The world of influencer marketing sure has come a long way. 'Talent' has the ability to sway the purchasing decisions, viewing habits and brand loyalties of people across the globe. This is based on the wholesale theory that people will emotionally connect with - and therefore buy from - someone who looks, sounds and acts like a peer, rather than a direct marketing message from a brand.
Spend on influencer marketing has grown year on year for over a decade, with no permanent sign of abating. It's hot business for sure, but there’s a fly in the perfectly filtered ointment and it’s been there a while for those of us willing to look hard enough.
Back in 2019, Wunderman Thompson spotted what they called ‘the Instagram backlash’. Typified by a growing distaste from both brands and consumers of #sponcon culture, fake followers, ridiculous fees and a lack of professionalism from some influencers.
There is a growing thirst for worthier role models from the influencer world. We want less of the tiresome #blessed posts shot within the surrounds of excessive and obvious affluence; more real inspiration, integrity and diversity please. The fact is that this demand has merely been accelerated by COVID-19 and we predict it will continue long after lockdown ends, as the shape of influencer culture and our expectations of the people who do it for a living reshape and morph into something different. Something arguably based altogether more in wholesome reality.
If we are witnessing a permanent shift in consumer expectations, how should brands be doing influencer marketing now and in the future?
Let’s start by asserting that we only allow influencers to transmit their version of reality - on behalf of brands - into our lives if we can forge that all-important emotional connection with them. Smart marketing solves a problem and makes you buy a product. Genius marketing tugs at the heart strings and breeds life-long loyalty, so if a group of influencers can help you illicit genuinely positive emotions from your audience then you and your brand have the secret sauce right there.
But looking out of touch, taking the audience for granted or showing a tone-deaf response to the social and cultural landscape can carelessly damage that fragile relatability and your influencer strategy becomes a spent force. Worse still, a viral smear on your brand’s reputation and a black-listed waste of content marketing budget.
No one acknowledges this better than influencers themselves. Scared of a brand campaign backfiring, some are turning to services like Patreon for self-funding, or undergoing training on how to issue a believable apology and travel through a scandal (relatively) unscathed.
In short, we’re dictating how influencers play in our world, not the other way around.
Here’s three must-dos for smart - if not genius - marketers to adapt their influencer marketing strategy to the shifting landscape and succeed in the long term.
1. Go After Normal People With Real Lives
For a while people have been thirsting to see 'regular people', those who are deemed better equipped to relate to an audience and therefore able to foster trust and reliability. Never more so than when you consider how our NHS heroes are being hailed as the magazine cover stars of today. A smart example of how brands and influencers handled lockdown with nuance is nutritional therapist Maddie Shaw working with Boots to promote wellbeing rituals that help communities in the pandemic, rather than promoting specific products to buy. But remember to look beyond the immediate issue to the long term and cast your net wider. ASMR YouTuber ‘Life With Mak’ is a good example of how to incorporate people who are killing it in a niche field and have a polished yet distinctly un-filtered online presence.
2. Don’t Be Afraid To Forge Ahead In Bad Times
Halting or avoiding all influencer activity isn’t necessarily the right answer. By all means question and scrutinise it, but follow the lead of brave brands who keep going in dark times to ensure they stay on track strategically. Consider making bold and innovative demands of your influencer agency to forge a path in creativity - like News UK who have been looking at how influencer talent can keep them ahead of the editorial curve. Spearheaded by Lorraine Candy, Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday Times’ coveted ‘Style’ magazine which was recently guest edited by Drew Barrymore, they have turned to their influencer agency The Fifth to mine a seam of well-known editors and writers who bring a strong and engaged audience with them.
3. If You Can’t Commit, Prepare To Be Disappointed
It’s been said a thousand times before, but think long term and invest properly (or not at all). You won’t drive traffic to your website, sell out of your new product or trend on Twitter with one or two posts from a high-reach influencer who charges the earth. Clever thinking will incorporate tactics such as a long-term gifting strategy. Both the Charlotte Tilbury and Bare Minerals brands have recently invested in widespread distribution of a selection of products, followed by hosting live streamed content online. Bottom line is that if you build relationships and build trust between yourself and the influencer, you will have a better shot at winning over your consumers.
A final word. Influencer marketing isn’t for everyone. Some of you will read this and be unconvinced that it’s worth the ROI. Others will be simply too reluctant to work with an influencer who could pull an idiot move and bring shame to their brand. All good reasons to avoid it and invest budget in a more trusted channel.
But if you, like us, believe that influencer marketing is shifting fast and becoming an increasingly interesting and creative means of marketing your brand, then welcome to the influencer industry’s 2020 overhaul.