Keeping it Real: Authenticity is Key to Building Lasting Brand Relationships

By Jake Weyer


I admit it, at first blush, a story about a Golden Valley woman who walks every day doesn’t sound that compelling. Lots of people walk, right? That’s the initial reaction I got from some people when recounting my time with Joan Monson.

But once you hear that the 78-year-old former teacher has never missed a 3-mile walk in 24 years—that she’s logged enough miles to circle the globe—the story gets a little more intriguing. Learn that walking helped her overcome physical and emotional challenges, that she has collected $800 in loose change on her walks and donated it to charity, and that she’s inspired countless others to lead healthier lives, and you get the picture.

To readers of thrive. magazine, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota’s health and wellness publication for Medicare members, Monson serves as inspiration to live an active, healthy lifestyle. The best part is that her story is real and relatable—she helps encourage Blue Cross members to make healthy choices without forcing the issue.

It’s branded content done right: Building relationships with members through authentic stories that provide great value. Blue Cross is an insurance company, yes, but in thrive. it’s a resource that helps members live their best life. The magazine gives members a chance to be the storytellers, to be advocates for the lives Blue Cross encourages them to live.

For any business interested in engaging customers through storytelling, it’s important to consider the power of real stories. Companies have been spinning yarns for years—and in an age saturated with endorsements, sponsorships and paid messaging, most people can see straight through the bull.

One recent survey of more than 2,000 adults in the U.S., U.K. and Australia found that 86 percent said authenticity is important when choosing brands to support. And 57 percent think less than half of brands create content that comes off as authentic.

There’s plenty of opportunity to buck the trend. A few tips:

  • Rather than coming up with a story you want to tell your audience, consider what stories they might want to consume, regardless of the format (print, digital, video, etc.). Appeal to their interests, ask how your company can solve their problems.
  • Find a brand ambassador, a customer who will share a story that is relatable, real and inline with your communications goals. Remember that you are building a relationship and that a customer story might not be tied directly to a specific product or service (as in Joan’s example above). Providing value is the key; you’re not looking for a testimonial. 
  • Tell it like it is. If you’re writing, let the words come from the reporting. A good story will essentially write itself, but can be easily ruined by trying too hard to squeeze in marketing messages or creative language. Remember to avoid spinning yarns!  

In the end, if you can provide your audience with real content that appeals to their needs, they’ll devour it and be back for more. And you’ll earn a lasting relationship.