The real deal

The real deal

The use of real people to tell a story as part of a campaign can resonate hugely with consumers; brands can add real value as a result.

In January, HSBC launched an online ’Thank you’ platform that let people express their gratitude to those who have helped them. The platform, designed to promote the bank’s recently relaunched Advance Account, also tells the stories of various individuals and the people who helped them realise their ambitions.

The six documentary-style films in the series formed part of a presentation the following month by Chris Clark, HSBC’s Group Head of Marketing, and his colleague Dave Marsh, the bank’s Senior Social Media Manager, at a marketing industry event I attended.

The timing could not have been worse. That very day, HSBC was rocked by the revelations about how its private bank in Switzerland helped wealthy clients avoid paying tax and aided drug- and weapons-smugglers with money laundering. For Clark and Marsh, making a presentation entitled ‘Time to give your customers a good listening to’, it must have felt like the job from hell.

But such was the power of the film shown on the day – featuring composer Johnny Yates, who overcame an extreme speech and language disorder through the support of his mother – that the cataclysmic event was soon forgotten. Clark revealed his view that no matter what the film’s messages were, delivering them through real life experiences would ensure they continued to resonate with people long after the dust had settled over the Swiss bank issue.

Critically, the film asks viewers ‘Do you have friends, colleagues or family that have supported you?’ and invites them to tell their own stories, and thank the people who have helped them via an online tool. Once users have entered their details and a short message, their benefactors are sent a personalised video message.

HSBC’s approach is a highly sophisticated mean of building a brand with powerful human stories. It’s a form of authentic engagement marketing, part of a movement to take full advantage of the storytelling ability of new technologies and encourage new levels of creativity across numerous platforms.

Having real people feature in a marketing campaign is nothing new, but this is a vastly more impactful way of repackaging and presenting what used to be customer testimonials in the pre-digital era.

In the era of social media, multiple screens and video-on-demand, the authentic message offers the chance to break through and make an emotional impact. Most importantly, it gives voice to the most powerful advocate for your brand – the end user, who can add depth to the message you have created.

In fact, customer advocacy can be at the heart of a marketing strategy. Stephen Loftus, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer of fold-up bike maker Brompton Bicycle, says: “Our customers, who are highly engaged owners, play a critical role in product advocacy. On our new website – launched in April – we have numerous stories, such as videos from the Brompton owners’ club in Hong Kong or the recent Brompton World Championship race held in London.”

The involvement of real people will almost certainly resonate in a far stronger way than a staged production. In an automated world, companies that encourage interaction with real people, online or offline, will stand out; the value that can be delivered for brands from an authentic story can be immense.

Lawrie Holmes Freelance Business Journalist CPL
Back to all