I buy, therefore I am: exploring consumer authenticity
In the people, we trust
The expansive and expanding nexus of information that’s shared through social media allows brands to speak directly to consumers, and consumers to speak directly to each other about those brands. In a hyperconnected world, we can find out about anything and everything from those who have experienced it as well as those who make it. If knowledge is power, consumers are becoming more powerful than ever.
User-generated content is a key player in the marketing game. According to The Consumer Content Report: Influence in the Digital Age, consumers are three times more likely to say that content created by other consumers is more authentic than brand-created content.
We can, and are encouraged to, share our experiences and opinions of brands and products. What we consume and how we value it reflects who we are: it signposts our identity and beliefs. Consumers who consider themselves genuine, sincere…authentic, align themselves with brands that they believe reflect this.
Individuals values and fake news
An increasing awareness of environmental and social issues has lead to a rise in responsible consumerism. It’s fashionable to be conscientious and ‘woke’. More and more, consumers want to buy products that are good for themselves and the world around them. Organic food, plastic-free packaging, natural beauty ingredients, clean eating and wellness are part of a growing trend: the provenance and purpose of what we consume is becoming more scrutinised.
Paradoxically, the way people project this ‘authenticity’ online can be disingenuous. While Twitter and Facebook are muddled with fake news, Instagram and Snapchat are becoming cluttered with fake views (hello phony #officefortheday).
Under the influence
As sponsored posts become ubiquitous, consumers seek genuine ones that were posted without financial incentive. The infamous Fyre Festival disaster is a perfect example of what can happen when there’s a perilous lack of substance behind Instagram influencer posts: the promise spectacularly failed to live up to the hype.
FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is morphing in to JOMO (Joy of Missing Out). In a world of information overload and perpetual stimulation, people are becoming jaded, with a growing scepticism of generic hashtags signposting generic pictures that depict unattainably generic lifestyles.
Unsurprisingly, as this type of marketing evolves, legislation and regulation need to keep up. The Influencer Marketing 2020 report states that 90% of marketers believe proving authenticity is critical to the future of influencer marketing.
In the world of dubiously placed hashtags and unsubstantiated promises, what even is an advert anymore? The Advertising Standards Authority and the Competition Markets Authority have now released ‘An Influencer’s Guide to making clear that ads are ads’ which attempts to address this problem. But for influencers and marketers alike it’s still a lucratively grey area.
Muting the sound of the big brand
As a kickback to the quest for authenticity, the allure of the big brand is waning in some respects. Consumers are looking for unique and original experiences and products.
‘Craft’ beer has seen a huge increase over the last decade or so, but the term doesn’t have a universal agreed industry definition: many craft beers are actually owned by big breweries. Waterstones has attracted cynicism for launching un-branded ‘local’ bookshops, to attract customers who are looking for a more supposedly authentic literary experience. There’s a mass market for products that look like they haven’t been made for the mass market.
The way we consume is changing, and so the definition of branding and marketing is changing too. Marketers need to hold up a window of transparency that consumers can see the products through, as well as their own reflections.
One of Nike’s recent campaigns featuring Colin Kaepernick focused on racial inequality and social injustice; sports apparel barely featured in relation to the poignant political messaging. B Lab is a non-profit that serves as a type of certified branding for brands who want to prove they use business as force for good. The initiative only began in 2007, but there are now almost 2,500 B Corp businesses including Ben & Jerry’s and Innocent.
People are now less likely to buy a product if they think the brand stands for something they don’t believe in. The 2018 Edelman Earned Brand Study states that 64% of global consumers will buy or boycott a brand depending on its social or political positioning.
Consumers have power in how they spend their money and the knowledge they hold. As purchasing is becoming more incentivised by positive change, marketers need to focus on how to genuinely prove the authenticity of their product or brand, and less on how people will hear about it in the first place.
This piece is part of our Authentic Omnichannel summer event series.
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