Brand. Brand identity. Corporate brand. Brand guidelines. Logo. Color palette. Font family. Imagery.
These words and more have likely been drilled into your head during your education, professional development courses, convention seminars, industry magazine articles/thought pieces, your coworkers, and even yourself. You know it's important to have, but you also know that no matter how creative/punny/cool/artsy/<insert your adjective here> your brand is, if it's not authentic, you will have a harder time convincing your customers and building a relationship. You already know all of this information, but it's important to reiterate for what's to come next.
👏 YOU AREN'T PERCEIVED AS AUTHENTIC AS YOU THINK YOU ARE 👏
Not to be the bearer of bad news, but your audience doesn't really think the content you produce is authentic.
But we promise it's not all bad. According to Stackla’s survey, which looked at the marketer's perception and consumer's perception of the marketer's content, 92% of marketers believe that the content they produce is authentic for their customers. In reality, only 51% of consumers believe that a brand’s content is authentic.
While still over half, it's still nowhere near the favor marketers think it is. We are more likely to take advice or have faith in someone that we trust. While companies use their brands to help build this trust with us, the consumers, we know that even if they truly want to help us lose weight, live a better life, or have access to the latest technological advances, they're all still after the paper in our pocketbooks. Conversely, when a family member or friend provides us a recommendation, telling us about a great cleaning product or an exceptional sushi restaurant, we know that there isn't any ulterior motive.
If you're a faithful reader of our blog (thanks!), you'll know in a previous article we discussed how user-generated content (or UGC) can boost your search engine ranking and drive traffic to your website. Now here's another one of UGC's superpowers: The ability to convince others of your brand's authenticity.
Let's say you're shopping on Amazon. Do you see something you need, read the description, then click purchase? You might, especially if it's an item you liked and you're re-ordering. But even with the guarantee of free shipping and returns--your eyes are likely to check the rating at the top (How many stars out of five is acceptable to you? Three? Four? And based on how many ratings?). You may even go so far as to read some of the "Verified" purchases--of both high star and low star reviews--to get (here's the word again) authentic feedback. You don't know these people, but like you, they were searching for a product to meet their needs. Real reviews aren't paid or incentivized in any way. That's the underlying issue, and the culprit for the decline, of influencer marketing.
The Decline of Influencer Marketing
Celebrities, YouTube stars, athletes, and other public figures are all individuals that society--from young children to retirees and everyone in between--respects or admires due to their talents, contributions, personality, and more. These people have an influence just by being who they are. Some fans even wish to emulate part of their lifestyle: The success, the fit body, the luxury travel, or exquisite cuisine. There are few individuals who haven't thought, at least once, "I wish <aspect of your life or self> were more like <public figure>'s."
Hence the spike in influencer marketing. The thought was if you want to live or look like your favorite celebrity, you'll purchase the products or services they use. Again, that was the thought.
Now, we're seeing a decline in influencer marketing amid consumer backlash and a feeling of distrust (just search for "Scarlett Dixon Listerine" or "Fyre Festival influencers").
Because if there is one thing that no one likes, it's being lied to.
As marketers, let's be frank with ourselves: When it comes to influencer marketing as of late, there's an inherent sense of dishonesty: Even if the individual actually uses and loves the product or service, we know that they're getting paid. Their intent is to get paid and continue to get paid through additional sponsorships.
Any brand paying such influencers should require transparency on sponsored posts by having the influencer use hashtags like #ad or #sponsored or state that it is an ad. And while it seems counterproductive, it helps with the ad's authenticity (That is, when it's done correctly. Have you searched "Scarlett Dixon Listerine yet"? It is a prime example of an inauthentic influencer ad.).
The International Council for Ad Self-Regulation seeks to foster brand ad transparency by self-imposing such standards. In the United Kingdom, the Advertising Standards Authority is the entity that regulates ads. They even wrote “An Influencer Guide to making clear that ads are ads”.
But lack of such regulation in the industry at a global scale is a cause for concern, and it had significantly diminished influencer marketing’s power (when it comes to consumers) and appeal (when it comes to brands working with influencers).
Seek out UGC from real users
So, influencer marketing is on the way out, and "real users, not actors" are taking the lead. Remember earlier when we said 52% of consumers will perceive your content as authentic? You need to get these individuals to be UGC champions. They are the ones who trust your content enough to complete the sales funnel journey and purchase your product or service. You will need them to leave reviews, talk about your brand to others, and essentially become a brand ambassador for your company so that others who don’t necessarily trust your content will be convinced to take a chance anyway.
Here's an example: You're on a dating app and see a profile that catches your eye. While the profile is interesting, you're just not quite sure about it. You show your friend for their thoughts and they reply, "Oh! I actually used to work with them. They're nice, and you two have the same sense of humor." Now, armed with the profile ("marketing content") and your friend's input ("user-generated content"), you decide to swipe right. And it's a match!
The same applies to whatever content it is that you create. Some consumers will be completely on board based on the content alone and/or previous experiences with your company. Other consumers need a nudge to trust you, at least in the initial stage. Once they make that first connection, it's up to your brand to strengthen this trust.
Remember that perception is ever changing
Our experience/interactions with a company can shift how we perceive them. Several instances of late or damaged packages and poor customer service can turn us away from a company for good (or at least, a long time). But an exceptional display of customer service, a show of societal contribution, or other positive interactions can cement a brand as being genuine in our minds forever.
While influencer marketing had (and still has, because hasn’t quite flat-lined yet) its time, your focus should shift to encouraging more user-generated content. It may be a different method you’ll need to pursue to establish brand authenticity in your consumer’s eyes, but recommendations are commonly shared among friends, family, coworkers, and strangers and have been for years. Even if we don’t know someone, there is a sense of trust (that they wish to help) when receiving a recommendation.
Turn your focus to UGC
If you currently use Influencer marketing, now is the time to evaluate its effectiveness, from both the standpoint of building your brand authenticity and in terms of the traffic and revenue it creates. When done correctly, influencer marketing can still have significant value for brands.
You’ll also want to make sure you’re providing space for and soliciting user-generated content. Don’t prevent your consumers from leaving reviews or other feedback because you’re worried it won’t be in your favor (that’s not being authentic). How you decide to encourage this content and in what form is up to you, it depends on your brand and company’s offerings (product[s] and/or services).
Letting your consumers have a voice on your platforms gives them an opportunity to share what they really love about your company and its products/services—and sure, there will be people for whom your product or service isn’t meant.
At the end of the day, your consumers will judge you. And you’ll want them to vote for you with their wallets.