The Rise and Rise of Influencer Marketing
As the influencer marketing industry develops, we will of course see changes. The challenge, however, is determining how to grow with these changes, spot the opportunities and utilise the power of this new and exciting sector.
The role of influencers has changed dramatically in recent years. Previously media owners would use the editors of their owned & operated sites as influencers to create branded content. However, this was not without its limitations and it ran the risk of lacking impartiality. There is now a significant appetite for the use of a wide range of independent influencers who are passionate about branded content and who, by definition, have a true sphere of influence. The more influencers deliver localised and creative content, the stronger the impact, and in turn, the results for marketers.
The challenge, however, is determining which influencers to work with. A number of factors have to be considered and each brief should define the choice of the influencer. The selection process should be based on their affinity with the brand, the target audience, their ability to hit the KPIs and their fit with the concept itself.
It is also far more effective and valuable to have access to a wide range of influencers, rather than working exclusively with a smaller number. Each influencer’s audience demographic data provides a profile of the target user and each recommendation is based on how much their audience matches the brands’ target consumer.
It is not enough to have an understanding of the influencers themselves, you must also evaluate what their followers like. This is then brought into the creative process and the context, message and creative is built upon the profiles of both influencer and followers alike. The use of this knowledge provides the ability to optimise campaign execution and unlocks the unique attributes of the influencer. For instance, an Instagram influencer will get a much better engagement when they show flat photography of partner products, rather than pictures of them holding partner products.
There has been some debate over whether certain influencer markets have become saturated. The more mature markets such as the beauty industry was the first to embrace influencer marketing and to consider it as a valid channel. The volume of influencers and their subsequent reach is continuously growing, as are marketing budgets and the number of sponsored campaigns. In reaction to this, there has been a noticeable strategic change for many beauty brands towards more long-term partnerships. Beauty brand marketers are now asking for less influencers, but more content. They are also creating long-term partnerships which have more of an ambassadorship feel; they showcase loyalty and authenticity which is what their audience followed them for in the first place. This is a strategy which is now being emulated across other sectors and has negated the argument that influencers are saturating the market. The volume of actual influencers may be increasing but the usage is more considered, context relevant and targeted by each individual brand.
Another strategy that has been born out of the beauty industry is one in which brands are utilising influencers who aren't beauty focused. For example, Superdrug recently ran a campaign for their B. Makeup range which is completely vegan and cruelty-free. They therefore sought to include some influencers in the campaign who are known only for their vegan lifestyle. Another beauty brand recently sourced influencers who are entrepreneurs as they wanted to align with strong independent women. Another brand used fashion influencers to market their make-up range. This has encouragingly opened up new audiences for brands and will provide a more authentic and honest message to consumers; which in turn will increase effectiveness and results for the brand.
Another factor which affects the performance of influencer marketing is how much brands take into account the decision to use either micro or macro influencers.
Firstly, it is still important to apply the same selection methodology whether working with micro or macro influencers; however, there will be differences in the levels of partnerships. Macros tend to work on longer campaigns or partnerships, whereas micros are more likely to have short bursts of activity.
If a brand campaign uses a combination of micros and macros, it is essential to break the influencers down further as micros, rising stars, stars and superstars. To deliver a successful campaign, a combination of one or two stars or super-star influencers is needed to halo a campaign, deliver the reach and drive engagement, achieving the optimum level of reach and results. In some cases, it could be regional micros if there’s a localised element to a national campaign, as this is a great way to help drive footfall to a particular store, for example. If a large number of micros are used to socially amplify a campaign, it is essential to apply the same selection methodology to choose 50-200 influencers to create buzz or noise around a campaign or help drive views of an original piece of content.
Influencer marketing has morphed considerably over time and the essence of it has now become about the ability to align your brand with a person who has a true sphere of influence amongst your target audience. These influencers have a strong following as they are authentic content creators. Influencer marketing has been around for decades (think Avon ladies for example), but the term was coined only a few years ago and since then it’s been gathering huge momentum and seen a significant growth in the space. The boom of social media, particularly Instagram and YouTube, has really driven the growth of brand investment.
One concerning aspect we are seeing is that platforms are applying a cost per engagement model as a buying metric. That’s problematic because getting the ideation and the right brand, campaign and influencer is fundamental. If done correctly, the engagement rate will be excellent, thus giving the brand an excellent effectively low CPE. However, if platforms continue to search for the cheapest CPE, they are approaching the campaign from the wrong angle and doing the space ill justice. They will remove the authenticity from the space and adversely drive a lower quality engagement for the client.
Another concern that has been raised is whether the decline in social media usage will have an impact on influencer marketing. Recent news reports have touted that Facebook users are declining, and their media usage is also heading south. However, Facebook has an excellent predicted revenue growth which comes from the ongoing growth of Instagram. The youth are joining Snap, Twitter and Instagram. We can be sure there’ll be something new in time, there always is, and the next generation tends to bring the new with them. This will only continue to cement influencer marketing as a strong channel for marketers to utilise.
There has been a huge rise in the number of influencers and new talent emerges every day. This is a huge positive for marketers as it becomes easier for brands to match the right influencer for the right campaign as they are fishing in a much wider pool. By definition, influencers are influential. If they have an engaged audience who follow them for the content they create, and that audience matches a brand’s customer base, then that influencer provides a new marketing opportunity. There’s no need to have a limit on those numbers of opportunities; there’s simply more choice.
Influencer marketing was born out of the necessity for brands to regain consumers’ trust. Some traditional forms of advertising weren’t seeing the cut through and brand loyalty simply wasn’t enough anymore.
So, what does the future hold for Influencer marketing? As this still very young industry develops, we will of course see changes. Many influencers and brands alike are looking towards more long-term partnerships as this approach creates a much more authentic and true feeling towards an influencer’s relationship with a brand. Influencers are being seen as brand advocates, as opposed to a quick or short-term solution to drive more sales. There are cases where this latter approach still carries weight, but influencers have to be more selective with the brands they align with to stay true to their audience. An influencer is only influential when their audience is listening. The key is to ensure that the content is worth listening to. Get it right, and influencer marketing can truly deliver real engagement for brands.