Last updated: Fit for Engagement: Balancing authenticity to wield influence

Fit for Engagement: Balancing authenticity to wield influence


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Does anything beat a personal recommendation? Advocates can be an invaluable resource, but you may be better off earning their support rather than paying for it.

If the Star Wars unboxing extravaganza that launched Force Friday shows us anything, it’s that earned media – and making effective use of customer networks – is essential.

If you don’t know about unboxing, you might be missing a trick. Unboxing videos are huge. According to Google Insights, it would take more than seven years to watch all of the (21 million+) videos on YouTube with ‘unboxing’ in the title. Two thirds of people who view them (and I’m talking billions of views) do so to research or visualise owning a particular product – which might be anything from a new phone to a Grammy.

So here we have a situation in which huge number of consumers are going to some lengths, voluntarily, to share their experiences for the benefit of their peers. It sounds like every marketing chief’s dream. Though it’s not one without risk. As with all forms of social media, if people are underwhelmed by your product, they are likely to say so.

Advocates are an invaluable resource, but you need to balance authenticity to wield influence

That’s why endorsement and the role of the ambassador are growing in importance. It’s a necessarily subtle art. Consumers are understandably skittish where direct sales are concerned. But it’s something we all need to understand to ensure that when we do harness the energy of a brand advocate, the amplifier goes all the way to eleven without creating heavy feedback.

My colleague Michael Mischker’s sons play tennis at national level and share practice tips via their Instagram and You Tube accounts. In fact now he finds himself managing one of the biggest social accounts in UK tennis after Andy Murray’s. Brands quite naturally ask to work with him. Understanding the potential pitfalls, he has been careful to engineer a situation in which everybody benefits—and luckily the sporting world is no stranger to brand partnership so it is a good fit.

Down the other path you’ll see Evan, a young toy reviewer who started out showing off his Angry Birds toy collection on YouTube, but now has over two million subscribers and 1.6 billion views. This is a mammoth success, but looking at it with your marketing hat on, it seems he may begin to struggle with the balance between product placement and his original candour – meaning instead of being trusted reviewer he becomes industry mouthpiece. As his authenticity wanes, will his appeal drop too?

Realness can be a risk, but it’s one worth taking. As a brand, obviously you hope that people will always be delighted by your product. If they’re not, you try to be pragmatic and have a response – as well as making sure you listen to what they say. It’s basic customer service. Ultimately, authenticity will do way more for your reputation than spin.

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