Be a Curated Brand

Tension, apprehension and confusion is permeating the world of digital marketing. Consumers have grown more ad-averse, privacy-conscious and careful with how they use their data, and marketers are being forced to rethink their strategies and how they deliver value and get their messages out at the same time. 

Credible Brands in an Un-Credible World

Gartner analysts released a study last week that found that between 10 and 15 percent of online reviews will be fake by the year 2014. That’s right. The social currency people use every day on Amazon, Yelp, Rotten Tomatoes, IGN and elsewhere to make or break purchasing decisions are only going to get more and more unreliable as fake reviews proliferate.

The Quest for Meaningless Metrics

This could be avoided, but it’ll be on marketers to change their mindsets.

Too many brands are too obsessed with how they stack up to their competitors. This has led to a market of fake Facebook Page likes and Twitter followers. Now, businesses are offering a few dollars for a fake review from people who have never experienced the business and without appropriate disclosure.

There’s a segment of marketers who don’t care about value. They just want cosmetic numbers to reflect success or hide a lack of it.

They’re driven by meaningless metrics. They want more likes, followers and positive reviews online, even if it means they aren’t legitimate. The result is analysts predicting that fake social media ratings and reviews will result in “at least two Fortune 500 brands facing litigation from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the next two years.”

This is Our Fault

Marketers have proven that they aren’t necessarily ready for transparent third-party reviews, which led the FTC to create a guide for online endorsements and testimonials in advertising, which required bloggers and any online influencers to disclose anything they received in exchange for a review.

As a group, we’re tempted by the fact that with a few thousand dollars, we can turn what is a rather mediocre social media effort into what appears to be an astounding success by paying for fake reviews, likes or Twitter followers. It’s lazy marketing.

The risk of giving into that temptation is too great for the industry. Third-party reviews are one of the most credible forms of advertising at our disposal. Traditional advertising has lost a lot of credibility in the minds of consumers. We can’t afford to let this happen to online reviews as well.

Trusted Brands Will Win

The good news is that brands building legitimate consumer trust will stand out and win out.  

Brands that are able to encourage others to transparently share brand content and points of difference without being paid will stand out in a world of fake reviews. Unbiased brand mentions carry a lot of weight and can truly sway a consumer’s opinion one way or another.

Give people the reasons and the means to talk about and share a brand. It’s often not an easy task, but if it was, marketers wouldn’t see the need to buy fake credibility. The brands that put in the work will benefit from it.

The more brands adopt this mindset, the less likely Gartner’s prediction will come true. Brands can’t buy credibility. It has to be earned. That credibility comes from authentic third-party endorsements, not fake ones.

Influence Isn’t Who, It’s What

There’s no question that the value of social media marketing is the power it has to give a brand credibility by leveraging a consumer’s closest personal connections. This is taken at face value, but it really isn’t as simple as that, is it?

Harvard researchers conducted a study that tracked college students’ Facebook relationships and evaluated how their connections affected their tastes in music, movies and books. The study found that, contrary to popular belief, friends really didn’t have too much of an affect on user tastes. This was focused on college students and can’t be generalized across every type of consumer. However, it does mean that it requires a deeper understanding from marketers when it comes to taking the belief that consumer actions are spread through social connections at face value.

It’s Not Who, It’s What

There’s been a lot of discussion this year on who is and isn’t an influencer, and this conversation will likely continue. But that merely scratches the surface. “Who” is only part of the equation.

The true power comes from understanding what influences a consumer from the people they’re connected with, the groups they’re part of, the content they consume and the context in which a message is delivered.

Go Deep With Understanding Influence

It’s easy to base influencer marketing efforts on influencer scores (Klout, Kred, etc.) by sending influencers products to try out or inviting them to an exclusive event. However, it may not be effective because the understanding of what influences the consumer is focusing on the “who”, not the “what.”

What truly influences a consumer can only be understood with extensive research, but as marketers, we can execute some key strategies to influence purchase decisions through social media.

  • Identify the purchase path. What causes a consumer to want or need a product? How do they get from the beginning to the purchase to the post-purchase stage (when they refer their friends). This can partially be uncovered by monitoring online conversations for mentions related to a product category or brand.
  • Find out what does have influence. Maybe peers have the most influence over the consumer when it comes to certain products. For others, it may be the professional opinions that matter. There may also be third-party resources that need marketers’ attention. Set up monitoring to understand who is being referenced in referrals for products and services.
  • Be present at the crossroads. Understand the story the brand has to tell and the consumers who want to hear it. Then be present on the platforms to provide value in the form of information, support and entertainment. Being present may not mean the brand actually has a presence. It may be a blogger writing a review, for example. Identify the presence that will have the most sway over the consumer.