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Only Connect: The future of marketing is authentic

by Bradley Elliott (@BradElliottSA) Welcome to this, the first of a series of regular columns for My intent with this series is to show how — through the power of technology and data — marketers may better understand humans to create connections that are valuable to both people and brands.

Data empowers better understanding, and with better understanding, brands may forge closer social connections that turn audiences into brand advocates, influencers and loyal customers. When connections are human and authentic, good things happen not only for people but for brands, too. And the big issue that’s affecting Influencer Marketing right now, is exactly the same challenge that advertising faces — authenticity.

Advertising is in trouble

Advertising is in trouble. We’ve known this for a while now. The first big asteroid to strike the ‘Mad Men’ of adland was digital. This great disrupter has forever fragmented how humans engage with brands, partly because it’s democratised and disintermediated media.

For marketers, this disruption has meant grappling with rapidly shifting media landscapes but, for consumers, the experience is more about avoiding advertising. People increasingly perceive ads as noise rather than information or entertainment.

The media landscape has become so noisy that global research group, Forrester, says the emotional labour of distraction caused by non-stop ads on devices converts to fatigue for today’s consumers. Forrester predicts that consumers will join the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution by spending some US$24 billion in 2018 to “cocoon themselves from the noise”.

The next big asteroid

As if people switching off from ads isn’t bad enough, the next big asteroid to hit adland is all about trust. People across the world no longer believe that institutions such as  government, business and the media work for them. They have become increasingly distrustful of social media, too.

The latest 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that South Africans are now ‘distrusters’. They simply don’t trust business, government, media and NGOs “to do what is right”. Compared to the results of 2017’s research, the local drop in trust has been steep. South Africa is one of six countries that had the biggest declines in public trust during the past year.

The good news is that Edelman reports that trust in journalism has rebounded but trust in social networks, and search, is taking strain. A third of all the people surveyed said they didn’t think that social media was a force for societal good. For marketers, this translates into two big challenges. The first is understanding who people trust and what this means for advertising. The second challenge is infinitely harder; it is all about rebuilding the trust that’s been lost.

Who do people trust?

Who do people trust? Nielsen’s Global Trust In Advertising report shows that 83% of those polled trust the opinions of friends and family most. Word-of-mouth is still very strong — our networks are the go-to source for credible advice and information. The same may be said of millennials, but younger folk foster digital networks more readily, which is why younger generations trust human networks, online reviews or blogs, or go to their online connections for the ‘say-so’. This, in part, is why influencer Marketing has been a rising star in the digital marketing mix. Before buying anything of consequence, people don’t look at adverts. People seek out the opinion of influencers, experts or people in their networks whom they trust for good recommendations.

As Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg says: “People influence people. Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend. A trusted referral influences people more than the best broadcast message. A trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising.”

Influencer marketing is gaining traction, because it works. Research reveals that 94% of marketers who’ve tried influencer marketing say it is effective. In a recent survey, marketers say they’re set to invest more time and money on influencer marketing.


But brands can’t win easy returns from influencer marketing by throwing money — or reach — at the challenge. Millenials don’t trust celebrities as much as they used to. The big issue that’s affecting influencer marketing right now, is exactly the same challenge that advertising faces — authenticity.

How do you fix the trust problem? Interestingly, the Reader’s Digest Trust Poll offers good clues. People trust do-gooders. They have faith in the humans and organisations who are helpful, useful, and serve the greater good. To restore the trust we’ve lost, marketers need to do better. The opportunity with influencer marketing is to use technology to forge social connections between humans and brands that are meaningful, useful and that do good things for humans.

Bradley ElliottThe founder of Continuon and Platinum Seed, Bradley Elliott (@BradElliottSA) is a serial entrepreneur who’s created a number of businesses in the digital and technology sectors. He believes that marketing needs to be reinvented so that it becomes more useful to humans and brands. He’s also a collector of fine whiskey. Bradley contributes the new monthly column, “Only Connect” — which focuses on influencer marketing — to

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Only Connect: The future of marketing is authentic


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