Influencer Marketing: The End of Bad Ads

People trust their friends more than they trust brands; in an online purchase decision, authenticity is king.

Going back 10 years ago, ads were disruptions. We didn’t have a choice–if you wanted to watch the big game, you had to suffer through endless beer commercials. Now, content is everywhere (there’s almost too much), and we don’t have to watch ads anymore.

In fact, the largest predictable spike in Twitter usage each week is during television breaks for nationally televised sporting events. When an ad comes on the big screen, our eyes migrate to the little one.

As a result, brands are losing their power. In an age where the majority of media impressions live on social media, the reputation of a brand lives and dies in the feeds of its would-be consumers. In 2006, if an airline lost your bags, you’d complain to your close circle. In 2016, if an airline loses your bags, you complain to your 100,000 Twitter followers. Today, people have the power, not brands.

Smart brands are catching on, galvanizing the Twitter fingers instead of fighting them, and influencer marketing has grown exponentially in the past five years. Reports have found that campaigns featuring social media influencers see a return on investment 11 times greater than traditional digital campaigns. Additionally, customers acquired through influencer-centric campaigns are 37 percent more loyal.

Why? People trust their friends more than they trust brands; in an online purchase decision, authenticity is king. We’ve found that 90 percent of consumers trust recommendations from other people above all other forms of advertising. Trusted influencer content converts anywhere from four times to 12 times better than content shared by brands.

Interestingly, large corporate brands have doubled down on content in a futile attempt to ride the social wave. However, while branded content disseminated by large brands has increased by 78 percent, engagement with that same content has decreased by 60 percent. In 2016, it’s less the medium than the message and its source–inauthentic content hawked by institutional brands isn’t fooling anyone.

At H Influencer Collective, we saw firsthand the power of influencer marketing with one of our clients, Brevard. It makes minimalist, high-quality watches, but it had only 65 followers on Instagram engaging at 4 percent when we started working with the company.

Collectively, our roster of 250 influencers has a reach of more than 10 million followers and, way more important, we command a 14 percent engagement rate on our page. We optimize for increased engagement–focusing on authentic dissemination of quality content–and that’s what Brevard needed badly.

Over three months, we incorporated Brevard’s watches into our events and trips and created thousands of photographs in small teams to be shared by both Brevard and individual influencers (on their personal channels).

In three months, our authentic twist on influencer marketing boosted Brevard’s Instagram following from 65 to more than 1,000 and its engagement rate skyrocketed to 40 percent. Most important, this strategy increased sales by 20 percent.

As more brands concede creative control and succumb to the inevitable reality–that in 2016, consumers have the power–influencer marketing will continue to grow as the single most viable form of marketing at scale.

James Cole worked at Young & Rubicam as a brand strategist before running content at We Heart It in San Francisco. He started H Influencer Collective in May and has generated more than $100,000 in revenue in six short months.

Top image courtesy of Brevard.