Influencer marketing and its role in social media is changing – and likely for the better.
Social media continues to be a growing and major game player in influencer marketing and correlating sales. Considering the success of celebrity endorsements through various digital platforms, it is clear that social media and its various celebrity influencers have a huge impact on how and why consumers buy their products. A 2017 insight report conducted by Gartner L2, a business intelligence firm which measures the digital performance of brands, found that on average, 70 percent of labels in various industries had partnerships with influencers on Instagram.
These numbers can’t go unnoticed. They are huge and play a big role in the marketing game – but at what cost?
Think back to famous fashion designer Virgil Abloh’s famous “The Ten” Air Jordan 1 shoe design. You might remember that it gained its mass appeal from an influx of celebrities who promoted the shoes on social media for the world to see. Such noted celebs included Travis Scott, Drake, Bella Hadid, and Naomi Campbell among others. These endorsements drew consumers in, creating mass success through major influencers with millions of followers.
It’s true that influencers have a huge impact on driving sales and producing results. We can see this from the worldwide success of brands like Nike and Adidas, who have famously endorsed the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kanye West, LeBron James, and a whole slew of other world-famous influencers. There’s no sugarcoating the fact that influencers play a huge role in brand success. This is because influencers can connect with people in a way that sparks passion and curiosity – something most brands simply can’t do on their own.
But is there only so much celebrity influencers can do? Are celebrity endorsements always a surefire way to get consumers to convert? As social media and the digital space continue to grow and evolve, it seems that consumers are slowly straying away from the large endorsements so often taken on by celebrities and are looking for something more: meaning.
The marketing and consumer space is an ever-changing and ever-growing wheel of give and take. Endorsing celebrities for specific brands and paying them to promote a product doesn’t work the way it used to. As brands are starting to see, consumers have become privy to celebs who endorse just about anything.
Today, what consumers want is an influencer who they can relate to – an influencer who develops meaningful and authentic relationships with people.
“The [people] that have the most impact are the authentic ones, and the micro influencers tend to be much more authentic than the big celebrities. The consumer today knows that the big names are being paid to wear particular brands, and when you add compensation, it calls into question the authenticity of the endorsement,” says Matt Powell, sports industry analyst at The NPD Group Inc, a market research firm.
Consumers respond well to influencers who relate to them, show that they share the same common interests, and also show that they actually care. When consumers see that authentic connection, they engage with it. This is why influencer marketing is shifting ever more towards influencers with high engagement among their fans.
Sales conversion isn’t always guaranteed with influencer power. What drives conversions and engagement are meaningful interactions which create genuine connections to a brand. These connections engage with people on a deeper level that shows a common interest, drives engagement, and drives exposure. This type of connection goes deeper than just promoting or selling a product, and is usually found among micro influencers with smaller, niche audiences but high engagement. These types of micro influencers connect with consumers on a personal and emotional level: “If you can connect to people emotionally, that’s a consumer for life,” says Barney Waters, president of K-Swiss.
This exact approach can be seen in K-Swiss’ 2017 marketing campaign. The brand uses influencers with niche audiences that have high engagement. “Fame on its own isn’t enough. You’ve got big-name celebrities, but if they don’t have strong social engagement, it doesn’t really matter. It’s like a billboard in a forest. Consumers have a higher expectation. They want to know who you are and what you stand for,” says Waters.
Waters has his own strategy when it comes to influencer marketing, and it’s simple: he wants to connect with consumers on a more relatable and personal level. How so? By creating shoes that relate to and are designed for young professionals. This different approach is one he took in 2017, and is vastly different from other brands.
So yes, it’s a fact: influencer marketing is changing. And today, influencer marketing is shifting towards more meaningful engagements.
Mike Froggatt, the intelligence team director at Gartner L2, states that when a celebrity partners with several different brands, engagement takes a hit. Froggatt also states that micro influencers tend to endorse or engage with a product up to eight more times than mega influencers do. So who is winning here? The micro influencer with the niche audience and heavy engagement, or the influencer with millions of followers but little engagement?
“If you’re looking at Kim Kardashian West or Justin Bieber, they have an enormous audience that’s extremely diverse, where a large chunk of that audience isn’t strongly connected to them. But if you look at these smaller people, they tend to have much more influence over their audience,” says Gil Eyal, CEO of HYPR, an influencer marketing platform. Eyal also states that there seems to be confusion between fame and influence.
“Most of the market is making [a] mistake. They have roster of [people] instead of seeing who is actually going to be effective,” Eyal continues.
Another great example of the growing shift towards micro influencers is world-famous shoe manufacturing company Vans. Vans endorses influencers who have real, authentic connections with the brand.
“We want to continue to ensure that we are keeping true to our consumers and shining a light on the diversity of Vans family members that have an authentic connection to the brand,” says April Vitkus, the senior director of global brand marketing and strategy at Vans. One example of this is Natalie Westling, a skateboarder and model who had been a fan of Vans for a long time before signing an endorsement deal with the company. When the brand approached her for an influencer partnership after learning about her longtime devotion to the shoe company, she was featured in a global campaign to celebrate Sk8-Hi sneakers.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to how a brand is using an influencer to its advantage. Influencer marketing only works if it is used the right way. Whether it be a world-famous name like Kim Kardashian or Taylor Swift, if a brand is not connecting with its audience and resonating with them on an authentic and emotional level, most consumers are likely to see right through it.
It’s time for brands to rethink their influencer marketing strategies and consider what micro influencers can do for the success of a brand – and it all starts with authenticity and engagement.