Insights

The content mantra: authenticity, consistency and real contact

Digital Consultant - NL
Valtech

November 25, 2016

We’ve been talking about storytelling, content marketing and influencer marketing for a while now in the online world. And fi-na-ly, it seems that the masses have come to understand their importance. At the recent Web Summit, in Lisbon, Portugal, for example, the sessions involving content were well-attended; the recurring themes: authenticity, consistency and real contact.

Authenticity for advertisers

Authenticity seems to be high on everyone’s list of priorities. Only brands and influencers that are authentic can achieve success online, reads the mantra at the Web Summit. Alan Schaaf, founder and CEO of Imgur (a social platform for images and GIFs) is one of many people who support this view. According to him, there’s no reason why advertisers shouldn’t be able to achieve authenticity, and he’s proved it with Imgur’s collaboration with eBay. Together, the two parties create content that appeals to a particular target group, as with drones and old toys. User reactions have been positive and people have even complimented the ads. Schaaf says the secret is to ensure that user value comes first, with the value for the advertiser second. And it turns out that this approach works very well.

Documentation instead of creation

Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, sees an unending need for good content. There is already a lot of good stuff being produced, but the challenge is to get people to really care about your story. Ohanian, too, points to authenticity as the key. Or as he authentically puts it: “People want real shit”. Today’s world demands authenticity from brands, influencers and – especially – yourself.

Gary Vaynerchuk CEO of VaynerMedia, underlines this. He believes that as far as content is concerned, the coming decade will be all about documentation, not creation. We’ll need to document the reality: everything that happens between moment A and moment Z. Only then does it become real and authentic. Authenticity also means not being afraid to make mistakes and errors. In his energetic, expletive-laden call-to-arms, Vaynerchuk urges people to document the everyday: from a meeting to lunch. Isn’t that in fact what social influencers are doing now?

Creative freedom for influencers

Many brands seek to use influencers in their marketing campaigns. But, warns Simon Sproule, Director of Global Marketing Communications at Aston Martin, you should only do that if your chosen influencer is a perfect match for your brand. Influencers won’t accept being told to communicate a brand message in a way that isn’t natural to them. They absolutely must have the freedom to do it their way, and, as a brand, you can only allow that if there is a perfect match.

This view is confirmed by influencers taking part in other sessions. Indeed, they point out that they know better than brands what content is likely to work best with their followers. The campaigns in which they had the greatest freedom are also the most successful ones.

Consistency in stories

Being consistent is paramount in content creation, says social influencer Jake Paul. So he only works with a brand if he feels there is a good match, because, if not, the relationship is not credible. The brand and message must be consistent with the things he normally says, both in terms of content and presentation.

Jake Paul grew huge on the now-deceased Vine. With millions of Vine loops and aged just 19, he is an expert. People want to know what they can expect from an influencer. That provides reassurance for followers and so is an important part of storytelling. Storytelling doesn’t necessarily mean telling one big and beautiful story; it can also be about something very small, stupid even, that keeps drawing people back. Imgur’s Alan Schaaf points to Imgur user ANewBadlyPhotoshoppedPhotoofMichaelCeraEveryday as an example. A year long, the South African user posted a poorly ’shopped image of actor Michael Cera. And by bad, I mean really bad. Bizarrely enough, it was a hit on Imgur. Consistency taken to the max.

Aston Martin goes back to audio

Aston Martin is the happy position of having people enjoy talking about the brand. If someone like Jeremy Clarkson talks about an Aston Martin, it adds to the total brand experience around the cars. Yet despite this, a pronouncement by Jeremy Clarkson doesn’t lead to a direct uptick in sales. In the luxury car market, it can take years for the moment of purchase to arrive. It begins with a seven-year-old boy with a poster on his bedroom wall, and ends with a middle-aged man who finally buys his dream wheels. Given the length of the procurement process, storytelling is a wonderful way to connect current and future Aston Martin owners to the brand. In 2017, the company expects to create more long-form stories. People want to read long stories again, says Aston Martin’s Simon Sproule, adding that he is thinking not only in terms of digital storytelling – because you’re not allowed to read on a phone while driving. His team is also exploring opportunities to tell stories using audio, because that’s one media you can consume in the car.

What the Vatican and Tinder share

Audio may sound hopelessly old-fashioned, but what about smoke signals? If your main communication tool is a puff of smoke, the digital world seems far, far away. Monsignor Paul Tighe has spent nine years digitising the Vatican. Digital media will never replace the impact of the white smoke that signals the appointment of a new pope, but it will play an important role in everyday life. Tighe, for example, persuaded the then 85-year-old pope to get onto Twitter, in 2012. The current pope even uses Instagram. And Tighe also worked on ThePopeApp and news.va.

The Vatican wants to use social media to reach out to believers and non-believers. In content-terms, the focus lies more on real contact than storytelling. For Tighe, the aim is not to evangelise, but to share good news and listen to each other respectfully. In this way, the Vatican can come into contact with both believers and non-believers. By listening and engaging in dialogue, you can create beautiful things and gain new insights. Strangely enough, Tinder seems to do exactly the same. In a later session, CEO Sean Rad revealed how he comes to new insights – by talking with Tinder users about how to make Tinder better. How does he do that? By endlessly swiping and speaking with his matches.

“Eat your own dog food”

The speakers at the Web Summit proved in themselves that authenticity, consistency and real contact are hugely important in content marketing and storytelling. Stories linger best. Like the story by Alan Schaaf, that he only invested only seven dollars in Imgur. Or that when astronaut Mike Massimino was six, he used to race through his house wearing a space suit made from an elephant costume – and that NASA only hired him at his fourth time of trying. Or that a developer at Tinder secretly went live with the swipe functionality. Or the beginning of Reddit illustrated with pictures of cats. These are the kinds of stories you don’t forget. They are real, authentic, recognisable, play on your emotions and bring you, just for a moment, closer to the person on the stage.

What a great challenge to do the same online!