Earlier this year I partnered with Oracle on a survey of over two thousand US-based consumers to learn more about who they trust between social media influencers and brands in learning about products and services, understanding out how to get the most out of them once the purchase has been made, and how they’d like to handle things when they needed help with a product or service. And while there were a number of interesting findings that were surfaced from the survey, one of the overarching findings was that close to forty percent of those surveyed trusted influencers over brands. But a deeper look into those numbers found that Millennials and Gen Zers surveyed were approximately 2.4X more likely to say they trust influencers than Baby Boomers were.
To dig in and discuss some of the numbers and what they might mean going forward, I recently had a LinkedIn Live conversation with Jeff Wartgow, Vice President of Product Management for Oracle. Below is an edited transcript of a portion of our conversation. Click on the embedded SoundCloud player to hear the full conversation.
General Shift in Trust
Brent Leary: One of the more interesting findings from the survey was that thirty-seven percent of consumers surveyed trusted social media influencers over the brands that make the products and services they consume.
Jeff Wartgow: Let’s think about that for a minute. If you have trouble with your computer or your microphone like I had just a minute ago, instead of contacting the manufacturer, the company that you actually gave the money to, one in three is going to go to a complete stranger who started a YouTube or TikTok channel and trust them first.
Brent, let me ask you, is there an influencer that you trust more than the brand?
Brent Leary: Actually, yeah. When I think about it, there’s probably more than one. And it seems like the more I do things like buy video equipment or want to know about the latest Apple products, I’m not necessarily going to Apple.com first. I’m actually going to YouTube. Doing a search on the product. And I’m check out all the videos. And all those videos are from influencers, people who aren’t directly employed by Apple, but through their content on YouTube and other social channels, you can tell they know their stuff. They give you all the different ins and outs, some of the best-case scenarios on how to do certain things. And I start to think this is 2022 and I’m wondering how did I actually get information before?
Jeff Wartgow: I’m just like you Brent. I’m Gen-X, right? I didn’t grow up with this. This is something that I was somehow trained to do in the last five years. And I can’t remember exactly when it happened either. But over the lockdown and the pandemic, we all kind of picked up new hobbies and stuff like that. I decided to learn how to do car repair. Now, I’m not going to change out the transmission, but I figured I should learn the basics because I couldn’t even change a tire. My father was in education. He worked in colleges. We didn’t spend time in the garage under the hood installing different things on my Jeep and various things like that.
And every part I got came with an 800 number, but I would always go out to a whole series of influencers where I got guys in garages who would walk me through step by step I think what draws me to it is how these influencers are leveraging the visual mediums. Videos, how to’s and stuff that brands are still a little bit stuck in the eighties and seventies trying to do stuff in print;
Here’s the 20 page instruction manual written in 20 different languages and you get lost in everything. I think influencers have embraced those cutting edge communication techniques, but also more importantly, they come off as way more genuine, right?
They’re speaking to you at your level, in your language. They’re not using any jargon, they’re giving you tips and tricks. You could do this or you could do that. It’s not following a set procedure, and it makes this content, whether you’re trying to learn about a product, learn how to use a product, considering purchasing a product so much more accessible because it’s like you have a friend in your house was talking to you about it. That’s kind of what draws me in.
Brent Leary: If you just look at the folks who said they trust influencers over brands, they are:
- 3 times more likely to say they would not do business with a company who doesn’t offer a digital self-service solution
- 4 times more likely to say influencers were their primary purchasing influence
- Two times more likely to purchase something in direct response to content they viewed on TikTok
- 8 times more likely to prefer engaging with TikTok influencers over speaking with a customer service agent
Jeff Wartgow: That last one is the one that really strikes me. Somebody would rather slide into somebody’s DMs that they don’t even know to ask them about a product than to call a brand and talk to customer service. And I work on our service products so that’s a big deal to me.
And why is that? I. My gut is telling me it comes back to what I said earlier about that authentic history that you get to talk to somebody who probably isn’t on an agenda and, you know, isn’t trying to rush you off the phone, isn’t boxed in by any parameters or anything like that and can give you that kind of really one to one personalized service that you want or at a minimum will respond right away. It’s fascinating how much people are relying on them.
Generational Divide for Designing Experiences
Jeff Wartgow: If you’re not designing your customer experiences around that Millennial, that Gen Z, you’ve made the decision that you’re going to be a niche player. Because it’s just the math.
Brent Leary: And it’s happening fast it feels like.
Jeff Wartgow: Yeah, it’s happening real fast. Rapidly. I’ll drop her name on this, but there was a woman we worked with a long time here at Oracle, Becky Kluger. She said one of her biggest challenges in her contact centers was, “My customers don’t want to talk to me anymore”. Exactly what the research showed. “And my agents don’t want to talk to them.” Because it’s the same people on both ends of the phone, right?
Brent Leary: That’s not good.
Jeff Wartgow: Well, it actually makes sense. If nobody wants to call you, who wants to be the guy who wants to answer? We’re all humans in this great experience, right? So, how do you build trust for the brand? How do you do all that stuff? You have to do it through feeding that same authenticity and all that you’re using for your videos and everything like that. But also allowing it to happen at the rhythm of today’s modern customer.
Brent Leary: We just talked about the power of videos, and it doesn’t have to be long videos. It could be in TikTok, it could be on YouTube. It’s almost four times the amount of Boomers who say they aren’t watching videos on social than Millennials and Gen Z.
Jeff Wartgow: Yeah. I can see my dad there saying, “I don’t do the internet.” Which isn’t true, my dad does. He’s watching videos all the time just to get through kind of content.
Brent Leary: Right.
Jeff Wartgow: This is really interesting too because we’ll bring it in a service angle. We’ve had the ability to do videoconferencing via contact centers and stuff like that for a very long time. Where you don’t need to call and listen to the IVR and dial 800 number and listen to the terrible watered down elevator music. You actually dial in and talk to somebody on video. The adoption of this technology was very, very slow.
Now taking into consideration that over the last two years all of our lives have moved to Zoom, that all of our brand purchasers are on that video wave, all of our influencers are on YouTube and TikTok and all the video platforms. Should we not maybe reconsider this channel again? I think we’ve all gotten a lot more comfortable seeing our face on camera these days.
Brent Leary: How could you not at this point? How many Zoom meetings a day are people on at this point?
Jeff Wartgow: You are your own wonderful little sitcom being broadcast out to strangers and coworkers everywhere. We should have a laugh track.
Brent Leary: Kids running in the background, dogs- … It’s a reality show, man.
By the way, one of my friends has a son who goes by, I think it’s Jeb the Boxsmith, and he has this TikTok channel. He started literally a year ago. And what he does, he likes these video games and a lot of the swords and other kinds of gear he sees in these video games, he actually uses his TikTok channel to build those swords and those fighting objects out of cardboard boxes. That’s why he calls himself The Boxsmith.
Jeff Wartgow: Really?
Brent Leary: He has only been around for a year and he already has, I believe, just crossed 250,000 followers.
Jeff Wartgow: I’m going to follow him.
Generational Pull of TikTok
Brent Leary: TikTok is the favorite social media platform for Gen Z. When you look at by generation, Gen Z is five times more likely to say TikTok is their favorite compared to Boomers. But as you can see, it’s almost like you’ve pointed out before, it’s a doubling. Boomers, 4.29%. Gen X, 8.35%. Mils, 12.2%. Gen Z, 25%.
Jeff Wartgow: When I saw this in the research, this actually spurred an interesting question in my mind. Is Gen Z going to a platform like TikTok because that’s where their generation is? Or are these kind of viral video platforms getting better at what they do with every release? Right?
So, Instagram was pictures, then it started doing video. YouTube started doing a long format video but it was very search-based. Then you get the TikTok, which was always designed for mobile, and algorithmic-based. And keeping it rules bound to where you can’t create something that’s too long, that’s too droning, and everything, this comes in really, really quick hits.
I’m going to base this just based on my instinct because I know we haven’t delved into this part of the research yet. I’m going to go with the latter. That these tools are getting better because the main thing is, me being a Gen X-er, and I feel I’m pretty savvy on technology and stuff like that, but moving from YouTube, I skipped Instagram pretty much. I have an account but I’m never out there. But the minute I logged on to TikTok, because I had to see what it was about, that had me. It became my favorite. And it has nothing to do with the dancing teenagers, it just happened to be that the content that was coming through I either found it so funny or so refreshing that it was pretty spectacular.
Now there’s always going to be some new platform that comes along. So, what’s going to be the next one after this that gets more and more refined? And then how do we have to keep on building our brands around that?
Will B2B and enterprises use TikTok?
Brent Leary: Given just a taste of the data because we can’t go through, there’s a lot of data that we were able to collect and analyze. But a lot of people would say, “All right, yeah, we could see this happening. It’s more on the B2C side.” But what do you see as traditionally things usually start on the consumer side and then work their way into the enterprise and the B2B? Do you see that as kind of the trajectory?
Jeff Wartgow: Absolutely. I’ll use you as an example. Yes, you have a consumer mindset when you’re buying all your video equipment and everything to do these amazing streaming podcasts. But you’re also a small business owner in the same sense. So, it’s already made the jump from consumer to business. Smaller businesses, but from consumer to business.
People are people, everywhere. And you don’t have a different version of yourself when you go to work that you have at home. If you’re the type of person who likes to self-service at home, who appreciates authentic connections with the brands you deal with or with influencers who are associated with said brands that help you along your journey, that doesn’t change at 8:00 AM when you walk into the office. And you’re going to really push for vendors who are also making your work life just as comfortable as your home life.
We’ve already said the consumer has already completed their digital transformation. That happened a long time ago, right? Now it’s businesses trying to catch up.
But I would totally see, particularly in heavy industry, people doing these viral videos on how to properly maintain your Caterpillar bulldozer, how to change the oil filter, how to work through your billing and your invoicing. These would all be things that would be very, very relevant that will make one business brand more attractive than another business brand.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.