The Importance of ‘Authenticity’ and Other Brand Trends for 2019

RFI Asia's Senior Vice President David Ko gives his outlook on 2019 in an article from our sister publication, Branding in Asia.

Authenticity is related to accountability and transparency, speaking with a true voice. Marketers used to pay lip service to “authenticity” because businesses have always had the instinct to want to protect their information and avoid being transparent for fear of potential consequences.

In 2019, we will face a battle between misinformation and authentic content. What is real? What is reliable? It permeates everything, whether it is fake news, deep fake, social activation, or the social CEO.

The Fight against Disinformation

Organized activity with the intention of affecting people’s opinions and perceptions is becoming a big issue. In 2019, we will see the fight against online disinformation continue. The past three years have reinforced the fact that the internet and social media are highly susceptible to abuse.

We are not talking about passive issues like the echo chamber or the filter bubble, but active measures by bad actors to achieve criminal or unethical ends. Alleged external interference in the US Election and the Brexit vote are clear examples.

Brands have started to jump on the social activism bandwagon, backing different causes as part of their narrative. However, a company needs to be very careful about what causes it backs.

Consumer backlash is swift, as can be seen by the decline in the daily use of social media platforms such as Facebook, especially in the west – a reaction against the role of social networks in promoting ‘fake news’. Social platforms have to figure out how to get out of the negative vortex of public backlash, and shift the conversation from being the bad guy to being part of the solution.

The emergence of AI Machine Learning-driven deepfakes, or artificially manipulated video content, will exacerbate the issue and force all parties to come to the table with technical solutions. Communicators and marketers will take on the mission to actively overcome this problem, in partnership with social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Social media platforms will also take a more active role in fighting disinformation by weeding out deliberate attempts to spread falsehoods and influence business outcomes.

A re-emphasis on Authenticity

A natural reaction against the tide of fakeness and disinformation will be Authenticity’s re-emergence at the top of brand conversations in 2019. Authenticity doesn’t just mean real video or conversations; it’s about communicating as ‘the true self’. Am I conversing, interacting and engaging as the true self of the person, the company or brand?

We will see a rise in more socially aware and socially active CEOs, and beyond. The millennials of today are the CEOs of tomorrow and they are digital natives who grew up with social media.

An authentic truth communicated badly can still come across as fake, so we have to recognize that just being authentic is not enough, it’s about preserving that authenticity across conversations, channels, formats, and platforms. That’s a non-trivial challenge.

While we’d all like to believe that we can trust our gut, at this time and age it would be laughable for any marketer to believe they can predict how the public will react to any message. In this instance, Data is your friend, and campaigns must be thoroughly tested at the planning stage to avoid surprises.

The rise of Voice-driven Experiences

If speaking with a true voice is the new old thing, how about letting CEOs do that directly, but at scale? We are already familiar with voice assistants like Siri, Alexa and Cortana on devices, and they will continue their household penetration as Amazon catches on in Asia. With the exception of Japan, our region is behind the curve because diverse Asian languages pose a challenge in creating intuitive assistants that are intelligent and accurate, but the technology will continue to mature.

Next step in the evolution will be personality-based conversational experiences with a specific celebrity, CEO, or thought leader. At Ruder Finn we created ‘Kathy’s Thoughts’, an Amazon Echo-based interactive skill that lets our CEO Kathy Bloomgarten engage with the public.

Authenticity doesn’t just mean real video or conversations; it’s about communicating as ‘the true self’. Am I conversing, interacting and engaging as the true self of the person, the company or brand?

I see this as a trend for business leaders and thought leaders, to use Voice experiences to interact and engage with their target audiences while maintaining control over their words. The possibilities are exciting, with huge libraries of thoughts and responses that can deliver a seamless, voice-driven experience. Because it is interactive, this will also be a great way to collect external information at scale from customers.

Related, we will see a rise in more socially aware and socially active CEOs, and beyond. The millennials of today are the CEOs of tomorrow and they are digital natives who grew up with social media. We will be looking at CEOs that are adept at using technology, to engage with a larger audience.

This is where the Voice experience comes in, and even VR avatars are not out of the question. You can have a CEO in 3D engaging with you. This is already possible but not enough CEOs spend the time to do it.

AR rises, but Video will continue to rule content

Content with heart is great, but no longer enough. A mobile device user mindlessly scrolling through a newsfeed has become the meme of our times. Creating content that pauses the scroll is the Holy Grail of any marketer, a constant quest to create the most captivating, compelling video that freezes that scrolling finger.

With only half a second to capture interest, creators need precise data to determine what works. At RFI we analyze video right down to a fraction of a second, examining each frame and its effect on the viewer’s attention. The optimization of video means looking at the first 30 frames to see what in those frames will stop a scrolling finger. This technology will continue to develop and refine.

Content with heart is great, but no longer enough. A mobile device user mindlessly scrolling through a newsfeed has become the meme of our times.

While new headsets such as the Oculus Quest continue to make VR more popular among non-gamers, at the moment AR has leapfrogged VR as a more convenient way of interacting with virtual experiences. AR makes it intuitive to interact immediately with your surroundings without a cumbersome headset, a key challenge for VR.

Most of us already use AR on a daily basis, for example dressing up selfies with face filters, creating a new generation of users who are already comfortable with AR. We will see more brand marketers use it as a way to advertise, to educate, to deliver services remotely.

Rebalancing of online and offline ad spend

While the shift in ad spend to online has been unrelenting, advertisers are waking up to the fact that online advertising may not be eating the lunch of traditional advertising after all. There have been issues such as brand safety, ad fraud, and the ad blocking movement.

| MORE: Six Consumer Trends in China and North Asia for 2019 and Beyond |

Studies show that around close to 50% of people browsing online have installed ad blockers, and there is a rebalancing going on right now, swinging back to the importance of broadcast TVCs and radio ads.

We will also continue to see the rise of native advertising, embedded content that informs and entertains. The best kind of native video ads are those that are even labeled as advertisements, yet people still want to watch them in their entirety.

Data is now the non-negotiable

Over the last five years, KOLs have been used in marketing campaigns in many countries and has been all the rage in China. KOLs with millions of followers became extremely expensive to hire as brand ambassadors.

Since the revelation of bots being used to boost numbers, and the ongoing battle of bot detection, marketers and advertisers have moved towards the use of data to accurately decide how effective or how high is the ROI of a particular KOL.

There is so much data available, and the key value is to make sense of it. In RFI we have developed InfluPedia which can look at the purchasing actions of a KOL’s followers, analyze and predict whether that KOL will be effective and risk-free for a particular campaign. We go right down to measuring conversion or potential conversion. That’s very powerful. 

| MORE: Two Ads I Like and One I Don’t – David Ko |

Social listening around a brand has the advantage of crowd-sourcing information and not just relying on a single source, but a collection of conversations. Studies have shown repeatedly that crowd-sourced intelligence can be surprisingly accurate. Where it becomes worrying is when there is a concerted effort to fake data using bots.

Listening tools, such as RFI’s Influencer Maps, can predict whether the KOL’s followers are prone to volatility or sudden changes in sentiment or whether the KOL has potential for negative news down the line. We do this by analyzing conversational traffic within the KOL’s universe of influence and generating a probability score for how effective this KOL is, and the likelihood that their followers might support or turn against the brand. Clients can use this information to either reinforce or change their marketing strategy.

Social Activism on the rise

Social activism is rapidly gaining ground for brand marketers. The powerful #BlackLivesMatter and the #MeToo movements have shown the effectiveness of using social media for mass engagement and social activism.

Brands have started to jump on the social activism bandwagon, backing different causes as part of their narrative. However, a company needs to be very careful about what causes it backs as they can easily appear inauthentic or opportunistic, for example greenwashing or astroturfing.

Written by David Ko – RFI Asia

Republished with permission from Branding in Asia

Branding in Asia
Branding in Asia
Branding in Asia Magazine is the sister site of Marcom Asia.