Is authenticity a meaningless buzzword or an essential element of marketing?

An authentic, trustworthy voice has never been more important than now, with audiences being bombarded with fake news and clickbait marketing messages.

That’s the view of strategic marketer and communicator Briana Young.

Clickbait has had its day, she says, and audiences are demanding content marketing with an authentic voice.

“People are motivated by trust and are increasingly seeking out reliable sources of information, insight and entertainment,” she writes in a LinkedIn post, citing Bupa’s latest foray into content marketing as one such example.

Through its Bupa Blue Room offering, the health insurance provider has focused on positioning itself as a trusted voice in the healthcare space, says Young, adding that each piece of content is written by journalists and cross-checked by in-house doctors for accuracy.

It’s a strategy that has paid off by boosting Bupa’s commercial outcomes, she says.

Blue Room is now one of the country’s biggest brand newsrooms, attracting more than four million unique visitors since its launch in May 2015, according to Bupa’s outgoing head of global content strategy Matt Allison.

Those who have visited the Blue Room are around 79% more likely than non-visitors to believe Bupa has health care expertise, and almost three times more likely to consider buying health insurance from them, he told Brand News Room.

“On key brand metrics, the numbers are something like 80% of people who have engaged with Blue Room love Bupa versus 20-30% of people who haven’t engaged.

“When we look at brand and commercial outcomes and even just sentiment from people that engaged, we know the Blue Room has been a massive successful story.”

In a nod to Monash University’s content hub Lens, Young says universities are making similar inroads by capitalising on their strong brands and reputation as trusted sources.

Lens is also run by a team of journalists whose strength, says Young, lies in their ability to condense “complex research into digestible content through storytelling”.

But what does authenticity mean? LinkedIn’s head of content and social media marketing, Jason Miller, argues that the “profound-sounding” concept is meaningless to most people.

“I confess: I’ve stood up in public and spoken about the need for purpose in content marketing, or the need to be authentic in the content that we create,” he writes in the LinkedIn blog.

“But if you asked me to tell you what purposeful or authentic content looks like, and what makes it different from purposeless or inauthentic content, then I think I would struggle.

“These concepts are just too vague to constitute good content marketing advice.”

Miller is also critical of marketers who prioritise creativity over substance.

In a media environment where everyone shouts for attention, playing up the creative concept isn’t always the best approach, he says.

“B2B audiences are increasingly suspicious of content that’s packaged creatively but has no real value inside.”

Arguably, this may be one of the reasons clickbait is no longer getting the traction it once did.

According to Young, the trick is to balance creativity that creates impact with content that is authentic and relatable on an individual level.

As she points out, the market is so crowded now that it’s a case of “differentiate or die”.

“Think about what matters to your audience,” Young writes. “Offer insights and share your expertise … ask yourself, who will this resonate with and why.”

But perhaps Lauren Quaintance, co-founder of Storyation, should have the last word.

“We need to be honest with ourselves about what’s really a pillar of content marketing – and what’s just a buzzy concept that everyone happens to be jumping on at a given moment in time.”

Quaintance is putting her money on those sites that have built their reputation on authority.

Amanda Davey is the editor for content marketing at Australian Doctor Group and former editor of 6minutes.

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