Everyone wants to tell a great story, especially brands.

Everyone wants to support a great story, especially audiences.

Social media and video has offered brands the greatest opportunity in history to share their stories with their audience in places they know they spend their time (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc.)

So, why are so many brands still struggling to connect with their audience?

It comes down to genuine connection

Recently, while watching one of my favourite shows, Mad Men, I was reminded of how much marketing used to be about fictional storytelling. It was about taking a product or service, inventing a story about it, and telling that story.

The audience used to expect this. They knew no other way. For video ads, this meant television commercials. Aside from those, the only other video that audience’s experienced were films in a cinema or watching TV shows. Both of which were largely based on fiction. Audiences would easily transition from TV or film to commercial ad without any inner conflict.

They couldn’t imagine a world of digital media, vlogging, tutorial based videos, keynote lectures, or video game streaming. Simply put, there was no awareness of on-demand, at your fingertips access to an almost infinite source of video content. All they knew were the the fictional narratives of film, tv, and commercials. There was essentially no transparency in video.

Today, we’re offered the opposite

Total transparency, countless video options, all whenever we (the audience) want.

Brands can now join in on this offering. It’s a democracy. They don’t need to focus on fictional television commercials to buy people attention. But, they still do.

To clarify, fiction in video is great. In the so-called golden age of television, fictional content has never been stronger.

What I’m referring to is, in relation to brands and their bad fiction. Fiction that’s created as a means to disguise the audience from reality. They are still committed to selling audiences on a fabricated story, but people aren’t buying it the way they used to. They’re becoming much harder to fool.

This doesn’t work anymore for two main reasons:

1) Audiences can sense the selfish act of brands trying to trick them into fictional narratives. Content that favours brands.

2) Alternatively, audiences have access to an infinite source of content that favours them.

As obvious as these points may be, so many brands are not changing their content to fit what people want or need.

Instead of focusing on, “what is good for the consumer?” they’re still focused on, “what is good for us?”

Television habits, turned digital

This doesn’t just apply to television, it applies equally to online content. Brands are pouring huge dollars into online video then wondering why no one wants to watch it. It’s because it is clearly fake and doesn’t offer the audience any true value.

I speak with folks about communicating their brand story through video and way too often they have visions of grandiose. They are looking for someone to tell a story about them that is not their own, but rather a story that they wish was.

But isn’t this the point of advertising?

It was. Often, it still is. But it’s becoming less so.

Telling these fictional brand stories may still get some leverage by raising awareness through a print ad or 15–30 second tv commercial spot. But if you try to fake that story through blogs, vlogs, a video series, twitter, Instagram, snapchat or any other relevant communication platform where most people (especially millennials) direct their attention, you will quickly be detected and dismissed.

Since the audience tends to do this passively, brands greatly underestimate how profound this is. People have become extremely sensitive to inauthentic content.

The Bullshit Detector is real

I am not speaking from a marketer’s perspective, I am speaking as a millennial consumer. A brand will try to tell me their fictional story, but I can see that their brand is the Wizard of Oz and the transparency of social platforms is the curtain that I can pull back to expose them.

For most brands, fully shifting their thinking this way is not easy — I get it . One of the great existential crises of life is learning to live more authentically and congruent with who you truly are. Trying to communicate this within a brand is no less difficult.

So, don’t feel bad for not nailing this. There is no perfect. This is a never-ending journey because brands — like us — are in a constant state of flux. We must adapt with the market, the new media platforms, the increasing transparency, etc. But these ever changing environments can either build your brand or bury it, depending on the story you are telling. The longer you wait to begin telling your stories in an authentic manner, the further behind you are in the race.

You can no longer count on a marketer to tell your great brand story that doesn’t exist.

As an audience member (and a millennial), when stories are authentic we feel them in our gut. We are attracted to the truth or anything that feels like it. If they resonate with us, we will enthusiastically join in on those stories and want to be a part of them. So, you must actually be that brand you wish to portray.

You must live that story so fully that you are no longer trying to share fiction with the audience, but rather you are amplifying your true story as it is naturally taking place.

Painstaking? Yes. Especially at first. But this will be the new way to compete.