The UK Is Investing in Influencer Marketing—and Learning From US Successes

The industry is growing in Britain, but it's still a few steps behind its American counterpart

British and American influencers
Those who have worked in influencer marketing in both countries note certain differences that affect both business and influencers. Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Sources: Unsplash
Headshot of Diana Pearl

The evolution of influencer marketing from a little-understood fad to a legitimate business practice has spurred the emergence of a major sector in marketing—and all the cash that comes along with it. That’s particularly true in the United States, where influencer marketing was expected to be worth $6.5 billion by the end of 2019 (compared with $1.7 billion just three years ago).

Influencer marketing has made a splash in the U.K. as well, albeit a smaller one.  A less developed space, however, also means a less crowded one, with fewer players and more opportunities to get noticed by followers as well as brands.

“We’re seeing it grow, and it’s growing rapidly,” Dave Murray, evp, international operations at monetization platform rewardStyle, said of influencer marketing in the U.K., adding that more and more brands are coming to his company wanting to make bigger investments in influencer marketing, regardless of whether they have experience with it.

U.K. businesses making influencers a bigger piece of their marketing strategy mirrors an ongoing trend in the U.S., with two-thirds of brands increasing their influencer marketing spend in 2019, according to BigCommerce. And those who have worked in influencer marketing in both countries have seen certain differences that affect both business and influencers.

Most predominantly, the U.K.’s influencer market is still a bit green.

“The U.S. market is just more mature,” said London-based influencer Emily Roberts. “It’s just been around longer, brands have been investing in influencer marketing and, as a result, the U.S. is spending more. But with that, it’s certainly a lot more saturated and competitive when it comes to bloggers and content creators.”

A younger industry does have its benefits, however. Three content creators who spoke with Adweek pointed to advantages such as more direct relationships with brands (working with an in-house contact rather than one from an outside PR agency), a less saturated market and more travel opportunities (with bigger budgets).

However, the downside, according to influencers, indicates an industry at an inflection point, where the economics of broad-based marketing butt up against the demands of the burgeoning influencer class. Some influencers noted lower pay than in the U.S. and more skepticism from brands about investing in influencer marketing in the first place.

Meanwhile, archetypes have developed within the influencer marketing industry in the U.S. For example, it’s rare to find a fashion blogger who isn’t promoting Nordstrom’s annual anniversary sale come July and, in the fall, countless influencers partnered with Olay to promote its new retinol line. In the U.K., there’s been less time for these sort of widespread partnerships to develop and influencer-favorite events—which Mollie Shepherdson, an American influencer based in London who runs the website Mollie Moore, said leads to more diversity in content—to catch on.

“In the United States, there are a lot of girls that do the exact same thing from very similar backgrounds with very similar styles sharing the same types of content and the same types of outfits,” Shepherdson said. “In London, I feel like you get a more diverse background. People will have all sorts of different styles, which I think is helpful to grow a little bit as no two bloggers are really the same here.”

That diversity extends to the people following the U.K.-based influencers, too. According to Murray and rewardStyle, American influencers’ followers are predominantly American—88% of their audiences are domestic—while in the U.K., 50% of audiences are British. Those numbers may be explained by the fact that at 512 million, the population of the EU is closer to that of the U.S., at 327 million, than the U.K.’s, at 66 million. Murray said that often means U.K. bloggers are a natural fit for partnerships with brands outside the U.K., opening up their businesses to the greater European market.

Their primary market, though, is still the U.K., and as a smaller market, it has some disadvantages. Roberts said she’s seen more skepticism there from brands looking to partner with influencers—for example, brands, from fashion to lifestyle, demanding numerical proof of an influencer’s success before agreeing to a partnership. And Shepherdson said one of the first things she noticed when she relocated to the U.K. were the discrepancies in pay.

“When I sent my media kit over to an English brand who were interested in working with me when I first moved to London, they were flabbergasted,” she said. “They said, ‘We’ve never paid those those prices before.’ I got them to maybe pay half.”

Pay discrepancies don’t appear across the board, however. Adam Williams, CEO of a leading influencer marketing service Takumi, which operates in the U.K. and the U.S., says he doesn’t see a major difference in rates. And London-based influencer Taylor Fuller, who runs a blog called Travel Colorfully, said she’s seen more paid travel gigs since landing in the U.K.

“I feel like sometimes influencers get a bad rap of looking like they’re always asking for something,” Fuller said. “But at the end of the day, like, it is our job. We are creating content for these brands at a much lower price than they would have to pay for a whole campaign. Over here, it’s less taboo to ask for an additional fee on top of a trip.”

And it’s a good thing, too, as the access to those sorts of press trips is greater for U.K. influencers, likely because of the proximity to the rest of Europe, Shepherdson and Fuller both said

Murray said that as the U.K.’s influencer market continues to grow, shifts that already occurred in the U.S. are just starting in Britain. Influencers who started off simply sharing their outfits at 22 have grown up, gotten married, bought their first home, had their first child and, in doing so, have expanded their content into the wedding, home decor and parenting space, a trend that took hold in the U.S. a few years ago.

As these businesses grow and evolve, Roberts said, more and more brands are realizing the power of influencers.

“The original bloggers in the U.S., they’ve been around for years, and now they’re highly successful,” Roberts said. “They have clothing lines. They have products. They’re not just a content creator posting their outfit. They have true businesses. Across the pond, we’re just starting to see that take off and really develop.”

However, one thing seems to unite influencers in the U.S., the U.K. and across the globe: they cannot put all their metaphorical eggs in one basket—in this case, one platform. With ever-changing algorithms and major features (like the pending disappearance of likes from Instagram), Britain-based influencers, like their American counterparts before them, are starting to realize the importance of having multiple revenue streams.

“They’re now starting to see, like with any successful business, diversifying is key,” Murray said. “If all your eggs are in one basket, then you’re at the mercy of someone else.”

@dianapearl_ Diana is the deputy brands editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.