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Consumer Report: Why Authenticity Matters to U.S. Marketers

As the marketing landscape continues to evolve, brands are turning to their customers’ photos on social platforms like Instagram to help fill a growing set of relevant channels. Olapic’s U.S. Consumer Trust Survey, conducted with research partner Censuswide, recently presented the unique opportunity to reach a community of active social media users  – from young millennials to boomers – and gain a deeper understanding of how they perceive and utilize user-generated visual content across channels. While the report provides valuable insight into how people are engaging with consumer images and videos from one platform to the next, in particular, the results strongly indicate that authenticity matters to consumers now more than ever, further making the case for the power of user-generated content. Here are some topline takeaways from the US-centric report:

Only 25% of millennials and 24% of boomers in the U.S. trust branded content.

In a world of staged photo and video shoots, photoshopped images, and overused product shots, it’s no surprise that authenticity strikes a chord with consumers. As user-generated content maintains a growing social presence and shoppers become increasingly skeptical of advertisements, consumers are demanding a whole new level of trust from brands and viewing content through an extremely critical lens. They are no longer interested in generic experiences; instead, they crave genuine content that allows for a more honest brand-consumer dialogue.

Social media has played a particularly significant role in driving more honest, human conversations for brands, especially considering how many consumer images and videos are being shared on Instagram, Facebook and other platforms daily. Survey respondents care most about what their friends and family are saying about products they use, with 50% making purchases based on the social content from their neighbor than the latest reality TV star. These social platforms have retrained their eyes and brains to see and expect more real photos from real people. Humans have an innate ability to spot ‘fake’ content, and if they feel as though they are being fed inauthentic material about a certain product or experience, they may completely lose interest.

The modern consumer is over 75% more likely to trust content posted by other consumers than by brands.

Consumers are increasingly turning to user-generated, or “earned,” content over traditional ads prior to making a purchase so that they can truly see a product or experience in action. We know that authenticity resonates, but it’s the honesty that makes user-generated content as powerful as it is. It gives shoppers more avenues for relatability, which has become increasingly important as they continue to search for real, personalized experiences along the path to purchase.

The fashion and beauty industries are a great case in point – shoppers are constantly condemning brands for continuing to heavily photoshop their ads instead of showcasing real people and their real imperfections. Consumers strongly desire genuine content because they want to see how a particular outfit or product is going to look on a person similar to them – not on a professional model with photoshopped skin and a 23-inch waist. Knowing this, brands are beginning to heed the call for authentic imagery. The intimates and loungewear brand Aerie, for example, has stopped digitally retouching its photos and videos to promote more realistic body images in its marketing campaigns. By broadening its push toward authenticity, brands can create an honest two-way dialogue with consumers and connect with them in deeper, more impactful ways.

The same can be said of the travel industry. If an airline or hotel is feeding a traveler generic content aimed at a romantic getaway when she’s planning a trip with her group of friends, it’s not going to resonate or elicit any action. Consumers want to engage with images and videos that honestly portray others’ experiences and activities while visiting a particular destination. Earned content provides consumers with an authentic portrait of the individualized and desired travel experiences that they are seeking, which is crucial to engaging travelers.

That’s why user-generated content is so important. Because it’s authentic. Because it resonates. Because consumers crave it and actually relate to it. Whether it’s a photo of someone snorkeling with dolphins off the coast of Hawaii or an Instagram post of a friend modeling her favorite new lipstick – earned content can help shoppers realistically visualize a certain experience, product, or style by comparing it to various activities, personality types, locations, age groups, hair and eye color, body shapes, skin tone, and more.

Across industries, from retail to fashion to travel to beauty, earned content is already playing a pivotal role in the shopper journey. When brands implement genuine user experiences into their marketing strategies, they can more effectively retain and attract customers who are seeking real life use-cases. By recognizing the value of authenticity and investing in the unparalleled power of user-generated content, marketers will ultimately garner stronger loyalty from consumers of all ages. For further insight into how U.S. consumers are viewing and engaging with content across platforms, download the full global report here.

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