How can brands meet consumer needs while holding on to their authenticity? The importance of storytelling in external communication was the focal point for the Industry Research Project (IRP) of Hyper Island’s MA Digital Management student, Vegard Bang Ritland. Here, we uncover the exceptional factors in how brands can stand out to the consumer and still remain true to themselves.

Vegard Bang Ritland

The power lies with the consumer

Today, much like 1.8 million years ago according to scientists’ research, storytelling is still being used to survive during ever-changing times. With a background in the media and PR industries in Norway, Vegard’s day to day often involved narrative and story creation. But upon reflection, Vegard says he “never really looked at how storytelling impacted the rest of [his] life.”

It was the realization of how much of life actually contains some type of storytelling that made him eager to investigate the topic even more. That’s how Vegard came to his hypothesis for his investigation into brand storytelling and authenticity.


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The game-changing nature of digitization and new and emerging technology have shifted the position of power, placing it firmly with the consumer. Brands face a far bigger uphill battle than ever before to win attention, conversion and maybe above all, loyalty.

Let’s look at some key insights outlined in the IRP to give us a sense of the evolution of storytelling:

  • Stories are how we make sense of our world – the mediums may have changed, but the core concepts certainly have not.
  • In branding and marketing, you have to use storytelling to stay relevant – changes brought by new technology and social media have placed significant importance on storytelling as a tool for brands to prove they’re still up to date.
  • Digitization has changed the playing field – transmedia, deep media, and interactive storytelling lead recipients to want more immersion in stories and carve out a role for themselves.
  • External storytelling is the best when it has been established internally – when a company’s purpose has spread like wildfire internally, the potential for the best external communication is unlocked.
  • Authenticity is alpha and omega in the world of branding and marketing – With the power firmly with today’s consumer, honesty is 100 percent the best policy for a brand’s authenticity to connect with consumers.

Storytelling insights from storytelling experts

At Hyper Island, we believe that the greatest attribute about storytelling is that it’s free. It is available to all of us equally. But don’t just take our word for it. Vegard sought the opinions of experts and subsequently interviewed 13 industry experts who work closely with storytelling. The topic was set, storytelling in business. Here are some notable quotes:

Founder at StoryCraft and Brand Storytelling Instructor at General Assembly, Phat X. Chiem uses the great example of lingerie giant, Victoria’s Secret. Founded by a man with the outdated perception that women needed to dress up to win the attraction of men, their values now lie in female empowerment and individuality. But to show their authenticity of this change, they must communicate their genuineness:


Continuing with the theme of change, Business Storytelling Expert and founder of, Steve Rawling touches upon the situation of when a societal change reveals a brand’s potential flaw or mishap from the past. That it’s up to them to address this through authentic communication. Essentially, authenticity doesn’t have to mean perfection:


Founder and Creative Director at SNASK, Fredrik Öst feels that storytelling success relies on a 40:60 rule for the combination and balance of product communication and brand building. He pulled out a nice little anecdote too:

4060 rule

Using social media to your advantage

Vegard argues that the rise of social media may have led to a loss of trust in the media. As a result, authenticity holds the key to winning opinion. Vegard uses Journalist, Olivia Gegan’s point of view to support this opinion:

“Authenticity, the sense that something or someone is real, original, genuine, true to their word, is a quality that carries significant cultural and emotional capital. If a brand or personality appears to have it, then they win trust from consumers. On the other hand, if a brand appears to be the opposite; fake, insincere and derivative, then trust is lost”

Social media is the outlet making consumers more informed than they’ve ever been. But it’s also providing fuel to the fire and enabling snap decisions that leave many questions instead of answers.

On the other hand, brands have the opportunity to take full advantage of their social networks. They can not only create seemingly direct connections with consumers, but also make them into the hero of the brand’s story.

Another interviewee, Communication Manager at Patriksson Group and Influencer, Felicia Noelle Donkor takes it one step further, literally by talking about the next step in this process:

Felicia Noelle Donkor

Brands should remember to play the long game. Build on those short-term connections and be as transparent and vulnerable as possible in interactions. That’s how brands really show their true authenticity.

So, how do brands prevent being inauthentic? In his conversation with Head of Transformation and Digital Innovation at stories AG, Patrick Viert, Vegard details an example of Gucci’s thoughtful tactic: “In order to make sure that a company is speaking to the upcoming generations and is responding to the changing market conditions, companies like Gucci have created a shadow board—a group of non-executive employees that works with senior executives on strategic initiatives.”

Is Design Thinking a solution?

Vegard took different tools and exercises for coming up with a brand’s story and put it into the framework of Design Thinking (a user-centered process of creating solutions). Vegard validates his use of Design Thinking by writing “[it’s] something that you see in innovation a lot, but it can just as well transfer to the use of finding one’s story. But let’s call this a guide for reaching authenticity through honest storytelling.” He then created this guide, consisting of tools and activities for the brand to decide its honest language. And this is what they would build upon because, as Vegard writes, “in the end storytelling is good, but it is nothing if it is not honest.”

This way of thinking is ideal for start-ups or more established brands that feel they may have lost their purpose. It can be used on both a brand and concept level and should be used more as a guide for deciding how to communicate ideas to the public. Vegard stresses that this is still very much a work in progress, but that the finished product would include bigger activities.

What activities are included we hear you ask? Well, as discussed with the industry experts, here’s an activity you may want to try out:

Activity: Defining your forces of antagonism.
Description: The things you define as antagonistic to your brand, meaning bumps and challenges that you as a brand will face along the way, also defines you. These challenges could be societal-, competitor- and consumer related. Finding your voice and standing on what you believe in will lead to further transparency and having something that you, as a brand need to overcome, will make your story much more interesting and honest. Ask questions that will build your forces of antagonism and make that become a part of your external communication.

To conclude, we’ll use Vegard’s own words: “One thing is clear, brand storytelling is here to stay, and therefore further research in the field of business storytelling is always going to be relevant.”

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Article updated on: 13 March 2024