Episode 09
January 19, 2023

Visions Episode 9: The Celebration of Insincerity

Has the push for engagement over enlightenment led to a rise of insincerity from brands and the way they interact with the public? Should brands comment on controversial topics such as politics and how can they do so authentically without perpetuating this celebration of insincerity we see among us? This is a conversation that needs to be had because it affects all of us. Listen now!

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Show Notes

  • “Brands need a point of view. And the question to me is more how it gets communicated and where it gets communicated. But I think if a brand is participating in a capitalist society, which by virtue of being in America it is, it should be transparent enough to have a point of view.” - Grace Clarke
  • “By virtue of understanding the opposite of something, I started to really understand what the problem was or what the conversation was. I think there's definitely a fine line between insincerity, malicious intentional insincerity, and then satire. Because satire isn't insincere, it's actually extremely earnest in its attempt to prove a point.” - Grace Clarke
  • “Overhype is a form of insincerity.” - Brian Lange
  • “You then maybe cross the line when you're trying to manufacture something artificial.” - Miya Knights
  • “There are elements of a meme bringing people together and then something genuine in the world that is sincere and beneficial can come out of it.” - Grace Clarke
  • “Is it important that brands are transparent or is some element of insincerity actually protective for the business to grow in the long term?” - Grace Clarke
  • “It is very easy to lose sight of who you are as a brand. And that's really important in teaching customers how to talk about you, not just because consistency is important for consistency's sake, but if companies are missing the chance to reroute themselves and their brand.” - Grace Clarke
  • “In the past, before technology democratized the transactional experience all the power was with the brand, "I'll build it. You'll come. You're going to bust down my door and queue for hours for Black Friday," that kind of thing. And now I think consumers are voting with their dollars and they're voting with their feet. And so in terms of following that customer, the dynamics changed, flipped, where I feel the consumer is more in control.” - Miya Knights
  • “Different groups are demanding different messaging from me or demanding different things from me, I'm only going to stretch myself for the best customers because that's where the money is.” - Miya Knights

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Announcer: [00:00:02] Today on Visions.

Grace Clarke: [00:00:05] There is some weird shame in being completely transparent about it. The reason that I feel like it might be difficult for brands, especially from a marketing or growth perspective is it's kind of a vulnerable position to put yourself in. You invite criticism, and you might hold [00:00:20] yourself to a standard for the future you didn't mean to set.

Miya Knights: [00:00:23] Definitely, there is a rise of insincerity. I think for me, teasing out whether it's for the force of good or bad is the intent. If the intent is to do good, then it's more likely to come across as intentional irony or satire.

Announcer: [00:00:50] Welcome [00:00:40] to Visions. Visions is an annual audio/visual trends report that covers the changes in culture and commerce. This series is meant [00:01:00] to be a companion guide to a 100 page report. Download and follow along at Visions.Report. Episode 9: The Celebration of Insincerity.

Phillip Jackson: [00:01:19] Hi, [00:01:20] I'm Phillip. In his book, "A Supposedly Funny Thing I'll Never Do Again," David Foster Wallace observes the following. "So what does irony as a cultural norm mean to say? That it's impossible to mean what you say? Today's irony ends up saying how [00:01:40] totally banal of you to ask what I really mean." Internet culture has promulgated the idea that spectators lose and participators win. The result: a devolving public conversation around nuanced topics that have meaningful impact in our lives. This deepens the trench [00:02:00] of algorithmic timelines and artificial intelligences that index for engagement over enlightenment. Meme culture, hype culture, reply guys, and online hero worship are all symptoms of a broader problem. You've heard of the postmodern society. [00:02:20] I suggest that we are now in a post-sincere society.

Brian Lange: [00:02:36] We originally were thinking about calling it the death of sincerity, but actually, the celebration of insincerity [00:02:40] gives it a little bit even more punch. It implies not just that sincerity is something that is gone, but really that insincerity can be a tool. We've seen a lot of brand engagement in the world, political or environmental or whatever. Do you think that brands [00:03:00] should be commenting on social issues?

Grace Clarke: [00:03:06] Yes. There is nuance and shades of gray within everything, but I think brands need a point of view.

Phillip Jackson: [00:03:12] Brand and omnichannel strategist, Grace Clarke.

Grace Clarke: [00:03:12] And the question to me is more how it gets communicated and where it gets communicated. But I think if a brand is participating [00:03:20] in a capitalist society, which by virtue of being in America it is, it should be transparent enough to have a point of view and it should be able to hear questions from both inside the company and outside in the form of customers.

Miya Knights: [00:03:34] Yeah, and think about it another way. As a functioning member of the society, a corporate social entity, [00:03:40] they are being regulated, brands.

Phillip Jackson: [00:03:44] Author and Retail Analyst, Miya Knights.

Miya Knights: [00:03:46] They're having to abide by all the laws that we are, that we have to as individuals. And they have the power to influence and have an opinion. And I think the reason that brands and retailers do [00:04:00] it and want to comment on social issues is because they feel that in some ways they're representing their customers. And so if they can speak authentically to the way their customers are thinking about an issue that reinforces their brand purpose, I think, in that sense.

Brian Lange: [00:04:17] So customer bases are complex [00:04:20] and there are a lot of issues to talk about. Should brands be commenting on every single social issue? One issue maybe represents one part of their customer base or maybe one issue represents one part of their customer base on a specific issue, and that same customer base might have a different view on a different issue. And [00:04:40] so if brands are built to serve their customers and in this capitalistic society serve their customers well, are there things that where it's so controversial that they shouldn't be commenting? And then, of course, where does that leave us [00:05:00] with the way that we're communicating?

Miya Knights: [00:05:04] I think brands have a role to play. They have to have an opinion, but they have to do it from a position of is what I'm saying going to be a force for good? So a really good example [00:05:20] would be, I think, and it's not just social issues, it's increasingly sociopolitical issues. And this is why I talk about brands being corporate social entities. They can't deny that they have that active role to play in our society. And I think about Disney coming out against the don't say gay legislation. [00:05:40] I don't think anybody that thinks force for good and equality and diversity inclusion would think them saying that would be wrong. Yet they've been sanctioned by the Florida government for their tax breaks have been taken away. But I think people generally I mean, I'm maybe reaching and guessing [00:06:00] here, but I get the impression that people would rather give Disney kudos for having done that, for having put their head above the parapet. They didn't have to, but they actually made a really strong statement which kind of supported that role of them being a force for good in that sense. So I think it's absolutely important that they speak [00:06:20] up, but that they do so when they are on the righteous side of things if you see what I mean. Being sociopolitical issues, it can get really muddy.

Brian Lange: [00:06:37] Disney did hit some bumps in the road with [00:06:40] the market response, with that very specific issue. And it wasn't just the political thing. I think, if you look at America and diversity of thought in America, actually the market kind of penalized Disney after that move. And so in some ways, I think that was a really good one to pick because it actually is [00:07:00] one that I think there was a very mixed response to.

Grace Clarke: [00:07:03] I think brands have an opportunity to comment on anything that they would like. Just like you said, it's a complex set of decisions. I don't think it is one right or wrong, and I don't think every issue makes sense. And I don't think what you're asking is which issue should they be commenting on, but rather what [00:07:20] is the totality and the impact of their experience. And I think depending on what type of company you are and we can imagine what the conversations were like inside of Disney, I would think it is a collaborative decision about the cost and benefit, and that's really what it comes down to, I think, unfortunately, but also realistically, because if [00:07:40] we think about the board, most boards in my experience tend to not mind bad news they just don't want it to be a surprise. Or they don't mind certain decisions as long as they know and have had a chance to weigh in. So the Disney conversation seemed to move very quickly, but we can imagine it was a complex conversation, and the decision about where [00:08:00] to share that information and how to share it is really interesting because it's easy to think of having a voice on a social issue and taking a stance, meaning in infographics, an infographic that's shared on Instagram and that's not ultimately the only expression of a way to take a stance on an issue. It can be in [00:08:20] the form of employee policy. It can be in the form of who you work with in terms of artists and collaborators. But it can also be a decision to manufacture in a certain country or not. I think the most powerful statements are the ones that are the most simple and the most tangible. So Disney is such a perfect example of something that felt real and [00:08:40] that everybody in the company and customers of the company could experience right away.

Miya Knights: [00:08:45] To your point about how they should communicate. Yes. Social media. Absolutely. But to your point, Grace, it's put your money where your mouth is. If you're going to pull out of Ukraine, that's a social commentary in and of itself. So it's the actions as [00:09:00] well as the words.

Brian Lange: [00:09:09] There are complex issues that are multi-layered in terms of people's viewpoints on them, and they might not be as clear-cut as even just yes or no or one [00:09:20] or two, or whatever it is. And as a result, it feels like, and this is something that we've picked up on and we've identified in our survey. A lot of people are now, no matter what the issue is, there's a certain level of people that have to sort of be performative in the way that they go about communicating [00:09:40] these and following in line with the company line. Right. Whatever it may be. And there's sort of this idea that employees and customers and even the brands communicating, they may or may not actually believe [00:10:00] what they're actually doing or can they even believe what they're doing.

Miya Knights: [00:10:04] Just to tease a bit more so I can totally I really get what you're trying to say here because the phrase controversy for controversy's sake goes to the heart of what you're saying about the rise of insincerity or the celebration of [00:10:20] insincerity, doesn't it? Because you can get brands that will throw shade on other brands just for the sake of it because they'll get a few thousand retweets and likes. But, you know, do they stand by that? Does that actually mean anything in terms of reflecting back on the brand? I think that's the measure, isn't it, in terms of saying something for its own sake.

Brian Lange: [00:10:38] It's really interesting. Yeah. And [00:10:40] I think this can be applied to things as simple and I think social conversation counts as much as anything. I actually really agree with what you're saying right now. The but also as serious as what happened in Ukraine and one thing that was kind of incredible... I've never seen anything like this in [00:11:00] my lifetime, and I'd love it If you came up with some other examples of this. When Russia invaded Ukraine, there was a group within Ukraine that put up a web page that was like, "Buy into our NFT. You get an NFT and then you're supporting war efforts." And  [00:11:20]then there was the rug pull. No one got an NFT and everyone was kind of like, "Oh, all right." There was like sort of this element of like, that was wrong. You shouldn't have done that. But also, we still supported the cause, so there are these weird [00:11:40] moments now we're seeing pop up. And that's a very tangible example of moments of rug pulling, or I'm not even going to say that was necessarily insincere, to begin with, to provide [00:12:00] that NFT. But we're saying, okay, yeah, we can accomplish things through this. It doesn't even really matter whether they were serious or not serious about providing that NFT. They brought attention to this and we just saw this like with Goop recently. What do you see in culture right now [00:12:20]? Do you see other examples of this? Or are you now like the only way to accomplish something is through... Sincerity still has legs.

Grace Clarke: [00:12:29] This brings up the topic of satire, and one of my favorite political satirical writers is Andy Borowitz, who was at The New Yorker for a while. And it reminds [00:12:40] me of early days reading The Onion. I learned so much through satirical coverage in conversation around certain topics because I started, first of all, to cultivate a sense of humor, my understanding of how conversations can advance, but also that by virtue of understanding the opposite of something, I started to really understand [00:13:00] what the problem was or what the conversation was. There's definitely a fine line between insincerity, malicious intentional insincerity, and then satire because satire isn't insincere. It's actually extremely [00:13:20] earnest and it's attempt to prove a point. So there are different intentions there. But I think when we bring up the examples like Balenciaga's Sneaker or Goop's Diaper, those are very self-aware, almost meta self-referential ways [00:13:40] to be part of a conversation. And I think there's so much sincerity in that at the same time that they're not sincere about the product. So being able to say that it's both at once is actually to me totally comfortable and I feel like that's fine.

Brian Lange: [00:13:53] Yes. I love that. Progress through laissez-faire, or it's not [00:14:00] even laissez-faire, but yeah, a satirical look at things.

Grace Clarke: [00:14:02] Totally. And we've had conversations even just over the course of the last day about what that can look like in terms of retail experiences. I'm really interested in what that means when you have a retailer say something on an ad campaign like, "Walk out of the store without [00:14:20] paying." What they're really saying is it's automated checkout. And I don't know what the specific term for it is, but there are all sorts of ways to infuse what feels like well-intentioned, totally benign insincerity, as long as it is insincerity connected to humor. And there can be a general [00:14:40] assumption that people know that it's not real. But then we have companies like MSCHF who are making Nike sneakers, and in the Nike air pocket, there is what they keep saying is blood or holy water. And that I haven't [00:15:00] really teased out quite how I feel about it except to say that it is really easy to consume because it feels like sometimes marketing can be a race to the extremes in order to be quick to consume, doesn't really require a lot of cognitive thought, and there's no dissonance in there. It's just junk food. It's like news outlets covering the Kardashians because [00:15:20] they're chasing views or Burger King, like you mentioned, tweeting at another fast food company just to throw shade because it gets engagement. I don't think it's all wholly positive. Not that I feel like that's the point of this conversation, but it's all over the place.

Brian Lange: [00:15:34] I know I think it's progress through this satirical... Progress through satire.  [00:15:40]That's almost sort of... And progress can be good, healthy progress or it can be just going after your competitor type progress. And I think it's really interesting. And this gets into a whole meme culture and so on. It's no surprise to me, based on this trend that the richest man in the world [00:16:00] is basically our meme Lord. That, to me, just says everything. {laughter}

Miya Knights: [00:16:09] I kind of spent a small amount of my time looking at marketing across the entire sort of ecosystem of what a retailer needs to function and to operate. But when I was listening to you two talk, [00:16:20] I was thinking, "Are we really just talking about hype?" Do you know what I mean? Don't believe the hype. Believe the hype. And brands are great at hyping themselves up. And it's whether or not... I think the discussion that we're having here is whether or not it comes from a place of sincerity that is or insincerity for good or  [00:16:40]form over function. So in that sense, you are promising things you can't deliver on. You're overhyping yourself. That's when it becomes damaging as well as being malicious.

Grace Clarke: [00:16:57] Right.

Brian Lange: [00:17:09] There [00:17:00] is a level of insincerity in that. We do live in high culture. In fact, it's no wonder that our greatest community, where the most hype was [00:17:20] until like two weeks ago, was Web3 because that's Meme Central. It's gathering all of the hype people all in one place and saying, "We're going to build something around the hype of a specific technology." And I think you're dead on. I think overhype is [00:17:40] a form of insincerity, again, a celebration of it. There's also, I think, another form of insincerity that we've sort of started down the road of, and it's maybe less of a celebration, but more of a resignation, and that's performative actions. I think there are a lot of performative actions that happen and we [00:18:00] talked about the Hawthorne Effect in the report, the Hawthorne Effect being your behavior change when you feel like someone is watching you or actually is watching you. And so insincerity happens. I actually believe this. I personally believe [00:18:20] this to be true. I think there are a lot of actions that are taken in the world right now simply because people feel like others are watching them.

Miya Knights: [00:18:27] To your point about memes, I actually think it would be interesting to think the context in which you're using the emergence of memes may run contrary to the way I think about it. What [00:18:40] I think people draw from memes is the commonality. So a good example would be Biden's inauguration and Bernie Sanders sitting there in his mittens with his trenchcoat on and just the number of people that cropped that image [00:19:00] out and turned him into a meme. It gave kind of a sense of community. We all saw the same thing. We all thought it was super cute. We all decided we could apply this image. In that sense, there is an element of I think the people, the reason that people like means is it's kind of natural hype. It [00:19:20] becomes its own self-generating thing.

Brian Lange: [00:19:22] Yes.

Miya Knights: [00:19:23] I think you then maybe crossed the line when you're maybe trying to manufacture something artificial in that sense.

Grace Clarke: [00:19:31] There's something really positive about that exact experience that you mentioned. And it's the woman who knitted those mittens and then developed [00:19:40] a ton of business around that. And that's, I think, a positive rallying around that shared experience that you mentioned and you reminded me of... I'm just going to bring up social media since we're talking about it, although I think the behavior we're talking about can extend all sorts of other ways across the marketing mix. On Instagram, there's an account, and [00:20:00] I believe it's still run anonymously, but it's @affirmations and it is all about insincerity and community. So the affirmations, it's all graphic design, and each post features an affirmation written in that style of an affirmation, but it is completely insincere. [00:20:20] So examples of things are, "I love my job," and it's against a bright, beautiful pink background. And the idea is sort of a tongue-in-cheek play on becoming a worker in a capitalist society that if you are a part of the wellness culture and you repeat these affirmations enough you'll believe it. There are other things there like, "I love Mondays." And the reason [00:20:40] I brought that up is because it connects to this, but it also extends into that shared experience because, in the comments section of some of these particular posts, people have started to meet up with each other in person where they'll say, "I really want to have a walking group, a group of girlfriends to go on walks with. And I just moved to Boston." So there are elements of a meme bringing people together [00:21:00] and then something genuine in the world that is sincere and beneficial can come out of it.

Miya Knights: [00:21:07] I think if it stems out of genuine, it's something genuine, something organic. Because when you talk about Bernie's Mittens, you could say that that's an example of organic celebrity influencing and it doesn't have [00:21:20] that same sort of feeling of insincerity that most celebrity influencer marketing does.

Brian Lange: [00:21:27] I think it's why it kind of blew up. People loved it because it felt good.

Announcer: [00:21:36] In January of 2022, In a now-deleted tweet, Pabst [00:21:40] Blue Ribbons Social Media manager crafted a curt response to the dry January sobriety movement. Their proclamation: "Not drinking this January? Try eating ass." While there is a sweet nostalgia for wholesome Internet sensations like [00:22:00] Bernie Sanders mittens, on the other hand, Internet and meme culture has given rise to a slightly serious desire to see the world burn. And why? Because what we have isn't good enough? Or because we're all faking it until we make it. In Our Visions 2022 Consumer Research. We found [00:22:20] that polarization of consumer culture is very real, and that perception is reality. The idea of faking it reveals a schism: 51% of respondents subscribe to the idea that you must fake it, while 49% agree to the idea that you must be authentic at all times [00:22:40] until you make it. Exactly who admits to faking it online? Well, affluent Z-lennials, that is Gen Z and millennial customers. They tend to earn six figures. They're under the age of 35. They are three times more likely to feel pressure in maintaining an [00:23:00] online social persona. And they are five times more likely to post an inauthentic version of their life or lifestyle online. And in the end, it is the chronically online social persona maintainer that devolves the public discourse into cheap shot, insult comedy. Maybe [00:23:20] the gladiator arena of the current environment causes us to cheer on the blood sport and forget the humanity of the people at its center.

Brian Lange: [00:23:35] I also think there's an element of this let's burn [00:23:40] the world down because it needs to be.

Grace Clarke: [00:23:43] The last scene of Fight Club. {laughter}

Brian Lange: [00:23:45] Right. Exactly. Those positive posters didn't make anyone actually go get it anymore. I mean, unless your name is Ted Lasso, maybe. I think the idea is, Oh, yeah, that's something that's so dumb [00:24:00] and never helped anyone. Let's make fun of it. Even though it's this really positive thing. And so progress through burning it down, which also again, back to Elon Musk, I feel like that's kind of his whole vibe. Let's go build things by burning down the existing things that are not as good as they say they are.

Miya Knights: [00:24:19] Yeah, [00:24:20] I just think you take a risk when you burn things down completely.

Brian Lange: [00:24:24] Oh yeah.

Miya Knights: [00:24:24] I would prefer a more sort of let's dismantle things piece by piece in a methodical way. Maybe number them, so we know where to put them back if we need them again.

Brian Lange: [00:24:33] No, no, no. I totally agree with you. I am not by no means saying that necessarily  [00:24:40]this is my mode of operation. If you've ever seen my Twitter feed it is nothing like this. But I just think that we're seeing a trend in this culture. And I mean, you can even look back to the last presidential administration. I think that there's just an element of elevation where everyone [00:25:00] knows that it's kind of BS, but they're all on board. I mean, and obviously, that's one particular group. But even within each group, and it doesn't have to be political. It can be whatever it is, we're happy to jump on board with something we don't necessarily think is true if we  [00:25:20]like what it represents.

Grace Clarke: [00:25:22] I think that requires everyone agreeing to keep a certain part of the conversation in back. It's almost like the idea of not airing your dirty laundry. So there is one company that sells products and they're meant to be part of slow living and being more intentional about what [00:25:40] you buy. And their marketing quite literally uses the phrase "Capitalist society. We want to counter that." And that is totally fine. But it is also true that they are selling more of a commodified good that is branded beautifully. But they, for reasons I think we [00:26:00] probably should debate because it'd be so fun, they can't say, "This is totally contradictory," and consumers can't say, "I realize I am making an ironic choice," or they can't say. "It's so unfortunate that I keep shopping from, [00:26:20] for example, Amazon, if I feel dissonance about it." There is some weird shame in being completely transparent about it. And then the reason that I feel like it might be difficult for brands, especially from a marketing or growth perspective, is it's kind of a vulnerable position to put yourself in. You invite criticism, and you might [00:26:40] hold yourself to a standard for the future you didn't mean to set. And talk about undermining credibility with investors, you are almost a liability in that you are saying something that for some reason has never been really what's allowed to be said. But it is really, truly the biggest elephant in the room. [00:27:00]

Miya Knights: [00:27:00] So what you're saying is it's good to be honest, but not too honest.

Grace Clarke: [00:27:02] But not too honest.

Brian Lange: [00:27:05] Exactly. At least that's what I think is happening right now in our culture. Everyone's claiming to have... There's a lot of claiming to have to be sincere, but there's also this real, there's [00:27:20] a bit of an edge to it. It's like everyone kind of knows that they're not being as sincere as they say that they are.

Grace Clarke: [00:27:24] But what would happen if a company did? Let's say I'm taking Glossier, not because I think they aren't, but just because they are so beloved. Let's say that they aired out as much dirty laundry as they had, if they had any. We could make a long [00:27:40] list of what could happen in terms of people abandoning the product and people switching. It could really undermine the business's health. So do we need some moment of reckoning where all brands are in this imaginary world, forced to say everything they're afraid to say that their comms people ask them to take out of messaging, [00:28:00] so we reset it? That'd be so terrifying. I would not want to be in charge of that effort. But I do wonder just what would that look like. Is it important that brands are transparent or is some element of insincerity actually protective for the business to grow in the long term?

Brian Lange: [00:28:19] Right. [00:28:20]

Miya Knights: [00:28:35] I personally think that the rise of insincerity has led to the rise [00:28:40] of people believing that there's fake news. Yes, of course, there's propaganda. That's called propaganda, not fake news. And so, yeah, I think then it's a really interesting point you make, the scenario you paint. We're living in a utopian world to think it actually would ever happen. But I think it would be nice [00:29:00] if we had more Disney's in the world. We had more honesty in terms of just in terms of airing their dirty linen. I think actually our politicians have some responsibility here in terms of the laws that they draft to regulate data privacy or sustainability. [00:29:20] You're kind of holding the corporations, even right down to the small businesses, to account where you as a citizen or a consumer can actually go and look at public records and make your own mind up. I know that we're all lazy and we don't do that. So it [00:29:40] would be nice if, for example, from a COP26 perspective, the CEO of a company would be quite happy to talk about the fact that they didn't hit their green, sustainability targets this year. I think there's an element I've drawn out of that that we have to be willing to talk just as [00:30:00] much about our mistakes as about our successes.

Brian Lange: [00:30:02] Right.

Miya Knights: [00:30:02] I do believe it's particularly, as you can probably tell by the accent, an American thing. It's the hype man. It's everything's got to be awesome all the time. And that kind of leads to that level of insincerity.

Brian Lange: [00:30:15] That is the crux of it. There's an element of never back down. [00:30:20] Like that's actually a virtue. This idea of using satire. Sometimes it's the easiest way to say things that you don't have the ability to [00:30:40] say in a sincere way. And especially when we call for transparency in businesses. And yet we expect them to perform at every level. And bad news is going to have massive implications. A business that I love and everyone that's [00:31:00] ever listened...

Grace Clarke: [00:31:02] Costco?

Brian Lange: [00:31:02] Yes. If there's any business left in this world that's sincere, it's Costco.

Grace Clarke: [00:31:10] I don't know, one way or the other.

Miya Knights: [00:31:12] I don't either.

Grace Clarke: [00:31:12] I'm skeptical.

Brian Lange: [00:31:13] I mean, they've had their lumps and I think they've not been perfect. But as far [00:31:20] as actual sincere progress towards the goal, they are the closest mass-market business that I can think of. Costco and maybe Patagonia. There's more fun stuff we can get into. We got really serious here. I think there's also an element of this where we see brands [00:31:40] acting differently in different channels as well. So actually there are traditional comms where everything that's said there is as sincere as possible. But again, you heard the slight sarcasm in my voice there, because everyone knows it's kind of garbage. Whereas you've got your [00:32:00] TikTok channel where you've got the Duolingo owl having, what's the sponge? I forget, but the scrub sponge babies. And that wasn't ever going to [00:32:20] come through another channel, and so perhaps I think there's also an element of this where we have channels now where we're allowed to be insincere and channels we're not allowed to be insincere.

Miya Knights: [00:32:35] I think it's levels of formality in that sense because you've got to be audience [00:32:40] aware, haven't you?

Brian Lange: [00:32:40] Yes.

Miya Knights: [00:32:42] And I'm not going to put the same post on LinkedIn as I would on TikTok because I'm talking to a professional audience versus maybe predominantly Gen Z, Gen Alpha alpha audience. But thinking back to what we've been talking about, trying to encapsulate it, I don't know. Is it worth saying that every time you say something good about yourself, [00:33:00] you've got to admit fault as well? You force people to be balanced and then maybe we wouldn't get so hung up on... I think the thing is, though, I take it back, as human beings, we're programmed to remember the negative because that's our survival instinct. So corporates have kind of gone [00:33:20] the polar opposite way because they know that we're going to remember the bad things that they say and not the good things. So maybe that's again, another reason that insincerity is finding more and more traction. I think there are some channels that are definitely more insincere than others. But I think to [00:33:40] your point, it's the insincerity getting confused with satire. I think you need to be quite clever in the way that you're communicating in order to get the nuance of irony and satire across because it is a really, really nuanced thing. You can talk to somebody who doesn't get irony or satire, and you could totally offend them. And you've got to be really, really sensitive [00:34:00] to the audience that comes to the channel and be able to sort of react to that.

Brian Lange: [00:35:02] The [00:35:00] whole danger in that is you're putting out stuff on the Internet. So, I mean, and we can talk for a minute about whether or not if a brand completely removed itself from social media...

Miya Knights: [00:35:13] A UK brand, Lush, has done that, as well.

Brian Lange: [00:35:15] As well. And I think Bottega Veneta did for a little while as well. When you put something out into [00:35:20] the world now, there's the possibility for cross-channel conflicts and it seems that brands just have decided that doesn't matter. The different customer bases are so locked into their own channels like Gen Z versus Boomer or whatever, whatever the psychographic is actually probably not even generational, but [00:35:40] that it doesn't even matter if you put out something that would be completely offensive to one group as long as it's in the right channel, then no one even cares.

Grace Clarke: [00:35:50] I think it comes down to honestly resourcing and manpower in some of these companies because social demands so [00:36:00] much activity for performance. Getting on the For You page of TikTok right now, the way the algorithm works is absolutely a volume play. It is more is more. It is also understanding your niche, but it is putting enough out there, at least in that first wave of your brand's presence on that platform, to understand [00:36:20] what's resonating and to have a good enough chance that a few videos will take off, that you get some signals about where you are going to find a niche, if you are going to find a niche. So imagine that your boss is telling you the social manager, the marketing team, build out a plan and run all these channels at the same [00:36:40] time that these platforms are demanding more and more and more, not just more content, but different types of content. So TikTok is video. Sure, you can put some videos together that involve screen grabs, but for the most part, it's a completely different way of creating. And I find that companies of all sizes, this is completely stage agnostic, view [00:37:00] marketing, specifically social, as extremely efficient and easy to do, and that it can be done with limited budget and even fewer people. So I think brands don't really have the resourcing to be able to always do this well. And well doesn't mean hitting certain metrics or [00:37:20] hitting any sort of benchmark. It just means to actually do it in a way that works for whatever that brand is. So when we think about segmenting and how impossible that can be across traditional channels, social is just mind-blowing. What most brands are doing right now is creating what they feel might apply to the biggest range of [00:37:40] their customer and then sharing those assets across channels. If you're Disney, it is so different. That is a completely different world and I imagine Costco too. But when we think about why Bottega got off Instagram for a bit, I don't think that came down to resourcing. I think that was a decision about signaling a virtue or a value and [00:38:00] then honestly getting great attention. I remember speaking with Business of Fashion at the time and I said, "If you think all brands can do that, you are living on Mars." It is such an extremely important part of generating demand in communicating with your customers, but you're still relying on this platform. So I [00:38:20] don't know. Did Lush end up getting back on Instagram?

Miya Knights: [00:38:22] No. They're still off Instagram. There are still off all social media. It was from top down. The CEO was quite happy to talk about it to the press and he just said this is a distraction and it's just diluting our brand. So this was the point that I was going to make. I don't know. I'm not enough of an expert. But what I do know [00:38:40] to be the truth is that you always have to be so clear about what your brand is. And in order to do that, you have to be really, really clear who your best customer is. I'm not talking about the fly-by-night, the 60%, or the 80%. I'm all about the 20% that drive 60% of your sales. And [00:39:00] if I was given the chance to be CEO of a retailer, I would say, "Listen, we have to be on message across every channel." Doesn't mean we have to say it the same way. I [00:40:20] develop a campaign and then I work out what nuance I need to communicate [00:40:40] the messages behind that campaign via each social media channel. But kind of what I'm seeing at the moment, to your point, Grace, about the amount of resource needed, it's a bit like the wild, Wild West where you get different messages being disseminated through different channels. You get more cheeky advertising [00:41:00] and marketing that you don't see elsewhere. I would like to see a bit more consistency in that sense, even if you're going to be cheeky about it, you're still trying to sell me the same thing or communicate the same message or make the same point, whether it's LinkedIn or TikTok or Facebook. I think there's a consistency, to me, that has to be there. [00:41:20]

Grace Clarke: [00:41:20] Let's hold that, which I completely agree with, against the stat that the average TikTok user spends 52 minutes a day on that app. And that is true of every single one of their daily active users on average. So to be able to think about a brand having success [00:41:40] there, it really would stress me out for the companies who are thinking, "How can we do this well?" And Lush feeling it's a distraction to me is how I would feel if I were running a company myself. If it's really unlikely that the CEOs of these companies trying to really establish themselves on TikTok have the chance even [00:42:00] to sit down and think, "I should rally the team that's responsible for running this channel, and let's have a conversation, even a whiteboarding session where we put together a style guide for who we are as we evolve," because brands bring new customers into the mix. And without a moment, even [00:42:20] if it's just an addendum to a quarterly OKR review, it is very easy to lose sight of who you are as a brand, and that's really important in teaching customers how to talk about you, not just because consistency is important for consistency's sake, but if companies are missing [00:42:40] the chance to reroute themselves in their brand and ask questions like "We seem to be producing this type of content, is this right for us right now?" Tack that on to a quarterly review. There's no reason why it should be lost.

Miya Knights: [00:42:52] And retailers are really good at following the customer. And it just annoys me. I mean [00:43:00] we could talk about this in regard to who has a transactional website versus who doesn't. Oh, you can afford not to have a transactional website, sorry, but I think you'll find most of your customers want you to have a transactional website So we can see why Lush made the decision or Bottega or whoever. But [00:43:20] at the same time, I would say that's just lazy. If that's where your customers are, you have to figure out how to get to your customers that way in a meaningful way that truly resonates, that adds to your bottom line, that delivers on the ROI. And it sounds to me like to your point about the Lush CEO, we're thinking the conversations that were happening, it's [00:43:40] a cop-out to say, "I'm out." You've got to be in it to win it in that sense. And if you can't figure it out and if you over-resourcing it, then there's something wrong. Go back, and fix it. Try, try, try again in that sense. So to your point, it's making sure it's part of the review, part of measuring [00:44:00] how you're doing as a business is how well you're communicating across all these channels. Because if it's a transactional channel, retailers are less likely to argue. When there's slightly harder to prove ROI when it comes to marketing then, "Oh yeah, I'm out..." I don't get that.

Grace Clarke: [00:44:16] I love this because I feel the other way. So breaking it down, [00:44:20] I'm wondering if it's actually a net benefit for a company to say, "I'm going to get off Instagram." Either it's a distraction. That could be wonderful phrasing or a way to position it for some reason. But just because that platform exists as a way to communicate, does it mean that a brand is obligated to figure it [00:44:40] out? And maybe yes, because maybe they have a responsibility. The expectation of the customer is, "Well, that's where I hear from you. So how do I know about new products?" For example. So there is a sense that a brand has a presence there. It's almost funny to think about not having it because to me it's where I go to look up brands before I Google them often. [00:45:00] Do companies have the choice even to say, "I'm not going to participate?"

Miya Knights: [00:45:19] I know [00:45:20] in the report we talk about the balance of power between the consumer and the brand. Before technology democratized the transactional experience. All the power was with the brand. "I'll build it. You'll come. You're going to bust down my door and queue for hours for before Black Friday," that kind of thing. And now I think consumers are voting with their dollar and they're [00:45:40] voting with their feet. And so in terms of following that customer, the dynamics changed, flipped where I feel the consumer is more in control. So if any CEO that jumps off of social media could say to me, "Well, we looked at our traffic, we looked at our ROI and we found that we were getting a lot [00:46:00] more return and engagement from LinkedIn and Twitter and Facebook than we were from Insta." You might still think, "Oh no, really, I'm an Insta baby," but at least they've been able to justify it because money talks. And if they can say to us, "We are more successful on these channels because this is where our audience is, because these are where our customers [00:46:20] engage..."

Grace Clarke: [00:46:20] That gets back to this whole conversation. That's sincere. Saying it's a distraction. We don't enjoy it. That has the scent of insincerity.

Miya Knights: [00:46:29] Yeah. There's something going on.

Grace Clarke: [00:46:30] If you are in the business or if you're a marketer, it's your job to figure out what that means in numbers so that you can understand.

Miya Knights: [00:46:37] And to make it work. And if you can't make it work, then there's [00:46:40] got to be a concrete reason why. And that's probably because that's not where your customers are or you don't have the right people writing the right content. There's stuff that can be fixed in that sense. Then there's maybe in terms of following the money, that's possibly the only reason, I think. But even so, [00:47:00] you're still going to be denying some of your customer base when you come away from a social media channel. So it's really brave or stupid. Equally?

Grace Clarke: [00:47:09] Every time I've suggested getting off social media for a short period of time or for a campaign to a client, it was shot down immediately. And I can understand why. [00:47:20] But I've suggested things to clients like, "Take the social team, give them the month off of Instagram, and let's all work on a totally different project, whether it's building out a big initiative or launching TikTok. And let's be open about it and let's talk about it. Let's make it part of the business story." It's just such the wrong decision for the business, even if they haven't turned on Paid and [00:47:40] Instagram and Meta are not part of the demand generation for that particular brand, it's still just such an easy way for them, not easy meaning it's not easy to create assets, but it is such an obvious way for a brand to express itself. So taking that out, I really think you have to be a brand that's so [00:48:00] luxury like Bottega to say, "We're going to get off Instagram for an undisclosed period of time and what we're going to give you that you don't already know about is an unbelievable digital magazine that is completely touch and feel as much as it can be. You got to mouse over the different articles of clothing, and if it was a bag with a metal chain, you could hear the sound that that chain [00:48:20] would make as you walk down the street with the bag on your shoulder. So it was beautiful. But think about resourcing. I mean, they may not have even had to have that conversation.

Brian Lange: [00:48:38] You both have talked a lot about having [00:48:40] a consistent message across channels. And this is something that I feel brands have abandoned to some degree. I think you are both like, yes, they need to be more consistent, but I don't even know if this is my question. It's not even like devil's advocate or [00:49:00] an insincere question, this is a sincere question. Isn't messaging to different psychographics maybe they want something completely different out of your brand than another psychographic would. [00:49:20] And so maybe consistent messaging isn't necessary anymore.

Miya Knights: [00:49:25] I'm just going to bring it down to brass tacks, which is which group is more lucrative? And I'm going to focus my dollars there. "I want something different from you." "Then come spend more money with me."

Grace Clarke: [00:49:37] Let's think about Spotify. Large consumer [00:49:40] base. And until now, most people are paying them the same amount of money for product. Different age groups will pay them more. But Spotify Premium is Spotify Premium. And unless you're a college student with a discount or you go to university, you're pretty much paying $10 or whatever it is right now. Spotify on TikTok is very different than what it looks like as an out-of-home campaign that [00:50:00] features Basquiat and talks about listening to the music that he listened to when he was painting in his studio. That's nowhere on their other channels and that's totally fine. That means to me that they probably have a team that's resourced enough or agencies that are able to handle different things.

Brian Lange: [00:50:15] Yes. I agree with that.

Grace Clarke: [00:50:16] But that consistency, like you said, that value in that message, [00:50:20] is there no matter what. You still feel that same heart and soul of that company.

Miya Knights: [00:50:23] Another may be thinking about answering your question is ten years ago I talked about the idea of personalized pricing and people are like, "Oh my God, that's horrific. We're never going to get to that point." And then you had [00:50:40] Amazon open its 4-Star bookstore and you would scan the tag with your Amazon app and you'd be given a different price from the person after you and the person before you. Fast forward to today, one of the biggest grocers in the UK, Tesco with its massive Clubcard program, you can get personalized pricing, [00:51:00] but the difference being they're saying, "I'm only going to give this to my best customers. You have to be loyal to me to do that." So going back to your point about different groups demanding different messaging from me or demanding different things from me, I'm only going to stretch myself for the best customers because [00:51:20] that's where the money is.

Grace Clarke: [00:51:21] I think that's extremely sincere. I mean, by virtue of, let's say, Sephora's loyalty program, you accrue points by shopping more. Nobody's hiding that. And the same thing might be true of Tesco's card that if you shop there, you get a reward for shopping there. That's [00:51:40] to me a win/win in the most general sense.

Brian Lange: [00:51:51] There is a lot of sincerity, but I do think, to kind of bring it back, I think especially recent generations, like millennials, were very [00:52:00] sincere in their approach. And we were like, "Things need to be good..." And there were some dissonance and all of that. There was some dissonance for sure, but as a general group, I feel like it was a lot of like, "Let's get back to good things." And then I feel like there's just [00:52:20] been a little bit of calling out. This next generation is like, "A lot of that's actually not so good." There's a brand called Faculty that's men's nail polish. They actually have seven approved logos, different brand identities for different channels. I think that there is opportunity to have [00:52:40] multiple identities, but I do believe as we look at insincerity, perhaps it's one channel specific or just a few channels like as we talked about. And that can be just as much of the brand as the most sincere part of the channel or of the brand.

Miya Knights: [00:52:56] But here's where it gets really complicated in the sense that you can [00:53:00] say, "I have a consistent message and I'm going to tailor it for each channel." And then you hand it off to your TikTok manager who decides to take that message and turn it into something completely insincere.

Brian Lange: [00:53:11] It's the same in politics, the same in everything. We tend to say we're doing one thing and then do [00:53:20] another. We just talked about this in the last session. We buy from Amazon while decrying Amazon as an unsustainable company. That I think is where we're at as a culture. It's inconsistent and there's an element of it where we're like, "Yeah, that's what we are."

Miya Knights: [00:53:39] Definitely [00:53:40], there is a rise of insincerity. I think for me, teasing out whether it's for the force of good or bad is the intent. If the intent is to do good, then it's more likely to come across as irony or satire. It's intentional irony or satire. If it's just being bloody [00:54:00] minded and saying something for something's sake and calling something out as fake news, then I think, yeah, it's definitely a sign of our times that we live in, that we have this tension, but I don't think it resonates as well with the customers that you want to attract.

Announcer: [00:54:20] The [00:54:20] Visions Podcast is brought to you by Future Commerce. You can find more episodes of this podcast and all Future Commerce properties at FutureCommerce.fm. Download our 100 page companion guide on cultural and consumer trends by visiting Visions.Report. That's Visions.Report.

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