In a Digitalized World, Consumers Yearn for Authenticity From Brands

Anything that sparks a real conversation is valued

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Like it or not, deep fakes are here. Don’t believe it? Watch as comedian Jordan Peele uses artificial intelligence to make Barack Obama deliver a phony PSA.

As deep fakes scale, consumers will become increasingly skeptical, putting real conversations—and audience trust—at a premium. In this age of fake news, Photoshop and Instagram filters, it’s hard to find content that hasn’t been manipulated to support the author’s favor. This lack of authenticity has people yearning for content that can’t be digitally manipulated. Even vinyl record sales are soaring as consumers thirst for music that isn’t overproduced. Brands need to take notice and bring their advertising back to basics while still leveraging automation to drive efficiency and effectiveness.

Say something

This lack of authenticity has people yearning for content that can’t be digitally manipulated.

You can’t tell consumers you are trustworthy—you have to show them. This obviously means running an ethical business and building a strong reputation so that when people check out your online reviews, they will like what they see. But it is also about tonality. Your brand doesn’t have to have a G-rated, cookie-cutter image to be trustworthy. It does need a consistent tone of voice. One way to stand out is to take a stand, share an opinion and stick with it. Businesses are often so nervous about offending someone that they say nothing of substance. Comment on the issues that matter to your company. Say something about deep fakes, for example or, dare I say, age, gender, race or politics.

You earn trust by taking risks. Look at Patagonia. Whether you find its the “President Stole Your Land” campaign inspiring or infuriating, it tells you what Patagonia stands for: their passion to protect iconic landmarks, even if it means ruffling feathers.

Sound human

Bots are everywhere. According to Pew Research Center, an estimated two-thirds of tweeted links to popular websites are posted by automated accounts. Consumers realize brands rely on bots to deliver 24/7 customer service and help manage social media accounts, but brands need to balance their use of AI with a genuine, conversational tone. If they are relying on bots to talk to their audience, they need that language to sound human.

We know more about our customers than ever before, but in an effort to use all this data, many marketers have lost sight of what advertising is really about. For the most part, ads that look and sound too robotic are off-putting. Ads that show your hand by revealing just how much you know about a consumer can also be creepy. You don’t win someone over by telling them you know everything about them. And when you try too hard to say something that appeals to everyone, you appeal to no one.

Rethink what personal means

Connecting with consumers on a personal level doesn’t mean algorithmically changing ad font colors or thumbnail images or even updating copy to reflect time of day or location. This type of optimization has value, but it is not usually what creates a meaningful, memorable moment, especially since other brands are using these same personalization strategies. To break through the noise, you need to invest in creative messaging and produce provocative work that gets people talking. You are not going to get a skeptical consumer to notice you otherwise.

Marketers are so focused on scale that they have forgotten the power of individual connection. A mass audience can be reached while still producing individual experiences with the brand, just like Patagonia’s ad is personal in that it gets you thinking about your own political activism.

You shouldn’t have to sacrifice scale for creativity or the other way around. You need to complement technology with human touch. Rely on people who understand how to use programmatic technology to improve ad performance but also value creatives who can assess your messaging and improve it.

Use technology to find your target audience and deliver custom messages, but don’t overlook the importance of a consistent brand voice and a powerful creative message. Consumers are tired of fake. Let’s get real.