Ask Me Anything About…. Authenticity
Authenticity is the marketing buzzword of the moment, but judging by current consumer attitudes it’s still missing from the majority of brand marketing efforts.
The latest report by Stackla found that 90 percent of consumers want to see authenticity from brands, and while 92 percent of marketers think their content resonates as authentic with consumers, less than half of consumers would actually agree. The same report showed that user-generated content has 9.8x more impact than influencer content when driving consumer purchase intent, which will no doubt be disappointing news for brands given that the very purpose of their influencer marketing campaigns is to generate something close to user-generated content.
So how did marketing end up with such a big authenticity gap? Perhaps people are just jaded by sponsored posts, paid promotions and brand advertising deals and the uncomfortable feeling that it’s a trick with no real transparency over what’s happening, what brand relationships really look like for influencers and how they are monetizing.
Perhaps the bigger question is whether authenticity and marketing can ever really go hand-in-hand when one is the pursuit of truth and the other of sales. We’ve spent the past three years working on the answer. Our solution, the WOM Protocol, combines blockchain-based technology, crypto-economic incentive models, and good old-fashioned word of mouth to deliver an alternative marketing channel that rewards people for behaving honestly and gives influencers a way to monetize without compromising their authenticity.
For our second podcast episode we invited Head of Operations, Jeremy Lindström, to unpick a topic at the very heart of our project: authenticity. You can listen to the podcast here and you’ll find the full transcript below.
Authenticity is important, it’s what we want to see, but what do we actually mean by authenticity?
When you’re authentic people feel that what they see is the real deal and not just a facade. Topical to marketing and this podcast, authenticity is recommending, promoting or otherwise talking about products and services and brands that you sincerely enjoy and not because you received a paycheck to talk about it. It’s, “hey I ate at this great place last night, you gotta check it out,” because I actually did eat at a great place last night, and I actually want you to check it out, because I believe you’ll love it. The motivation is not because the restaurant is paying me to say that.
The paycheck is the issue here though, isn’t it? Surely the moment you decide to monetize, you compromise your authenticity, so can you monetize your content and remain authentic?
It’s about transparency. Getting paid or otherwise rewarded because I recommended something isn’t inherently wrong, nor does it automatically compromise authenticity. If you are recommending something to someone, you are bringing value to that company and quite frankly much more value than any of their corporate polished marketing campaigns. So why not be compensated for it? Companies aren’t obligated to get free advertising.
Authenticity only comes when people believe in what they are recommending, and when they choose the products they want to recommend. If people are driven purely by the money, they won’t succeed in the long run. That’s what we see now with the current trends in the influencer marketing industry.
There are issues with the current industry — there’s a clear consumer trust problem. Would you say that one of the biggest problems here is that you have an industry that has encouraged and rewarded people for behaving in an inauthentic way?
There is a motivation or incentive for influencers to work the system, which we’ve seen as influencers buy followers and likes to boost their metrics and land more lucrative deals, or in not disclosing their partnerships. Or even on the flip side posting not sponsored content as sponsored to make it seem like they have brand deals. All of these things happen because of the incentive mechanisms that are put in place by brands that focus on these mostly arbitrary minimum follower counts and other metrical requirements. It’s led to these dishonest and inauthentic practices by influencers. If someone has too few followers they won’t get paid to recommend a brand or product, it’s that simple. The same goes for brand deals, if I want to get paid for recommending something, I have to have a contract or deal beforehand.
If I love adidas, for example, but I don’t have a contract with them, I won’t get paid. If Puma approaches me, now I have this incentive to talk about a brand that I may not necessarily care about. There are lots of recent reports, including those published by Stackla and Morning Consult, that state similar sentiments from consumers. We can see that people are increasingly sceptical and have been for some time. Influencer marketing is mainstream enough now, that the general consumer has become jaded to these promotions, simply because they know that the influencer is getting paid to talk about the brand and therefore they can’t be sure that the influencer actually likes it.
If we have an industry and a model that encourages people to behave in the opposite of an authentic way, then surely we need to shift that so that we have models that reward and encourage behaving honestly? Shouldn’t practices that lead to faking and insincerity get disincentivized?
Certainly, since the current incentives reward inauthenticity then the logical step would be to create incentives that reward authenticity. Of course it’s easier than it sounds, otherwise brands would already be doing it, because that’s ultimately what they are looking for anyway. That said, it is what we are doing at WOM. If people make recommendations just because they love a brand or a product, which people do more than two billions times a day, and if they do that without a brand deal, without a minimum follower account and with no guarantee of a reward, and they are potentially rewarded only after their peers feel the recommendation is authentic, then we have an economic incentivization model that rewards authenticity.
The current marketing model can be changed, paid recommendations don’t have to be inauthentic. The incentives just have to be in the right place.
OK so if we have an influencer marketing industry that then shifts to incentivize and reward authenticity, do you think that this will have the benefit of creating more accountability?
Absolutely. What we’re talking about is not just fixing something that’s broken, that’s a really worn out phrase that people love to use. We’re not fixing something that’s broken, we’re talking about improving what’s happening and improving the way that people are rewarded for their brand advocacy. We’re talking about improving the way that companies interact with consumers and bringing authenticity and transparency and honesty more to the forefront.
Certainly as those values are the values that become incentivized, then not only will the marketing industry improve and get better, but all industries as a whole would also get better. If this up-and-coming authenticity-savvy generation are being rewarded for recommending only the products they love, with no incentive to do otherwise, then naturally the companies that match their values will be talked about.
If consumers only value, “this product is cool and I don’t care how it was built,” then those companies will be the ones that get talked about and succeed. But if we have a consumer base that is very aware of social and environmental and political situations, they will expect corporate entities to take more responsibility. They are more likely to recommend products from the companies they believe are taking that responsibility, and those are the products and brands that will get talked about and popularized and come to the forefront.
Conversely, those products that don’t match these values would naturally fade into the background, thus improving these brands and the entire industry as a whole and bringing accountability far beyond the influencers and marketing alone. This would also go far beyond what legislature might try to do as well. Legislature is necessary at times, but ultimately it forces companies to do something, whereas as consumers have more of a say in what is being marketed or what is being talked about and what’s being recommended, then companies will have an incentive to change and change for the better.
*Read the legal disclaimer: https://womprotocol.io/disclaimer/