Influencing the masses
You may remember in the 80s when actors would tactically hold a Coca~Cola can so you could see the logo perfectly between their strategically placed fingers. Maybe you considered purchasing a pair of Calvin Klein boxers after watching Back to the Future, the scene where Marty’s mother mistakes his name for Calvin Klein after reading his boxer elastic is probably responsible for a spike in sales. Rewatch ET and see how many times the kids are tucking into a bag of Reese’s Pieces. Anyone would think there wasn’t another tasty treat available for those kids — there wasn’t, they entered a co-promotion agreement with the production company. Whilst all of this is simple product placement, it would seem to be the origin of influencer marketing, which is now rife on social media and websites.
What is influencer marketing?
This is an interesting and slightly blurred area, it is somewhere between genuine promotion and product placement. An ‘influencer’ is sent a product to promote on their social media feed, whether that be instagram, YouTube or Snapchat. The influencer needs to be someone whose opinion is seen in high regard, popular and on point with current trends. Influencers can be anyone from an A-list celebrity with a social media following of millions, to the more everyday influencer who has cunningly created a following for themselves in the thousands. The everyday influencer has usually carved their following through a niche angle, attracting a likeminded audience with a common interest. Instagram influencer Clemmie Hooper, known as Mother of Daughters, is a midwife with four daughters, who has turned her lifestyle into an Instagram success. Clemmie created a following through connecting with other mums about the trials and tribulations of motherhood, whilst exuding a cool mum vibe that you’d want to be friends with at the school gates. Clemmie has 262,000 followers, her husband Simon, known as Father of Daughters, has 551,000 followers. Clemmie will often mention by name a brand, such as clothing companies, furniture and beauty brands. Influencer marketing can also work at promoting other influencers, helping others to leverage extra followers. There are influencers who focus solely on one area such as fashion, Danielle Bernstein of WeWoreWhat is a New York based fashion influencer with a following of 1.6 million on Instagram and 37,000 on Twitter. GirlEatWorld also known as Melissa Hie is a food blogger with over 370,000 followers on Instagram and Facebook and Snapchat channels.
Why does it work?
Word of mouth has always been seen as the best marketing tool there is and that is why customer experience and brand identity and delivery have always been key for companies. However, word of mouth is hard to control and so it has always been a tricky beast. Influencer marketing is word of mouth on a more public scale, with the person spreading the word having a less personal relationship with the receiver, although due to the candid nature of social media it is often felt that the intimate lives of influencers are known to their audience. Often those posting have inspirational lifestyles, some that are by no means relatable to real life, such as a Kardashian. Therefore, when you buy a product they use you feel it has an exclusive quality. Others feel more reachable and that product may get you that step closer to the desired lifestyle. 84% of millennials do not trust traditional advertising (Hubspot 2015) and according to Neilsen 92% of people trust recommendations from friends and family more than all other forms of marketing, with 43% of consumers more likely to buy a new product when learning about it on social media. You only need to look at some of the numbers mentioned in followers to realise that this is a step up from word of mouth where you may tell a handful of friends and relatives, influencers are preaching to thousands of engaged followers, and often globally,
Are there negatives?
Taking a more skeptic look at influencer marketing you have to be aware of the pitfalls of the promotion appearing contrived. It is important that the promoter doesn’t just appear to be pushing the product for the sake of getting it for free or receiving payment. Sometimes an influencer will add the following hashtags: #ad, #sponsorship, #sp. The hashtags are used to make it clear a product is featuring in a post solely as an advertising tool. However, by highlighting that it is featured to advertise the product a post loses its authenticity and may lead to someone being seen purely as an advertising agent. Recent research did reveal that 77% of people were unaware of what the #sp actually meant. However, as the trend continues an awareness of the hashtag, and influencer strategy in general, will become better understood and the popularity of influencers could be their undoing as people become more cynical of them.
What does that mean for companies?
In the first instance it is hard to measure engagement with the brand through this sort of marketing. Whilst the influencers have huge followings, due to new algorithms in social media, a post may not feature in a follower's feed. Additionally, just because the audience see an image or video does not mean it will have the impact the company is hoping for. It may result in awareness, but not necessarily in sales. The second is that as it has risen in popularity, as a marketing strategy, so too has the cost. Many influencers are now expecting larger sums of money to advertise products. Many popular influencers with a following in the millions are earning somewhere between £5,000 and £20,000 per post. Thirdly, control of content is an issue. Whilst the company may be able to discuss how it would like a product to be displayed, or what language it may like an influencer to use, ultimately the final output is created by the influencer.
Why would companies still use influencers?
If the influencer is the right person they will successfully align themselves with a brand. The key is the influencer speaks about the brand in the same way they would communicate about other day to day musings. In keeping the same tone of voice, the promotion becomes less overt and more like a friendly recommendation or the gushing of a friend who really wants to share something with you. Influencers take their work seriously, they understand that high production means a high following and therefore high earnings. There are no blurry snaps on their feeds, in fact they usually go out with a photographer and take a number of photographs to schedule throughout the week. Influencers are tech savvy and know how best to utilise technology to their advantage and in turn the companies benefit. The influencer possess the social media marketing skills that a company may look for in a staff member. Influencers are accessed through mobile phones and tablets, which is at an interesting juxtaposition to traditional advertising media, such as magazines and television. When watching television take note of what happens when the adverts come on. My guess is everyone around you reaches for their mobile phone, often to scroll through a social media feed. Television adverts used to keep people engaged and focused on what they’re selling. The irony is that engaging advertising has moved to the place that people go to when traditional medias are using their specific advertising time.
The future of influencer marketing
The rise of the influencer doesn’t seem to be slowing in its trajectory anytime soon. Specialist agencies have emerged to represent influencers and match them to brands. It will be interesting to see if this addition is needed in the long term, or if a middle man is one too many. People’s appetite for social media and the celebrities seems to be as insatiable as ever. As apps become more multifaceted, such as Instagram adding in stories (short videos which can be viewed up to 24 hours after posting), it will only boost the influencers choices in how they promote products. As influencers become more varied in their interests: fitness, outdoor pursuits, spirituality, alternative lifestyles, the opportunity will open up to different sorts of companies. Ultimately, although this has been a tactic companies have been using for a few years, it doesn’t seem to be losing its effect. By the end of the day: users of Instagram will generate 3.5 billion likes, 158 million people will have used Snapchat on average for 30 minutes, along with huge numbers for Youtube usage, Facebook likes and blog posts. Much of that usage will be people connecting with influencers, posting engaging content that at least will promote a product and at best create a sale. We’re no longer sitting round the television or radio singing along with the latest jingle but swiping and liking virtual lifestyle choices based on an alternative idea of reality.