Why Authentic Content Matters To Brands, Influencers & Consumers

Cre­at­ing authen­tic con­tent is hard for brands, but brand advo­cates or influ­encers can help win con­sumer trust and help push peo­ple to pur­chase.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

Mar­riott and Nikon are tap­ping into the pow­er of con­sumers, pro­vid­ing them with the tools they need to gen­er­ate authen­tic con­tent that oth­er con­sumers will relate to. But brands need to be selec­tive when it comes to choos­ing the influ­encers they work with and they need to make sure they cre­ate sit­u­a­tions that allow for those influ­encers to cre­ate con­tent. And, experts say, as long as brand advo­cates tell their own per­son­al sto­ries and include per­son­al mes­sag­ing in their posts, there is lit­tle risk of being per­ceived as inau­then­tic because there is an inher­ent sys­tem of checks and bal­ances in place that penal­izes influ­encers that put the brand’s need before the audience’s.


The con­cept of authen­tic con­tent has become some­thing of a Holy Grail for mar­keters.

Every study and sur­vey shows that the aver­age con­sumer weights an advo­cate far greater than any brand, ad, or sto­ry. While cre­at­ing influ­encer pro­gram­ming is some­times a com­pli­cat­ed task, it moves the needle and push­es con­sumers to pur­chase, said Mar­cy Mas­sura, senior vice pres­i­dent at PR firm MSLGroup.

Cre­at­ing authen­tic expres­sions is at the very core of why/how influ­encer mar­ket­ing came to life,” Mas­sura said. “It was born out of the fact that brand mes­sag­ing was becom­ing crowd­ed in the ad indus­try and the mes­sage was being lost and no longer pen­e­trat­ing people’s con­scious­ness and they were blow­ing it off as just from a brand…it came out of a desire for more authen­tic expres­sions of advo­ca­cy at the core of the con­cept.”

Marriott Asks Guests To Make Videos With GoPro Cameras

A good exam­ple of a cam­paign that seeks to cre­ate authen­tic con­tent comes from Mar­riott Hotels, which has put a new “POV” on the guest expe­ri­ence by pro­vid­ing GoPro HERO4 cam­eras at 17 of its Caribbean and Lat­in Amer­i­can loca­tions.

The offer allows guests to try out a GoPro cam­era to “cap­ture and share all of their adven­tures and expe­ri­ences.”

Fur­ther, guests are encour­aged to sub­mit pho­tos and videos across social plat­forms with the hash­tags #GoPro, #trav­el­bril­liant­ly and #via­je­ge­nial for the chance to be fea­tured on Marriott’s Trav­el Bril­liant­ly web­site, an inter­ac­tive site that, in part, asks guests to share ideas about “how to make trav­el more bril­liant.” The con­tent will be curat­ed across Marriott’s social media chan­nels and in-room enter­tain­ment sys­tem at par­tic­i­pat­ing hotels.

As of this writ­ing, the site includes about half a dozen GoPro videos from guests.

Through this pro­gram at Mar­riott Hotels, we’re giv­ing guests a fun way to tell their own trav­el sto­ry using the ver­sa­tile and mem­o­ry-mak­ing GoPro tech­nol­o­gy and imme­di­ate­ly share their con­tent with friends and fam­i­ly,” said Craig Smith, pres­i­dent of the Caribbean and Lat­in Amer­i­ca at Mar­riott Inter­na­tion­al, in a pre­pared state­ment.

It’s as if we’ve come full cir­cle in mar­ket­ing,” said Hol­ly Hamann, CMO of brand influ­encer mar­ket­ing plat­form Tap­In­flu­ence. “It used to be that mar­keters want­ed con­tent to be per­fect, pol­ished, and pro­duced. But it became so pro­duced that it didn’t feel real, which means con­sumers don’t relate.”

Relata­bil­i­ty is what actu­al­ly cre­ates mean­ing with con­sumers, she said. “Marriott’s campaign…[is] turn­ing aver­age con­sumers into influ­encers,” Hamann said. “I just think it’s fas­ci­nat­ing how con­sumers’ access to infor­ma­tion online has changed how they buy and, in turn, changed how mar­keters need to talk about their brands.”

While the con­tent will be more authen­tic and gen­uine than if whol­ly brand cre­at­ed, Mas­sura said Mar­riott has to help ush­er this process along by giv­ing con­sumers the tools that allow them to par­tic­i­pate.

The chal­lenge here – and any­one who has given out cam­eras to their guests at their wed­ding to cap­ture more moments [knows this] – is the large major­i­ty of con­tent is not going to be usable. And it is cost­ly to review, and edit and pack­age up that con­tent into some­thing that is on-brand and of a qual­i­ty wor­thy of an owned chan­nel,” Mas­sura said. “So what starts out with ‘Let’s use our guests to make con­tent for us! That will be cheap­er than us mak­ing our own videos!’ some­times doesn’t actu­al­ly turn out that way.”

Nikon Helps Individuals Stand Out

Anoth­er exam­ple of a brand seek­ing to cre­ate authen­tic expres­sions is imag­ing com­pa­ny Nikon, which announced its “I AM Gen­er­a­tion Image” cam­paign in Novem­ber, which it said is a “new plat­form to ampli­fy the voic­es of indi­vid­u­als who want to stand out in a world of visu­al noise.”

The cam­paign includes an inter­ac­tive site that fea­tures con­tent from a “select group of extra­or­di­nary indi­vid­u­als who doc­u­ment their own pas­sions through imagery.”

The­se “visu­al sto­ry­tellers” will “cap­ture con­tent that will be seen through an immer­sive expe­ri­en­tial web­site that acts as a por­tal, offer­ing a glimpse into their fas­ci­nat­ing worlds.”

Nikon says par­tic­i­pants are not pro­fes­sion­al pho­tog­ra­phers, but “rep­re­sent a wide range of sto­ries from entre­pre­neurs, phil­an­thropists [and] come­di­ans.” This includes two gay fathers from Atlanta that had a viral Insta­gram image last year.

They tell their sto­ry on the site, along with the oth­er par­tic­i­pants.

It all goes back to authen­tic­i­ty,” Hamann said. “That’s their sto­ry. They’re not being asked by the brand to be any dif­fer­ent or to pos­ture or have a pre­tense.”

The effort is being pushed by a series of videos and con­sumers are encour­aged to inter­act with the cam­paign by tag­ging their own sto­ries with #IAmGen­er­a­tionIm­age for the chance to be incor­po­rat­ed.

What Nikon did that was real­ly suc­cess­ful is that it let the­se peo­ple tell their sto­ries,” Hamann said. “Nikon drew atten­tion to those per­son­al­i­ties for their sto­ries and let them share using a Nikon camera…that’s authen­tic con­tent. If you look at the site, the whole sto­ry is about them and the plat­form and the tech­nol­o­gy that they use to cre­ate it was the Nikon cam­era and they did it in a sub­tle, authen­tic, com­pelling sto­ry­telling way…that has a halo effect for con­sumers who are drawn to have an affin­i­ty for the brand.”

Give The Right Influencers Something To Talk About

Pro­vid­ing tools to con­sumers in exchange for more authen­tic con­tent alone isn’t enough. Anoth­er part of the for­mu­la with influ­encers and con­sumer-gen­er­at­ed con­tent includes choos­ing the right influ­encers and let­ting them tell authen­tic sto­ries that res­onate with their audi­ences, Hamann said.

In addi­tion, brands should take the time to make sure that the influ­encers they work with actu­al­ly like their prod­ucts. This allows for easy inte­gra­tion into the influ­encers’ lives and makes it eas­ier to stay authen­tic, she said.

Brands also have a bur­den to cre­ate sit­u­a­tions for their influ­encers and advo­cates to react to.

[Brands] can’t say, ‘Hey, influ­encers, we know you like our brand, now talk about it every mon­th,’ they have to give them oppor­tu­ni­ties to see behind the sce­nes or share expe­ri­ences and try new prod­ucts,” Mas­sura said. “They have to con­stant­ly feed them things that will spur authen­tic con­tent. Oth­er­wise, it’s just regur­gi­ta­tion. If influ­encers are not cre­at­ing con­tent that first pleas­es the com­mu­ni­ty and sec­ond pleas­es the brand, that’s also when the com­mu­ni­ty can sniff out they’re in it for the mon­ey.”

The Dangers Of Inauthentic Content

Inau­then­tic con­tent and/or influ­encer mis­takes can tor­pe­do con­sumer trust, which is detri­men­tal to both the brand and the influ­encer.

For exam­ple, a fast food brand or a soft drink com­pa­ny try­ing to align itself with health and well­ness influ­encers would have high poten­tial for inau­then­tic results. Such a part­ner­ship might cause con­sumers to call them out. A more authen­tic part­ner­ship in this space would be around con­ve­nience or cost, Ham­mann said.

Two big brand advo­cate mis­takes are too fre­quent mes­sag­ing and posts that lack per­son­al opin­ion.

Audi­ences and com­mu­ni­ties are quick to notice inau­then­tic con­tent because the mes­sages lack per­son­al opin­ion, Mas­sura said. For exam­ple, they’ll notice when an advo­cate sim­ply rewords a press release or said, “Here’s a video from so-and-so.”

You can’t just phone it in and post what the brand wants you to post,” Mas­sura said. “That’s very dif­fer­ent from an advo­cate telling a per­son­al sto­ry and explain­ing how a brand or ser­vices have done well.”

Inau­then­tic or irrel­e­vant con­tent will alien­ate read­ers and fol­low­ers and if fol­low­ers drop off, that influ­encer becomes less influ­en­tial.

This is an influ­encers’ econ­o­my,” Hamann said. “They have the poten­tial to decrease their own influ­ence and shoot them­selves in the foot if they stop pro­duc­ing rel­e­vant con­tent.”

And because decreas­ing influ­ence equals decreas­ing income, influ­encers are the ones that will ensure their top pri­or­i­ty is mak­ing sure they take care of the peo­ple that fol­low them, Hamann said.

Always Put Audience First

The fact that influ­encers are often com­pen­sat­ed doesn’t gen­er­al­ly com­pro­mise influ­encer con­tent because the ecosys­tem is some­what self-reg­u­lat­ing. Com­pen­sa­tion is an accept­ed prac­tice, as long as it is dis­closed and the infor­ma­tion pro­vid­ed by influ­encers remains use­ful.

I may be on someone’s blog and see spon­sor­ships or spon­sored con­tent, but if that blog­ger is writ­ing good content…and one of every five posts hap­pens to be spon­sored, if they dis­close it, it doesn’t both­er peo­ple at all,” Hamann said. “That’s how that influ­encer is earn­ing a liv­ing.”

Whether paid or not, brands and the influ­encers they work have a vest­ed inter­est in always putting audi­ence val­ue first and fore­most.

There’s a phrase that I say it all the time: ‘Authen­tic expres­sions trump pas­sive impres­sions,’” Mas­sura adds. “That’s the gen­er­al heart­beat behind all influ­encer and advo­ca­cy pro­grams.

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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