Influencer marketing has quickly become more than just a buzzword in the marketing ecosystem.
From its not-so-humble beginnings as celebrity shout-outs on social media, the industry has zoomed through its infancy to today: where micro influencers hold incredible influential power that brands are scrambling to harness.
As little as two years ago, influencer marketing still had murky connotations driven by bikini-clad models holding up the latest teeth whitening or skin bronzing products. The content was contrived and the smiles were cringe-worthy.
Yet the last two years has seen considerable maturity and best practice standards from most within the category; a strong signal suggesting the industry is moving from the formative phase into the growth phase.
While the core principles of influencer marketing are not new concepts to the advertising world, influencer marketing still holds distinct competitive advantages for those who enter the market early.
The industry overcame its growing pains
At the dawn of the industry, influencer campaigns consisted of one sole influencer working closely with a brand — an online extension to celebrity endorsement. The Kardashians ruled this space.
By 2016, we saw brands starting to experiment with multiple influencers at one time. The Zoellas and Kayla Itsines of the world exploded, reaping the rewards of their early social media foundations. Marketers would send samples to anyone with a sizeable audience on social media hoping they’d be showcased on these new multi-million eyeball channels.
In 2017, technology now allows brands to facilitate influencer campaigns with 100 or more micro influencers for the same effort without needing to have a single conversation with any of them.
In 2018 onwards? Amongst other industry extensions, that number will continue to grow.
If you take a close look at the staged evolution, there’s a distinct pattern. With each maturation of the influencer industry, brand managers have shifted their perceptions from popularity to engagement and embraced influencers with smaller but more focused audiences. In doing this, they open their campaigns to more influencers instead of more popular influencers.
Why? The smaller an influencer’s audience, the more powerful it is. Micro Influencers (those with 3,000 to 100,000 followers) boast higher engagement rates than their celebrity counterparts, and with this audience trust, a brand’s message resonates more strongly.
As a result, popularity on social media has diminishing importance to brands. With the help of scalable tech, brands can access millions of eyeballs through hundreds of micro influencers in relatively no time, for the same (if not cheaper) price as a single celebrity.
Most importantly, Instagram are just about to turn up to the party via their ‘Paid Partnership’ tool and provide richer insights to the brands than ever before. This is a clear acknowledgement by the industry’s biggest stakeholder, that it is real, and they want in on the action.
Yet despite this, it’s still undervalued.
Unlocking the power of distribution
Here’s a couple statistics to consider: 94% of consumers trust recommendations from friends and strangers over other marketing channels. There is currently 30% year-over-year growth in use of ad blockers worldwide.
Putting these facts together you can see there’s a noticeable cultural movement that’s changing the traditional advertising model from intrusive to invited.
Influencer marketing is the prime example of this change. Audiences have been following influencers for years; seeking their opinion on their favourite restaurant, fashion label or their next beach holiday destination. These messages delivered through engaging visual content and personal conversation have always been branded and audiences invited these recommendations into their lives. The fact that many of these recommendations are now sponsored, doesn’t change the authenticity from the influencer or acceptance from audiences.
Today, audiences are better than ever at ignoring unwanted ads. Simultaneously, social media influencers have never been more trusted.
Crowdsourced, on-brand, on-demand creative
The delivery of an authentic message by a trusted person is a key benefit of influencer marketing. Yet there lies an unexpected benefit more powerful than audience reach that brands should be starting to embrace. It is the quality of the branded content influencers produce.
Content that goes far beyond a simple selfie, flatlay or boomerang. The evolution of creative tools that now come as standard in every iPhone means that the gap between seasoned creative professionals and an everyday person with a smartphone is narrowing.
The ‘Shot on iPhone’ billboard campaign is a simple yet powerful example of this. With these powerful devices, creativity is being decentralised. Everyone and anyone with a phone can create content that engages.
So a well-coordinated influencer marketing campaign gets you get the direct benefits of engagement and distribution, PLUS a crowdsourced bank of on-brand content generated by your talented consumers.
Soon the industry will rapidly evolve to become an efficient source of marketing content, with distribution being a secondary benefit to the breath-taking content received on-demand.
A strong complement to branding
At its heart, branding and marketing are centered around storytelling. But one of the struggles of digital marketing today, is that brands are intercepting, targeting and following users with self-promoting stories. We all know that a recommendation from a trusted person is far more powerful than a message from the brand itself.
Influencer marketing takes the storytelling out of your hands, and places it where it should be — with your customers. Through the evolution of influencers and micro influencers into content creators, sponsored posts have turned into creative personal recommendations.
And it’s these recommendations where the narrative is built. When a food influencer recommends their favourite wine and tells you when and what to drink it with, it sticks.
It’s authentic word-of-mouth marketing at scale which has been the holy grail to all marketers since the invention of advertising. And it is now becoming far more accessible via social media influencers.
Anthony Svirskis is the CEO of TRIBE