Influencer marketing has fast become a crucial part of modern day business, with the industry on track to be worth $15 billion in the next two years. Used by an array of different companies, from tech start-ups to established fashion brands, its power lies in its adaptability, as influencers help organisations reach and connect with relevant audiences online. On paper, the strategy appears to be the unicorn marketing has long waited for, but on the ground a different story is often heard. Here, we take a look at influencer marketing and ask: is it a fad or the future?
Under the influence
Defined as figures who affect the purchasing decisions of consumers following a particular industry or niche, influencers have become increasingly prevalent in the age of social media.
According to a recent survey by Mediakix, approximately 17% of blue chip companies currently spend over 50% of their marketing budget on influencers, while 63% of brands plan to increase this spend by the end of the year. Organisations are drawn in by the promise of increased brand awareness, enhanced reputation, greater share of voice and the potential to generate sales.
Of course it’s more complex than simply selecting an influencer and watching the magic happen. There are a range of strategies and channels to choose from, each with varying results. Instagram vs Snapchat, reality star vs fitness fanatic, brand ambassador vs one-off gifting; the list continues. The aim is to find an individual who generates authentic, good quality content on a social media platform relevant to your brand and target audience. If they are aspirational, relatable and/or likable, you’re on to a winner.
A recipe for success
Done well, influencer marketing can deliver impressive and long-lasting results. Nespresso exemplifies this with its, now-renowned, advert starring George Clooney. The Hollywood star personifies everything the brand is about – sophisticated, smooth and upmarket – and so, an award-winning campaign was born. The business impact, later dubbed the ‘Clooney Effect’, saw Nespresso enjoy global growth of 22% as sales rocketed.
The view that influencer marketing is effective is widely held, with a huge 89% of marketers agreeing its return on investment (ROI) is comparable to or better than other promotional strategies. Numerous studies have demonstrated its power to impact purchase decisions, including a survey by Twitter and Annalect that found 40% of respondents bought an item after seeing an influencer use it. A key driver of this success is brand trust, which is built by influencers through the positive endorsement of products. However, thanks to the likes of ‘Fyre-gate’ and a multitude of Photoshop fails, the perceived reliability of influencer suggestions appear to be slipping; media agency, Universal McCann, recently put consumer trust at 4%.
Fast track to failure
Partnering with the wrong influencer can have dire consequences for a campaign and ultimately, the brand it is promoting. Despite the proliferation of dedicated platforms, databases and companies, a staggering 61% of marketers still struggle to find the right influencers for their goals. In the absence of this, many organisations become seduced by the number of social media followers that an influencer has, often to the detriment of their brand. Volvo’s mismatched partnership with lifestyle and beauty blogger, Chriselle Lim, is one such example – not even Lim’s one million plus Instagram following could save the campaign.
It’s not just superficial relationships that can damage the authenticity of a campaign. Even with the best brand fit, the advertorial content of a post has the potential to throw a spanner in the works. Take reality star, Scott Disick, who accidentally copied and pasted the campaign instructions from the PR firm he was working with, as part of his post about detox brand, Bootea. What may have seemed like a straightforward request turned into one of the most embarrassing examples of influencer marketing the world has seen.
An influencer’s inability to resonate with target customers can be costly to your brand, especially when coupled with a failure to adhere to ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) guidelines – don’t forget #Ad where there is money and control involved! This is supported by Mediakix research, which found improvement and measurement of ROI remains the primary concern for 78% of companies. Failed attempts at influencer marketing can result in a waste of time and budget, leaving marketers back at square one.
The changing tide
The place of influencer marketing in the years to come is unclear. We can expect to see the landscape evolve as social media platforms are held accountable for their impact on society, such as Instagram’s soon to be worldwide removal of its ‘like’ functionality to alleviate pressures on mental health, and through the advancement of technology and the rise of virtual influencers. Current research tells us that investment in influencer marketing is growing at an exponential rate, whilst consumer trust in it is at an all time low, raising questions around the sustainability of the practice. It is a commonly held opinion that companies will need to rethink their strategies around authenticity and consumer buy-in if they wish to thrive.
So, influencer marketing – a unicorn or donkey? A fad or the future? The answer lies somewhere deep within the relationship between the brand, influencer and consumer, and how this will evolve as it reaches maturity in the digital age.
We will be watching, will you?
For more on influencer marketing, including tips on how to implement a successful campaign, take a look at our handy ‘How-to’ guide.