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  • Will Rix

How Influencing Came of Age

As Instagram continues the ‘no like’ trials in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Italy, Japan and Brazil, we look back at how and why influencers became such a key part of the marketing world. Having already tested the platform changes in Canada earlier this year, Instagram our hoping the trial will “remove pressure” and allow its users to "focus on sharing the things you love" (Mia Garlick, Facebook Australia and New Zealand director of policy).

It is important to remember that influencers were not born out of likes. They grew their influence from a place of creativity, community and shifting media habits. Likes only represent the surface of influencer marketing. A useful metric, but by no means the full measurement. The liberation of the creative voice runs far deeper, residing in our ability to independently create and showcase our unique perspectives on the world. Influencers can use this creativity to connect brands they love with the consumers who trust them.

The most liked picture on Instagram is an egg. We should not mistake social metrics for quality or creative value.

Let's think of influencer marketing a few years ago as being in high school. Learning, developing - generally finding itself. It was all good vibes with a few dramatic consequences if you didn’t finish your homework. An influencer could execute numerous small endorsements with multiple brands without any severe repercussions. No extreme scrutiny, no cutting emails from Client Managers and little fear of spreading themselves out too thin.

On social media, specifically Instagram, advertising was prominently seen as a PR strategy to break down barriers between brands and the digitally native consumer. But during its infancy, influencer marketing was unlikely to shift major sales - particularly with goods of a higher value. For the majority, it presented a dynamic method of spreading brand awareness, and gifted smaller brands a cheap entry into digital marketing.

However, times have changed. If 2015 was High School, 2019 is College Graduation. With the industry surpassing a $2 billion valuation and hurtling towards $10 billion in the next couple of years, the landscape is moving beyond recognition. Influencer marketing has evolved from world of freebies, shout outs and the final crumbs of marketing budgets. For brands, social media manager positions are no longer filled by peppy summer interns as they once were.

In a similar vein to the slow, steady and mildly painful process of my Mother gaining access to social media platforms, digital media is naturally becoming a predominant force in advertising. According to e-marketer, 2019 marks the first year that digital marketing will outspend traditional advertising in the US.

However just as those consumer barriers are broken down, they can be quickly reconstructed. With the rise of active media consumption - consumers can easily skip, block and scroll past adverts. As overall spending shifts to digital, marketers are increasingly looking to influencers, and their communities, to effectively translate their narrative to the mobile screen.

An Awkward Analogy: Recognising Principles.

Take another step back. You’re a teenager(ish). If you’re British you’re watching Skins, or maybe the 1990s version of Hollyoaks. If you’re pondside, you’re watching 90210 - perhaps the original, perhaps not. There’s a commercial break. Remember how boring they were? Often irrelevant, out of touch and not influential, particularly to an adolescent audience.

Suddenly, an acne advert flashes across your screen. Nice, a spike of interest. That’s potentially relevant to you and an authentic issue for the teen audience of these shows. Next advert - more spots. Okay cool, you’re targeting the right demographic, but let’s not go too far. There’s a limit to how many similar products one channel can realistically endorse.

Fast forward 5 minutes. The same advert, with freakishly similar products, repeated 8 times over the five-minute break. You’re thinking; There’s no variety. I can’t differentiate these products, let alone be inspired to change brands. It’s not necessarily that the adverts are shit, but seeing competing brands all in one place devalues their ability to influence viewers. It is difficult to be unique when all your competitors are closely stacked up against you.

This is an example of a broadcast channel extorting their influence by saturating their ad space. Easy and quick money is achieved through inauthentic collaborations and little thought of long term strategy. The principle of an influencer’s feed is the same; viewer becomes follower and broadcaster becomes influencer.

Both sides of the industry quickly began to realise the value of being selective.

Fast forward to now: Maturing Principles  

Regarding the rise of the savvy consumer, Marketingland has estimated that a total of 40% (and rising) of consumers now use a form ad blockers to streamline their internet activity. Whilst in traditional media, Boy Genius Report recently claimed that advert-less Netflix has outstripped satellite and cable TV in terms of usage. More time chilling, less time being immersed in brand narratives.

More so than ever, consumers are selective with what they consume. And brand-led content, naturally slips down that list. This, amongst others, is how the door for influencers to disrupt the market has opened wider.

This being said, influencer marketing hinges on authenticity more so than traditional advertising, as it parallels a friends recommendation. This is its fundamental principle. If you don’t trust your friends (like how I don’t trust people who have one drink and go home) then their ability to influence you diminishes.

A method through which influencers create distrust is by working with direct competitors. As influencer marketing becomes more competitive, mistakes become more visible. From an influencer’s perspective, their audience has to believe that they believe in the product. An influencer’s personal brand is only viable as long as there’s consistency. Conclusively, rapid and regular switches of allegiance to competitors can derail this credibility, as it favours self interest over authenticity.

Looking to the future.

Influencer marketing comes into its own when it provides brands with something they cannot create in-house. The voice of the consumer advocating for a product they believe in, directly to an audience that is listening.

Popular creators are now diversifying as influencing begins to turn full circle - gone are the days in which ‘aesthetic’ brands are the sole wielder of this space. FMCG, tech, automotive and finance are seeing a steady rise in traction for influencer marketing - which is only set to increase as the demographics with higher spending power turn to social media, switch on the ad blockers and fast forward their recorded shows.

As influencer marketing leaves its school years, it can begin to rival traditional forms of advertising in it's own right. Television, print and radio will always have their place. Influencers are not detracting from large creative campaigns, they are supplementing and deepening brand narratives through cross pollination of media. For further evidence of this, see our Neuroscience study on the priming effects of influencers here.

Whalar's collaboration with Nature Valley reinforces the maturing state of influencer marketing. A staple household brand, they wanted to increase their awareness across the US. In response, we activated over 20 creators to explore the theme Never Enough Nature. We engaged with influencers who we knew would not only translate the brands narrative, but build something totally different. The results were startling.

@the_life_of_aivax delivering out of this world content from an open brief

The campaign produced over 120 repurposable, highly creative assets that garnered over 392K engagements. Our creators visually reimagined the brand's identity, whilst driving 17,584 clicks to the desired landing pages. Including their targets of the Shopkick app (1,659 clicks throughs) and 15,925 new users to Walmart online in the wake of the campaign.

Although questions over trust continue to linger, influencer marketing's ability to create intimate dialogues between brands and consumers builds an entirely unique offering to the advertising space. If you combine that dialogue with authentic matchmaking and a creative approach, the results often speak for themselves.

There is no doubt influencer marketing, as a full circle industry, has evolved into a key strategic tool for any marketing looking to expand, reinvigorate or deepen a brand's cultural relevance. Needless to say, the world of shout outs and freebies is behind us. Influencer marketing, by demand, is here to stay.

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