Twenty years ago there were just five channels on UK terrestrial television. No smartphones, no social media, no mainstream internet. It was all so quiet. Anyone trying to get your attention could do so with fairly little in the way of ‘thinking outside the box’.
Fast-forward to 2017 and the playing field looks very different — in fact the entire game’s changed. And the volume has been well and truly cranked up to cacophonous.
In a world where two thirds of 16-19 year olds check their phones in the middle of the night and the average person will spend five years of their life on social media, some traditional forms of marketing seem about as effective as a message in a bottle. So how do you ensure you reach your audience instead of floundering in a sea of noise?
The zeitgeist suggests influencer marketing may be the way to break through the hullabaloo. This relatively new trend is seeing more brands than ever before harness the power of the third party, with a recent study finding that 84% of marketers are planning to use it at least once in the next twelve months.
By affiliating with appropriate social media high flyers, bloggers, vloggers or celebrities, brands are able to utilise the reach and ‘influence’ of their chosen partner to increase awareness. And it works. With some Instagram accounts boasting millions of followers, these ready-made audiences are cannon fodder for savvy marketers.
So what’s the catch? Well, there isn’t one, potentially. You choose wisely, they (subtly and seamlessly) incorporate your brand and products into their posts, new customers flock to your site and everyone’s happy. Using an influencer can be an incredibly powerful tool but no one said it was easy. Here are some of the pros and cons of the subtle art of influencer marketing….
1. All the world’s a stage: You effectively reach your target audience
One of the most advantageous aspects of influencer marketing is this: you have a captive audience which is already interested in your particular area or niche. Not only does this give you relevant exposure, it also saves you money. Other types of marketing often require testing and research to find your key audience, all of which takes time and funds.
If you’re trying to promote health food, for example, forming an alliance with an influencer who represents health and wellbeing means their audience becomes yours. Healthy eating and fitness guru Joe Wicks, aka ‘The Body Coach’, boasts an instagram following of 1.9 million followers and has been an influencer for brands including Total Greek Yoghurt and Lucy Bee Coconut Oil. By posting pictures of their food products which he uses in his recipes, he is telling every one of those 1.9 million followers that these foods are healthy and nutritious.
2. The lighthouse effect: You accelerate the trust-building process
Nothing beats the power of tried and tested — except maybe a trusted source saying they've tried and tested it for you. The credibility and authenticity that social media stars and vloggers have can be an incredibly valuable commodity. They are the lighthouse and everything in their beam is illuminated. Their followers trust their content and opinions implicitly — if Zoella posts a picture of your frozen yoghurt, calling it ‘divine!’, her credibility is vicariously shared with your product, and ‘hey presto!’ the frozen yoghurt becomes something you need to try. In fact, her reach is so prolific (11.2 million followers), that brands are willing to pay close to £11,000 per post. According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers trust recommendations from individuals over brands, so tapping into this trust can make a big difference to how your brand is perceived.
3. The times they are a-changin’: Traditional adverts have become less effective
These days, if we don’t want to see it, we switch it off. Or we pick up our phones and scroll through Instagram. We can spot an advert a mile off and we have the power to say ‘no’. With more than half of internet users globally (57%) claiming to block ads – either by using ad blocking software or manually closing out of ads, even if you create the best advert since Cadbury’s put a gorilla on drums, it won’t matter much if nobody sees it. Of course, on social media we are still being reached, but we can’t always tell, because executed effectively, influencer marketing is congruent and seamless. Even when it isn’t, hearing something from a third party always seems less invasive and didactic – and as we’ve actively chosen to follow them, chances are we’ll stick with it.
4. A picture is worth a thousand words: The power of visual
People love stories — and that’s perhaps where the true lure and power of social media lies: everyone gets to tell their story. From the beautiful and poetic to the sensational and funny, each carefully created post and picture evokes much more than at first meets the eye.
Bloggers like Katie La Vie or LittleGreenShed create images which instantly capture a mood and lifestyle. More than ever before, consumers buy into lifestyles and stories, so aligning your brand with a social media persona automatically places you in their personal brand story and the world they represent. Just one image can say more than words ever could. Take this picture for example:
It evokes a sense of on-the-go glamour, health, sunshine and luxury. By association, the bottle of Naked Juice featured in the shot is imbued with all the same qualities and becomes an intrinsic part of the visual story.
Companies like Whalar take this to a whole new level by helping brands find influencers who not only have strong followings on social media but are also experts in their creative fields. The payoff is two-fold: they create high quality visual content for your brand and that content is shared with their followers.
1. Living on the edge: The fit and content need to be perfect
Off the peg just won’t work with this type of marketing — the fit has to be couture or you’re likely to have a wardrobe malfunction. Not only does the chosen influencer need to be a perfect match for your brand and products, but the way they feature you needs to be handled artfully. Otherwise, the dream of millions of people hearing your brand message can very quickly become a PR nightmare.
In 2015, Kim Kardashian partnered with Duchesnay Inc to feature their morning sickness drug, Diclegis. Her original post read: “I felt a lot better and most importantly, it’s been studied and there was no increased risk to the baby.”, a claim that was criticised by the FDA as being ‘false and misleading’. Although she later changed her post, the damage was done. Instead of allaying fears and promoting the benefits, all the potentially harmful side-effects of the drug were suddenly brought into the spotlight.
2. Preparation, preparation, preparation: Getting started can be a lengthy process
The list of what needs to happen before an influencer marketing campaign even starts is enough to send you to sleep. Of course you need to first identify appropriate influencers, vet them, research their history, followers, possible overlaps with your brand and any other pertinent information.
Then you need to create personas, driven by the information collated in the first step. These personas will help you produce unique content — and each influencer needs their own content stream. After approaching your selected influencers, you wait for them to get back to you — in the meantime you need to prepare your team for the new campaign so they know how to measure, track and report on it. Finally you can negotiate a suitable relationship with your influencers. And then you’re ready to begin.
3. Jack of all trades: Professional influencers and consumer mistrust
The big surge in influencer marketing has one very big downside. With so many companies wooing them, some influencers are jeopardising the kudos of their personal brand by saying yes too often. By becoming ‘professional influencers’, they ironically run the risk of losing their power of influence, as consumers are much less likely to trust them.
For influencer marketing to work, the relationship needs to feel natural and the content must be seen as truthful. Failure to meet these two objectives can be cataclysmic. Authenticity becomes inauthenticity and put plainly that spells anathema for your brand — and for the credibility of the influencer.
4. Beware of False Prophets: The rise of fake accounts and paid-for followers
In an industry worth billions, it was perhaps inevitable that unscrupulous behaviour would emerge. In addition to purchasing followers and forming ‘pods’ (a group of Instagram users who increase their visibility and popularity by mutual ‘liking’), there are also a number of entirely fake accounts on the platform.
Influencer Marketing agency MediaKix recently created two completely bogus influencer accounts as an experiment to highlight just how easy it is to dupe brands. They used free stock photos, bought fictitious followers and then applied for influencer marketing campaigns. After a few weeks, these bogus accounts had earned $500 in cash and free goods. Designed specifically to lure brands and secure influencer marketing deals, this type of fraud can potentially cost brands thousands of pounds in fruitless marketing spend.
So, is it worth it? On balance, yes. Provided you tread carefully. Influencer marketing is a powerful weapon — mishandle it and you could end up shooting yourself in the foot. But treated with caution and a delicate touch, it can effectively increase awareness, drive sales and position your brand exactly where you want it to be.
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