Digital media has birthed the era of the direct-to-consumer celebrity. In the same way that disruptor brands like Casper, Away and Glossier have subverted the traditional retail model to go consumer-direct, personalities have taken the same path by bypassing media companies to reach their audience through the platforms themselves.
Brands have labeled their role in this movement as influencer marketing. Influencer marketing as a channel continues to grow and become more sophisticated with regard to partnerships, creative execution and campaign measurement. Beyond the industry buzzword, the concept of influencers plays an integral role for a younger generation of consumers who are not only native to social media, but for many members of Gen Z, influencers are more recognizable and influential than Hollywood celebrities or mainstream media.
So, what does this mean for brands? In a broad sense, influencers should be looked to as powerful intermediaries between brands and consumers. More than a marketing tactic, they are increasingly the bridge between marketers and culture.
Opportunities and potential
Influencers allow brands to reach engaged audiences at-scale. Different than buying an ad on a popular website or social platform, creator partnerships infuse brands in a natural way. In this sense, brands don’t need to worry about “banner blindness” or viewability because they are literally appending themselves to content from the creators themselves. This was reiterated by none other than Rev Run during Social Media Week NYC when he said that people, not networks, are the ones being turned to when a brand or marketer wants to get a certain message across. Celebrities and public figures have assumed a position of controlling mass scale. How? By leveraging their massive distributed networks of individuals.
In addition, brands target influencers to build relevance within a specific category. Many digital creators align themselves with niche categories, allowing marketers to view these relationships as targeting opportunities. Fitness, DIY, fashion, lifestyle: Each of these categories allows marketers to essentially buy media based on a niche topic versus demographics. This allows marketers to reach in-market or relevant consumers since following an influencer within this category all but guarantees that the audience will mostly be relevant. In the same way, this can also be used to reach a new audience. For example, if you’re a CPG brand that typically targets moms, you might use a creator partnership to get your message in front of millennials and Gen Z.
Since many of today’s influencers are expert storytellers and visual content creators, partnering with them means you get the advantage of the media buy as well as the creative delivery. The best creative partnerships involve a brand delivering a tight brief on the overall strategy to the creator, establishing some guardrails and then stepping back to let the creator do their thing. The key term here is collaboration.
Pitfalls and perils
Creators can come with their own brand safety issues. You can control what a creator might post with regard to your content, but you can’t control what they post around that content. Look no further than Logan Paul. Paul partnered with various Fortune 500 brands before coming under fire for publishing insensitive content on his YouTube channel. Creators are people with a direct and unfettered line to their audience and, as we know, are flawed, so brands need to carefully vet before committing.
There are also issues with fake followers, as a recent study from Points North Group, an influencer measurement company, found. The study showed that many big brands are investing money in social media personalities who have bought fake followers to pad their numbers. Remember, follower count does not equal influence.
As an emerging tactic, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has placed more and more constraints on influencer marketing. As of last September, important updates to the FTC’s Endorsement Guidelines were issued that further defined the term “proper disclosure.” These include clearly disclosing when an influencer has a relationship with a brand, not using ambiguous disclosures and treating sponsored tags, including tags in pictures, like any other endorsement. In addition, influencer marketers shouldn’t rely on disclosures that people will see only if they click “more.”
As the influencer market continues to grow, more and more aspiring creators are popping up. We are approaching a place of market saturation wherein some consumers are rolling their eyes at the concept of an online influencer. To this end, it’s important for brands to carefully select their creator partners, focusing on the ones with actual talent and authentic subject matter expertise. In short, being an influencer for the sake of becoming an influencer is not enough.
Influencer marketing, despite being fairly nascent, has firmly established itself as one of the most important emerging channels for marketers today. As it matures and more and more companies enter into the space who can provide structure, process and organization, marketers will feel more confident as they’re able to move from an experimental phase to one that will command a much bigger percentage of their campaign budgets.