Why Authentic Content Matters To Brands, Influencers & Consumers

Brands can win consumer trust and boost sales when influencers create genuine content.

Influencer Marketing

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.

How else do you think brands can ensure genuine content from influencers?