Fear of Storytelling & Other Tales of Brand Failure


The Internet is killing Advertising.  Or at least what we would consider traditional advertising.

Fewer people believe the claims.  More people tune it out.  Or just avoid it all together (fast forward anyone?).

The Internet has ushered in an era of transparency, openness and instant access to information. There’s no place to hide. So claiming to be an environmentally conscious company while getting caught polluting ground water – blows your “advertising messages” into a million pieces.  Most people – particularly the growing segment of digital natives – don’t believe advertising anymore – because they can see right through it.

That’s why brands that are authentic, open and honest win in this new environment.  Companies like Zappos, Life is good*, Tom’s of Maine and Starbucks are admired and rise to the top while companies that continue to conduct business under the old rules run into problems.

In this new age the ability to create interactive and authentic stories is the new currency.

Yet most brands still don’t get it right.

Here’s five reasons why:

1. Fear of Storytelling

Stories are complex.  They are emotional.  They can be non-linear.  They are also conversational.  Most brands have a difficult time with all of this – especially the conversation part.  They feel much more comfortable telling (more often than not shouting).  Pushing out “messages.”  Crafting “brand” images – even if that image flies in the face of reality.  It’s hard to let go of tag-lines and multi-million dollar advertising campaigns – even when there is mounting evidence that people don’t believe it anymore.

2. Platform Misunderstanding

Every channel is different.  Content for YouTube is different from content for Twitter.  That’s why your stories need to be optimized for each social media channel.  Yet many brands continue to think about content in the singular.  They created it and then push it out on all of their existing channels – even if the content doesn’t work on a specific channel.  It happens all the time in numerous ways: posting a photograph that doesn’t fit on the Facebook Timeline, using a hashtag at the beginning of a tweet, posting a video to YouTube through a private account rather than the brand account, failure to correctly tag images on Instagram, etc…

I could list dozens of examples.

Every social channel has quirks, tricks and best practices to get the most out of content.  It is important to have platform experts who understand the channels and know how to engage with the audiences that follow and interact with brands there.

3. Creative Wasteland

Too many brands still think of social media as text-based.  They write a post and then buy a photo stock image to illustrate it.  I recently worked with one client that posted an image that had already been used 500 times.  That’s not a recipe for building creditable and authentic social media communications. Brands should think about social content as multimedia: images, graphics, videos, polls and applications.  Mixed media are a powerful ways to tell stories – especially if it reflects the look and feel of the brand.

Brands also continue to use a bulletin board approach to content.  One day they post a job opening.  The next a link to a press release.  Next a photograph of their new product. There’s no narrative – no flow.  No reason for their audiences to tune in.  Brands should consider campaigns and ongoing themes for their social channels.

If you are supermarket then dedicate July to barbecues and outdoor dining.  If you are an outdoor brand dedicate January to winter sports.  If you are an online security company dedicate a month to employee privacy.  Ladder up the content to build your story and themes.

4. Engagement Phobia

“Sorry about your problem.  Please call our customer service line at 1-800-PASS-THE-BUCK.”  How many times have you read something similar on Facebook or Twitter?

Social platforms are rooted in engagement.  Talk to the people who are complaining.  Encourage the people who love you.  Reward those who recommend you.

The worst offense?  Ignoring everybody or passing the buck.


5. Addicting to Selling

Here’s a coupon!  We’re having a sale!  Buy this!  Buy that!

Stop selling on social channels – unless it is interwoven into your stories.  Nobody wants their social feeds clogged with advertising.  They want value.  They want entertainment.  They want information.  They want stories.

They don’t want ads.


Do you have any advice for brands on social channels?  Any pet peeves you want to share?  Any best practices that you think work?

*Disclosure: I do work with Life is good as a paid social and digital media consultant.


Storytelling in the new Marketing

The Case for Brand Storytelling

2 Responses to “Fear of Storytelling & Other Tales of Brand Failure”

  1. i like the Creative Wasteland discussion. Businesses need to innovate in order to continue market dominance but innovation also applies for social media communications. Nice Article

  2. Thanks Jasllegend:
    If only brands would spend as much energy on creativity as they did on metrics and measurement.

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