics have specific results. Make sure these align with your audience’s needs.