The New Social Connection: How Brands Can Truly Demonstrate Authenticity

The role of brand marketing has remained consistent for decades: to increase awareness and appeal for a product, and encourage consumer adoption and purchases. But today, the consumer has significantly different preferences and behaviors. For brands to connect with that end user and build a meaningful relationship, marketing has to look different — and increasingly, it has to take place on social media.

“Since the pandemic began, roughly half of adults have been using social media more than they were before the pandemic, with younger generations spending the most time on social platforms,” said Chris Costello, senior director of marketing research at digital advertising platform Kenshoo. “This will only continue to increase, providing new opportunities for brands to get in front of an active and engaged audience.”

Footwear brands of all sizes have explored marketing through social media giants Facebook and Instagram. As with other web platforms, these sites feature traditional advertisements that get interspersed throughout a consumer’s newsfeed or content stream. Recent additions of “Shop Now” features and “Swipe up to Shop” have enabled these ads to link directly to purchase, closing the gap between discovery and conversion.

But while these ads solve the issue of meeting shoppers where they are, the content may be limited in terms of building true connection. Particularly following the growing conversations around racial justice and sustainable shopping, consumers are looking to support labels that resonate with them on an ethical level. But it can be difficult to convey a brand ethos through a product campaign image — which is where the user-focused, video-centric platforms of TikTok and Snapchat may have the edge.

Snap has partnered with many luxury brands to help launch new product styles within an interactive AR experience.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Snap

“We found that 91% of modern consumers believe ads have become more intrusive than in years past and will filter out this content as a result,” said Jen Rapp, VP of brand and communications at marketing automation platform Klaviyo. “TikTok and SnapChat offer ad options that feel very different than Facebook and Instagram because they can layer directly into content.”

For brand marketing teams, engagement is the ultimate goal. This could mean directly purchasing a product through the ad, or simply joining the conversation and building that brand connection. Snap’s focus is on eliminating comments, so that users feel more free to share ideas and be an authentic individual. This feeling of trust and safety then predisposes them to respond well to verified third-party content on the platform’s Discover page.

TikTok strives for the same authenticity but from the opposite angle. The feed’s format makes it easier for new users to get noticed, democratising the conversation and spurring viral moments that creators of all types can take part in — including brands. In fact, consumers often initiate conversations with companies, as the platform helps to establish a more irreverent, honest interaction.

“Brands are being talked about on TikTok by users and creators, even if they are not starting the conversation,” said Sofi a Hernandez, head of U.S. business marketing at TikTok. “Target, for instance, recently joined TikTok officially, but it has been the subject of so many creator videos since day one. People go into the store, people talk about their obsessive Target buys — and that happens with so many brands.”

This emphasis on user-based content can help brands to better understand their customers, while functioning as unofficial advertising. It also can inspire new forms of brand-led engagement. Snap, for instance, offers a dynamic range of AR filters that companies can launch in connection with their product. (According to Snap, over 200 million users engage with AR each day on their platform.)

Video-centric social media platforms can encourage greater user engagement.
CREDIT: Courtesy of TikTok

Through TikTok’s original Duet feature, the platform actively encourages its users to respond to content they enjoy — or have feelings about — and share a reaction video alongside the original content. So a retailer might Duet with a shopper’s funny video about their recent store visit, to show they are paying attention and in on the joke. Alternatively, they might launch a video and encourage their customers to Duet with them.

“DSW is one of our early adopter brands. They created a song and put a challenge out for people to show their closets,” said Hernandez. “800,000 people created videos. These are just normal people, creating videos to the song where they showed us their closets. Marketers pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in ethnographic research to see people’s kitchens and closets, and willingly, 800,000 people showed us.”

The benefit of these more-playful, content-focused videos is that brands can free themselves up from traditional marketing plays and get more innovative with their material. TikTok and Snap are known for being informal and (ironically) unfiltered versions of social media, compared with glossy Instagram or family-focused Facebook.

They invite the same content from companies. This creates an opportunity for brands to showcase their behind-the-scenes footage or introduce customers to their staff on a personal level, which earns favor and builds trust with both new and long-term shoppers. Klaviyo found that loyal customers spend 67% more than new shoppers, so even if the marketing on TikTok or Snap isn’t linking out to direct sales, it can still positively impact revenue in the long run.

But there are also challenges in getting this strategy right. Manufactured “authenticity” is a red flag for users, and while people may be open to engaging with a commercial brand, there is a higher expectation of transparency. Klaviyo’s Rapp warns against using any straight promotional images, while Costello at Kenshoo recommends tailoring each campaign.

“Brands should never assume that their creative messaging can have a ‘one size fits all’ approach across digital channels,” said Kenshoo. “The farther you look within social media channels, the better those users are at sniffing out cookie-cutter approaches. Branding messages that might work in other media might not land the same way, and savvy brands need to be mindful of that.”

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