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Marketing Insights: What does authenticity even mean in the world of fake news?

Despite the constant use of the word “authenticity”, during a breakfast briefing hosted by Marketing, in collaboration with the BBC, Ryan Lim, principal consultant and founder of QED Consulting, said it would be “naive” to say authenticity generally goes by the definition of the dictionary.

“That would be an ideal state, it doesn’t really occur in real life” he said. While truthfulness generally means having all the facts, unfortunately, discussions don’t always revolve around just facts alone. There are opinions, reasons and bias, and of course, business that creeps in.

“When it comes to authenticity, I have a more fuzzy definition of it. I don’t think authenticity means that it is truthfulness all the time. Generally, I think authenticity means there is a persistent perception of truth,” Lim said.

Moreover, content across the web spreads at an incredible speed and the space has become so convoluted. As such, it can take anywhere from three hours to three weeks to verify completely if a piece of news is 100% accurate, he added. But to wait three weeks to work out if a piece of news is accurate, in a world where consumer attention moves in less than eight seconds, is absurd, the panellists agreed.

John Williams, vice-president of advertising sales for Singapore, South and Southeast Asia at BBC Global News, is of the view that when a mistake occurs, the best policy is to put your hand up and admit the truth. For a news organisation such as the BBC, he said: “We have to be very quick to be up front when we make a mistake, and try to rectify that.”

“This means being transparent about what led to the mistake and let the public see what steps you have implemented to make the necessary changes,” he said.

Adding to the matter, Jacqueline Loh, vice-president of marketing at Scoot, said that keeping things honest was always the best way to move things along. She said:

If we made a mistake, the first thing we always do is to admit it.

“When someone wants to say something about us and throws an accusation at us, if it’s true, we’ll admit it, apologise and do what we can to fix it. That’s what we have done in the past and that’s what we will continue to do.” Manisha Seewal, head of marketing at Tokio Marine Life Insurance Singapore, added that while being quick to fi x an issue was important, holding the right person accountable was also vital – be it top management or a junior executive.

She added that communication from the top all the way to front-line staff was crucial in a crisis to come across as accountable.

“Communicate constantly so it goes through the lines and across the entire organisation because the customers see you as one entity,” she said.

Handling slander and fake news

Lim said when a spread of misleading information or slander happens, it is important to not react, but to think through what exactly is happening. “Ask yourself who benefits the most if this escalates?”

“If the news is really true and there is a genuine issue at the root of it, then you will know the protocol to take. But if you find that someone else is at play, be it individuals, entities or syndicates, think it through.” He added the usual knee-jerk reactions cause a lot more problems than solutions.

Rashish Pandey, director of marketing for Asia Pacific at Cisco Systems, added it is now getting harder to tell the good guys from the bad.

The important thing is we need to, as a marketing community, build a muscle to react to these kinds of situations on a frequent basis.

He said that brands also needed to learn from newsrooms. For Cisco Systems, marketing managers have been trained via editorial newsrooms and meetings to see how journalists react to situations and build on them.

The best type of branded content

“Well, it depends on the nature of the content,” Seewal said. In her industry, which she says, is more technical in nature, the content carries different functions from education to lead generation content and, of course, acquisition.

So to keep up the flavour, marketers need to hear and listen to the customers.

“The content should be free and educational to consumers. To some extent, it should empower customers to make the right decisions. But again, as a marketer, I am quite business-minded so lead generation and KPIs are also important. So we need to find a mix of both.”

She added, however, educational content, which is essentially unbiased, is where she gets one of the best engagements.

“As marketers we need to decide on a calendar that has a mix of pretty much all of it.”

Pandey said consumers today are, of course, smart enough to see educational content apart from a transactional one. He added that at the end of the day, in his B2B field, coming across as a thought leader was vital for long-term value. Instead of focusing on the quantity of branded content being pushed out, brands need to think about how their product or service can aid consumers and bring about better engagement.

“Know what the branded content is going to do for you, and how it fits into your marketing mix because it is just one part of the overall marketing mix,” he said.

He added that BBC, as an organisation, is “deeply involved in the value of content. Clients obviously want more because many think ‘more is better’, but it is our role as advisers to educate them that a piece of branded content executed across multiple platforms is infinitely better than producing content that wastes your time and effort.”