One of the biggest challenges in advertising today is trust. Aside from the most elite (and customer-centric) brands, the reality is, we as a culture trust advertisers less than we ever have before. In fact, we trust all major institutions, organizations, and people in positions of power less than we ever have before.
On the flip side, 92% of people trust other people – even strangers – when it comes to forming an opinion about what to buy. The pendulum has swung, and although our advertising forefathers may have scoffed at the notion in generations past, today’s smartest advertisers have come to an undeniable solution – a satisfied customer is our best messenger, and whenever possible, we must do whatever possible to empower him or her to help craft a narrative that will convince others that we are right for them.
In pop culture, there’s a familiar saying that celebrates authenticity.
The phrase has become so powerful, so ubiquitous, that some people wear it as a badge of honor.
It is, for all intents and purposes, a rebuke of a phenomenon that all but enveloped society just a generation ago: Act as if. Fake it till you make it. Chase the Joneses.
Inauthenticity once was in vogue. And advertisers used to latch onto it like our lives depended upon it.
Brands once positioned themselves by telling tall tales, celebrating excess, and convincing consumers that by associating with their products, they could get a respite from real life. Whether advertising was aspirational or imbued with pure fiction, such was the spirit of the era, and such was the climate of the advertising business.
Fast-forward to 2021 and we are in an entirely new mind space, where “real recognize real” and brands must fall in line.
Consumers have decided, en masse, that advertisers no longer have a license to shape the narrative, and that the people themselves will determine what a brand is or isn’t, how people should perceive it, and whether or not people should engage with it.
This seismic shift – from valuing “fake hustle” to “wearing it all on your sleeve” – has forced advertisers to rethink the role customers play in overtly shaping their brand story
Elite brands have evolved from choreographing and executing every facet of the customer experience, to downright encouraging and incentivizing consumers to determine for themselves what the brand represents, how it connects to culture, and the stories they want to share.
Influencer marketing – which has grown up from an oddball marketing tactic to a line item on virtually every brand’s balance sheet – has become the strategy du jour that allows top brands to be perceived authentic and relatable, and you can’t argue with the results.
More recently, an even more “authentic” tactic has risen to the forefront – user-generated content.
UGC doesn’t need a fancy label – it’s nothing more than the stuff we all create and share on social media through our devices. We’ve all become quite adept content creators, with endless tools at our fingertips to create photos and videos and GIFs and memes and in some cases absolute works of art, that – with the click of a button – we can share with our closest friends or the entire world. And although most of us don’t have the reach or impact of a Kim Kardashian or Charlie D’Amelio, collectively we can shift any narrative around any topic, anytime we mobilize.
Such has been the case since the advent of social media, but what has changed in recent years is a brand’s ability – through tools that leverage machine learning and AI – to collect, curate and share user-generated content at scale across all advertising channels.
And therein lies the greatest opportunity of all – brands that are true and authentic and responsive and provide a positive and meaningful customer experience not only engender passion and loyalty, but they also inspire people to share compelling content at scale that the brands themselves can easily capture and repurpose.
Advertising’s primary objective is to attract attention and affect people’s perceptions and behaviors. And the most successful brands today have put their customers in the driver’s seat, encouraging and incentivizing them to both be the messenger and craft the message, focusing less on creating content and more on collecting and curating customers’ content and capitalizing on their impact.
For those brands who have yet to get onboard the UGC train, it’s hardly too late. Most organizations are laggards, and it takes a long time to pivot and change course. But for those who have led the way in UGC, the rewards have proven to be endless.