The Power of Authenticity in Fan-First Engagement

By Thought Leaders Archives
Cover image for  article: The Power of Authenticity in Fan-First Engagement

Sports teams and entertainers aren't the only ones with ardent fans. Many of today's direct-to-consumer and content brands are capturing the hearts (and eyes) of consumers across the web. Executives from several of these beloved brands took the stage at the CES panel "Leaders in Fan-First Engagement" to discuss how to build authentic emotional connections — and fan-like zeal — to stand out in an increasingly crowded market.

For direct-to-consumer products and services, it's best to start by examining a category that no one can live without: food. For Grubhub and sister brand Seamless, brand love and efficacy are vital to driving the half-million orders they serve daily, said Jessica Burns, the company's vice president of brand marketing and creative.

Building authentic emotional connections with its consumers starts with the simple brand value of delivering food quickly while it's still hot, Burns noted. Another way to help drive brand love, she said, is to connect with consumers through their other passions; for example, one Grubhub promotion offered free delivery to Twitch Prime users (gamers do lover to order out, after all). Another is Grubhub's partnership with No Kid Hungry, which raised $11 million to fight childhood hunger.

Burns isn't the only DTC professional who believes in building bonds with consumers. Pretty Little Liarsactress and Béis Travel founder Shay Mitchell is capitalizing on interactivity to connect with customers when it comes to her travel brand. In particular, she leverages social media — especially Instagram, which yields 80 percent of her brand's traffic — to engage with her audience. Everything from color swatch polls to retweeting consumers who record their product experiences helps to create transparent and authentic bonds between brand and audience. "For us, getting that feedback using social media…has made it a lot easier," Mitchell says. "Everything is out there for everyone to see — the good and the bad."

Like their DTC counterparts, content providers are working diligently to build authentic connections with engaged consumers. Condè Nast Entertainment president Oren Katzeff is firm on ensuring that all content — whether print, digital, or video — is conveyed with a genuine voice. "People really hate inauthenticity," he said. "They know when content feels like an ad."

Katzeff explained that his company uses a flywheel approach (i.e., attract, engage, delight) to drive viewership and subscriptions. And while Condè Nast ensures that users are always seeing articles and videos most relevant to them, the company keeps prospective viewers in mind, as well. "We want content that is very core to the fans," Katzeff explains, "but, in terms of capturing new fans, we need to cast a wider net."

Some streaming platforms are also focusing on authenticity and listening to their viewers' voices. George Barrios, co-president of WWE, backed this by declaring, "The more authentic the voice, the more powerful and resonant [the content]." He went on to explain how the pro wrestling organization's top-of-funnel focus has been on tailoring content to fit each platform and, therefore, each fan's needs. This gives consumers the freedom to customize their experience based on their level of brand affinity. "Each [medium] has a slightly different audience or sensibility," he explained; for example, its AVOD platform is designed to reach fans on an individual level.

WarnerMedia's HBO Max, despite its mass appeal, takes this further by connecting with audiences that have niche interests. It's a point that executive vice president and chief strategy officer Sean Kisker emphasized during the panel. He also touched on how other niche, fan-targeted streaming platforms within WarnerMedia, such as Japanese anime streaming site Crunchyroll and Rooster Teeth (a hub for nerdy live-action and animated shorts), are "a part of users' identities."

Kisker made it clear that brands are able to build powerful bonds by genuinely listening to fans. "If [consumers] like what you do…, if they feel you're authentic with them, they will run through a wall for you."

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