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Regaining Customer Trust: Two Strategies for Authenticity in the Era of Generative AI and Programmatic Content

Regaining Customer Trust: Two Strategies for Authenticity in the Era of Generative AI and Programmatic Content

How doubling down on generating ‘Earned Media’ and measuring ‘Earned Growth’ as a separate marketing channel can boost authenticity in a programmatic world.

By Gerard McNamara
April 26, 2023

The first clickable banner ad appeared in 1994. The browser cookie followed a year later, and with that, the biggest expenditure item in marketing budgets – advertising – transitioned to a programmatic approach. Nearly 3 decades later, we are witnessing another seismic shift, this time in the second biggest expenditure item – content development. The creative brief, which guides content creation teams, is now able to generate the content itself, and the outcome is likely to be orders of magnitude changes in the volume of content created.

It has been documented that advertising’s shift to programmatic content was responsible for a decline in consumer trust in advertising. In 2017, an Ipsos survey found that ‘69% of consumers distrust brand advertising’ and an InMoment survey in 2018 found that 75% of consumers found personalisation ‘creepy’, and as Evan Davis summarised on his BBC Radio show on Advertising, “something that is too narrowly targeted is a little bit suspect”.

Generative AI will mean a radical personalisation of marketing content which could further erode consumer trust.

So, what can marketers do to regain trust?

Here are two strategies that will promote authenticity – double down on generating ‘earned media’ and start measuring ‘earned growth’ as a separate marketing channel.

Double Down on Generating ‘Earned Media’.

This first strategy is sometimes undervalued by marketers, who tend to control 3 main channels:

  1. The ‘Paid’ media channel – which is any form of advertising.
  2. The ‘Owned’ channel – which includes their company website and campaign landing pages.
  3. The ‘Shared’ channel – which are the social media influencers and brand ambassadors.

There is a fourth channel, which is not always under marketing’s direct control. The ‘Earned’ media channel – which is media coverage produced by journalists in ‘the news’ – this could be in the press, on TV, and in online news. It could be as simple as a product review by a journalist, or a more complex campaign where a company is featured as part of a bigger news story. The differentiator with earned media is that authenticity is generated as a result of having someone else talking about you, it’s not you talking about yourself.

Trusts is eroded when consumers only see messaging that is controlled by the brand, however, when a company’s message is supplemented by some earned media, a dose of authenticity is injected into the messaging. In the UK, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer “trust in journalism in 36% higher than trust in social media or ads where corporate messages are prevalent”.

It is the Public Relations (PR) department’s role to generate media coverage, and it’s important that PR and Marketing departments operate as a team to maximise the compounding effect that positive media coverage generates. A well-executed earned media campaign will validate the entire marketing spend by injecting authenticity into the narrative.

Measure and Treat Earned Growth as a Separate Marketing Channel.

There is now a fifth marketing channel emerging, known as the ‘Earned Growth’ channel or ‘NPS 3.0.’

Created by Fred Reichheld, the creator of the Net Promoter Score (NPS), the ‘Earned Growth’ concept calls for the separate measurement of revenue that comes from customers were generated through referrals vs. through paid media and other channels.

Measuring the revenue that comes organically from returning customers is not new, and it is called Net Revenue Retention (NRR). However, measuring revenue from customers who buy after being recommended by an existing customer is not widely adopted yet.

It’s an important concept – to be a market leader, Reichheld states that ‘you need to be remarkable’. This means creating a customer experience that stands out so that that customers feel comfortable recommending your product, ideally through a structured referral marketing program.

Measuring Earned Growth as a separate metric galvanises the company to obsess on the customer experience. An example of a remarkable customer experience is the return of online purchases ordered through Amazon, where customers can go to Amazon Fresh stores and hand back items without the box, tape, or label and receive and instant refund.

Another example of ‘remarkable’ comes from my former boss, the entrepreneur and CEO, Ben Chodor, who went the extra mile by “starting a practice of sending thank-you notes to each client after signing a contract or hosting an event.” Not only did this practice get noticed and appreciated by our customers, giving them the authentic sense that they were valued, it also sent a cultural message to our 1,400 employees that the CEO cares about each individual client as well as their mission-critical events.

To measure earned growth, Reichheld explains that you need to calculate the value of ‘earned new customers’ (ENC). It is the percentage of revenue from new customers you’ve earned through referrals. Once you have a reasonable estimate of revenues from ENC, you can justify more investment in delighting current customers, creating a virtuous circle of customer-centricity. This is transformational because most companies undervalue referrals, treating them as the ‘icing on the cake’ when they should be treated as the most important indicator of sustainable growth.

In conclusion, the hyper-targeted personalisation that advances in technology like generative AI, are expected to have on programmatic content creation need not erode trust in a brand’s credibility – companies need to adhere to the foundational principle of customer-centricity and ensure that their reputations are amplified through earned media coverage and through their satisfied customers recommending their product to others.

About the Author

Based in London, Gerard serves as a sales and marketing leader in high-growth, high-change technology companies. He has first-hand experience scaling a start-up, has brought companies together during M&A for multiple roll-ups, and has expert consultative selling skills gained in a large technology firm. He is passionately customer-centric, regularly coaching B2B sales teams to improve their effectiveness through improved execution. When not working, Gerard enjoys spending time with his family, fitness training, and flying his light aircraft.

Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.

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