As part of our weekly webinar series, co-founder Lynn Brown moderated a Q&A with Randi Zinn, host of the Going Beyond podcast and founder of Beyond Mom, to address the value of authenticity and storytelling for brands.
Zinn founded Beyond Mom to empower women to take back “their right to self-love, self-care and community as a pathway to fulfillment,” according to her website. On her podcast, she touches on health and emotional wellness, business and entrepreneurship, with an overarching goal of telling stories of empowerment.
“Everything about my brand has come from an authentic place because so much of it has started from my own life experiences,” Zinn said. “I started my brand in the mom space, which was all about cultivating more sense-of-self as a woman navigated motherhood. I created written content, I published a book, I’ve been a speaker, I created events. In the past two years since the podcast really became my format of expression, it’s really become a wider expression of what I call ‘going beyond,’ which is going beyond in your life”
Zinn has ample experience with brand partnerships, whether that be incorporating brands into her podcast through host-read ads or having a representative from that brand speak on their experiences and their product as part of a podcast sponsorship.
Lynn Browne: What do most marketers misunderstand about brand storytelling?
Randi Zinn: I didn’t start anything that I am now doing to work with brands. I started what I was doing because I deeply cared about people and felt like what I had to say and what I could teach was a service. So I think I started out on a more authentic foot initially. The fact that I am now working with brands and having considerations of how I tell brand stories within my very authentic delivery, it’s felt really interesting and even natural and I think that’s just because that’s in my M.O.. The brands that resonate really well with me are brands that also come from a little bit of a sense of wanting to help people, and not to say that they are ‘do-good’ brands per say, but that they believe something will make someone’s life better, and that could be easier, that could be more healthy, that could be that a woman feels more beautiful wearing something. It doesn’t have to be an obvious do-good, but there is that spirit there.
Sometimes brands might not even realize how interesting of a story they actually have or maybe how interesting their players are. So, because I have a podcast, I’ve created some really, really interesting campaigns where a brand will come in and want to tell their story and want to share it with their audience, and I’ll say ‘Tell me more about who is part of this brand’ and ‘Who put their vision into this?’ and maybe that vision is a story we should tell to showcase your brand. I don’t always know who's going to be the right person for that, but I’ve been led to some fascinating people.
I think what brands might miss is that there is a really interesting story, it’s like their why story, and that there is often some interesting people behind how a brand even came to be, and maybe they’re the best people to share those insights and those stories, depending on where the campaign will live.
L: I love that – the why behind the brand to begin with as being the thing that’s most interesting for consumers in the long run so they can really understand why they should care, why they should lean into that brand, consider that brand or think about it in a meaningful way.
R: I think that that is what more and more consumers are caring about now. We’re seeing it with what is happening now with Black Lives Matter and the protests and people caring. People want to know who is behind these companies. It’s like ‘I want to support black female-owned companies’ … people want to know that they are doing something positive. It’s really important that brands are figuring out ways to align themselves and support people doing good work.
L: Work is such an interesting word that you use there. It’s very important to see the companies and the brands doing the actual work versus just putting something out there, versus just trying to be part of the conversation instead of having that become part of their story, part of the work they are doing on behalf of their customers or their consumers or just in general, the world.
R: It needs to be authentic. People can sniff out when you’re just kind of jumping on the bandwagon … It’s really important whether you’re the creator or you’re the brand that it actually comes from an authentic place.
L: Along those lines, how is brand storytelling in your mind different from typical storytelling? What is the differentiation there?
R: I think it requires a little bit more time and research. It’s almost like the difference between writing fiction and writing non-fiction. As a writer, I would make that distinction. If i’m just telling my own story, I can just express how it feels to me. If I'm telling a brand’s story, I’m making authentic connections between the meaning of this product or this service, how I think it will resonate in my life, my audience's life, I find out who's involved, and then I kind of naturally weave together the story.
L: How does the channel of that story take place?
R: I think it’s a little bit of two-fold. If we’re speaking to a brand, immediately we’ll ask them what they’re interested in. You know, If they’re more interested in social media, if they’re more interested in the podcast. Typically, we encourage brands to want to be in a mixture because we just think that if our audience is seeing them on different fronts, it’s going to click more – they’re going to see it. The best scenario is when there’s a real sync between myself and my mission, a brand and someone on behalf of that brand that really can share their story. When I have that, the podcast almost becomes like my playground. So we just get into it and talk and share and personal stories come up and somehow, I’m actually gonna say, I’m good at it. I’m really good at doing this. It all comes back to the brand and it’s natural.
L: What companies do you think are doing storytelling correctly and effectively? Do any specific campaigns come to mind?
R: I think I’ve always been drawn to brands that have had their core [values] so clear. It might be that I was an ambassador for several years for Athleta, and I've always been drawn to their storytelling. They’ve always told the stories of strong, committed, visionary women of all types, all shapes, all sizes. They’ve done it beyond just their visual storytelling, which is powerful, and if anyone has ever seen Athleta catalogues, or the website, or one of their stores, you see that their representation tells a certain story. They created short films that tell the story of women divers and athletes and the oldest yogi in the world and they’re moving, they bring you to tears, but it really is all about the Athleta brand ethos of a woman who is continually making herself stronger and more capable. I’ve always been drawn to that as a brand.
“What matters the most is that there is authenticity, that there is real brand awareness, there’s community, there are people that care. ”
As far as my own story, I recently had a really special partnership with a brand called Quanta. They’re actually more of a tech company, but they basically manipulate molecules inside of certain ingredients, like CBD or vitamin E, and they optimize products to be a very powerful muscle rub or a very powerful anti-aging facial cream, as examples. I partnered with them on a podcast episode, and this was one of the scenarios where I sat down with their marketing sales person, and I was like ‘Who's on your team? Who can we speak to?’ At first, it was hard to find the person, and all of the sudden he was like ‘There’s this woman, she’s on our board of directors. She’s a scientist ... she’s a mother of four.’
I happened to have just completely clicked with [Dr. Annabelle Morgan] in the episode and we’re in touch now all the time. That was a very successful collaboration because here we were expressing a brand, a product, and it led to this beautiful, powerful conversation with someone on their advisory board, and that’s not what I thought was going to happen, but that’s what happened in the exchange and kind of digging into ‘What would tell the best story about this product to my audience?’ That to me was very successful.
L: What are the biggest hurdles that you find brands hit or need to get over in order to do better storytelling within their campaigns or their marketing in general? Where are they tripping up?
R: It’s funny, I’m not even sure I have the exact answer because what I find is that we take enough concrete steps in early conversations with whomever we’re speaking to to know whether a real storytelling campaign is in our future. If it’s not, sometimes it’s just a host-read ad. sometimes it’s just like, I’m going to shout this product out and give a discount and put a little banner in a newsletter and that’s it. And as long as the brand is philosophically something that i would stand behind, that’s fine. But if there is a real sync like there was with Quanta, then we have more to go on. So, I don’t even think that I'm hitting up against too much trip-up. It’s like, figure out quickly whether it goes in a more specific, easy direction, or whether we get into it together.
L: What is the key to embracing inclusion and creating that truly open, collaborative environment where you can learn more about that brand and unearth what that story really is?
R: I’m just a question asker. Everything from ‘Tell me where this all began, tell me the history, who started this thing, what’s the team like now? Where is this going? What campaigns have worked? What was a fail?’ Nothing is really off the table. I think nowadays people are wanting to also express what they care about. I think, just true to everything that we’re seeing coming out in our culture right now, you have to get pretty clear about what your values are and about what you care about and what you want to set into action. So, a lot of brands are wanting to make bold statements or support certain movements, and so those things are going to come out pretty quickly. Example – I’m launching a series of virtual events and I'm hoping that I'm able to have the right brands sponsor these. I’m also hoping that the ticket sales that I make from these events I can donate to the nonprofits of my choice that I feel align with my mission and align with what’s going on in the world and all these things. Well, clearly the right brand that wants to sponsor has to line up with me. We have to have a similar vision, so those conversations will have to happen.
L: How do you see the relationship with your audience play back as well?
R: I showed up with everything that I am from the beginning. I’ve never been anything other than me. When I’m talking to somebody who represents a brand, you can still feel like I am speaking to this person as nothing but a human being that I'm having a conversation with. I don’t think that there’s been a moment that my community or my following checks out because an episode might be involved with a brand. That said, I do think that people engage with me the most when I'm the most personally vulnerable. That just is what it is, but I think what goes well with that is that people genuinely care about what I think and what I endorse. Ithink I represent not a perfect person at all, but a person that is very meaningfully trying to live a good life and interacting with great people and great products and having a strong network of meaningful connections, and so that’s where the connection comes in.
“I showed up with everything that I am from the beginning. I’ve never been anything other than me. ”
If i was speaking to content creators, I would say to always stay loyal to your voice, to that which matters the most to you. Say things in the ways that you would naturally say it. If you’re accommodating the needs of a brand that’s 100% fair, but always find that zone that’s still you.
In terms of marketers and brands that are out there thinking about how to share their product with the world and utilize podcasts and social or content creators in general, I would say to be slightly less hung up on numbers because numbers are fickle. I think many of us know that now. Instagram has some crazy algorithms. We don’t even know what’s controlled or not controlled. nobody knows why numbers go up and go down. What matters the most is that there is authenticity, that there is real brand awareness, there’s community, there are people that care. If you are interacting with somebody who has created that and who has created meaningful content that lives on and is out there forever, that’s meaningful and that has value and you can do things with that forever.