Mollie Edwards looks to the future trends of the growing influencer industry, engage brands who are seeing success and chat with experts who are helping guide marketers on the benefits and pitfalls of influencer marketing.
According to Business Insider, estimates show influencer marketing is set to become a $15 billion dollar industry by 2022. Much has already been written about this marketing strategy in 2021, this as TikTok takes off, luxury brands like BMW attempt to reach new audiences, and authenticity comes under increased scrutiny.
What is influencer marketing?
Ten years ago, the influencer marketing space was limited only to celebrities and a few dedicated bloggers. Fast forward to today and almost anyone with a few thousands of followers could consider themselves an influencer.
In definition, influencer marketing is a type of social media marketing that uses endorsements and product mentions from individuals who have a dedicated social following and are viewed as experts within their niche. This method of marketing often works due to the high amount of trust that social influencers have built up with their following.
Clare Winterbourn, founder of world-leading talent management business Born Bred Talent, says a single influencer can have a greater impact on a larger audience than a billboard. “Influencers pose as a direct line into the hearts and wallets of many, providing an opportunity for brands to drive brand consideration and in turn increase sales whilst simultaneously enriching their own content strategy. “Their content, which will remain online in perpetuity, allows consumers to interact with a brand beyond the bounds of traditional advertising.”
The latest NZ On Air ‘Where are the Audiences’ survey shows that New Zealand now has 3.97 million social media users (or 82% of the population) and of this, 56% of all Kiwis (age 15+) use social media for more than one hour per day. Managing director of talent management agency People of Influence, Chris Henry, says it’s clear that social media is something that kiwis are consuming, therefore it’s crucial for brands to include social as part of their wider marketing campaign.
“The vision of People of Influence is to allow truly influential people to be able to connect with brands that offer value to their audience,” says Henry. “We have an amazing roster of talent who span across acting, radio, sports and music and are all leaders within their field.” The Current State of the Influencer Marketing Landscape Standing out on Instagram in 2014 was a lot easier than today. If you were lucky enough to find yourself on Instagram’s featured page or your look was unique enough, then your chances of being labelled an influencer were high. Now, with roughly 1.3 billion users, it can be a lot harder to stand out on the platform.
In recent years, Instagram has slowly transitioned from a photo-sharing app, to a shopping platform. As Instagram now has its own shopping feature, many brands have used this to their advantage and have onboarded influential talent to further promote their products.
With many brands now using social media as a primary way to engage with customers, the demand for micro to macro-influencers has significantly increased. Although 2014 posed easier access to influencer stardom, in 2021 many people are able to turn social media influencing into a full-time career.
At Born Bred, Winterbourn says the team has a refined eye for talent, and are constantly looking out for who is best in the market. “Over the years at Born Bred, we have honed our skills to recognise the potential in micro and macro influencers, building them up through carefully executed content strategies to become social media juggernauts in their own right.” Influencer marketing is effective because as consumers, we’re influenced by what we see and hear. Iyia Liu, account manager an influencer marketing agency Explosive Social, says people want content that brings them value, whether that be entertainment, knowledge or something else. Her advice to businesses is to encourage their influencers to create valuable video content.
“If you can get the influencer to do a demonstration of how to use your product this is a great way to show off your product or service offering.
“We are already seeing a huge shift from static image to video content, both long-form (YouTube) and short-form (tiktok, reels, stories series).”
How brands are leveraging social influencers
As brands look for ways to establish deeper, more personalised connections with consumers, they’re engaging social media influencers more heavily than in previous years. This increased focus is due today’s mass media consumption and the significant engagement that many influencers have across channels like YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.
Holly Lindsey, Senior Content Partnership Director at Fuse, says rather than talking at consumers, influencers are engaging with them. It’s customers talking with customers, building authenticity and genuine advocacy. “From years of trial and error and strong two-way conversations, they have grown a highly engaged audience and create content and conversation that actually resonates.
“Influencers truly understand their audiences needs and how best to deliver content that provides real value.” While influencer marketing has been around long before the pandemic, social circumstances over the past 18-plus months have created a stronger need for interpersonal connection among consumers. On Instagram, for example, data from Nielsen InfluenceScope, a solution suite that measures social media influencers, shows that the top 10 influencers by engagement rate have a combined 110 million global followers. The top 10 total interactions with those influencers commanded an engagement rate of 28%.
Large follower bases and engagement rates across social media platforms have not gone unnoticed by brands. The 2021 Nielsen Annual Marketing Report noted that marketers planned to increase their social media spend more than any other channel, including growing options like online video and podcasts.
Although influencer marketing has many benefits, it can sometimes be seen as inauthentic. Today’s consumers are savvy, skeptical and content-hungry. They have a world of information at their fingertips and can often see right through perfectly posed influencer posts. “There are definitely a few grey areas of influencer marketing and unfortunately some of this behaviour has had a negative impact on the wider perception of influencer marketing,” says Lindsey.
“The main watch-outs are bots, influencer comment pods and bought likes and followers. To best engage with consumers, brands need to do their research, lead with the data and ensure they have a clear strategy in place. Partnering with the right influencers to create genuine, credible, sharable content that engages a real targeted audience can be highly valuable to a brand, but a business needs to understand where the engagement came from and put value on the content, not just the metrics. Henry says anyone with a couple of thousand followers can call themselves an influencer, however what these people fail to see is that with a platform, comes responsibility.
“We are proud that our talent have their online audience as a direct result of their success in their craft, vs the other way round. I have been really proud recently of the work our talent has done across the vaccination drive, really insuring that their platform and responsibility is used in the right way.”
Choosing the right influencer
The most critical part of influencer marketing involves identifying an influencer that fits the brand’s personality and purpose, something that 86% of Nielsen’s InfluenceScope clients represent as a challenge. As with most marketing hurdles, data is critical in identifying consumer behaviour, trends and possible partnerships in the influencer marketing space.
Explosive Social’s Iyia, has used influencer marketing for all of her businesses including Tidal Hair, LUXE Fitness, Good4Me and Celebration Box. She says this type of marketing can be used for almost any business, you just need to be creative with it. “Your influencers need to have an audience that matches the target audience demographics for the brand – things like age, gender, location etc.
“We come up with a posting brief and contract for all of our influencers no matter what size they are to ensure they are on the same page as us in terms of posting expectations, what they are receiving and what we will get back.” Although highly used, influencer marketing is not limited to Instagram. In fact, TikTok boasts the highest engagement rate of a social media platform, which is driven by a younger, female-weighted average demographic, aged 18 to 24.
California-based e.l.f Cosmetics recently began running campaigns on TiKTok to better engage with Gen Z consumers. Understanding the influence of music on this generation, the brand developed its own song, “Eye, Lips, Face,” which it used as the foundation for a TikTok campaign that gained one billion views in just six days, according to Nielsen InfluenceScope. The song was the first piece of branded content to hit No.1 on TikTok’s organic trends list and continues to engage, with more than six billion views to date and more than 5 million user-generated videos created as part of the campaign’s associated challenge.
It is important to note however, that not all campaigns start with a brand. The actions of influencers are often the inspiration for brand campaigns. This is because social media influencers are avid promoters of the products and services they love, and their organic efforts can lead to big opportunities for brands.
American clothing company Gap learned about the rising power of TikTok influencers well before it even had a TikTok account of its own. A range of influencers did all the work when they started uploading videos of themselves wearing logoed Gap hoodie sweatshirts towards the end of 2020 and into 2021. TikTok star Barbara Kristoffersen posted a video wearing a shade of brown the company hadn’t made since the early 2000s.
The #brownhoodie influencer effort resulted in an engagement rate of 188.35%, and sparked an influx of the no-longer-made hoodies on resale sites for up to $300, with the #gaphoodie hashtag at over 6.5 million views. All of this encouraged Gap to bring back the brown hoodie in July 2021, which due to its popularity, is now out of stock on the company’s e-commerce site.
Lindsay says it’s important for brands to be clear around the objectives they want to achieve from the beginning. This, alongside an influencer selection criteria, will help determine what influencers and content formats will effectively deliver the best results. “For example, if you have a direct call-to-action or want to drive people to a website then partnering with an influencer who organically has strong swipe-ups on Instagram Stories is a great start. Paid amplification will ensure the content is delivered at scale and driving action from your target audience.”
The future of influencer marketing
The growing appeal of influencer marketing among brands is clear with respect to the appeal of channels like YouTube and TikTok to younger generations, however influence isn’t limited to specific age groups, and the impact of influence is growing.
Looking forward there is massive opportunity for brands to utilise influencer marketing to the best of its ability. Nielsen Scarborough data shows that 83% of Americans say that they stick with brands they like, but just 22.6% like to connect with brands on social media networking sites. Influencer marketing can help brands begin to bridge that 60% gap, and start to measure the results.
“I think it’s clear that platforms will come and go, but what I am excited about is that genuine influence has never, and will never, be a fad,” says Henry. “A genuine recommendation is always going to be the strongest driver to purchase intent, whether that be from your hair dresser, your favourite barista or a respected and trusted face you engage with online.”
Winterbourn explains we are seeing the emergence of platforms that focus on a sense of community amongst its users. “Gone are the days of bikini bodies on Instagram, consumers and in turn brands want relatable and diverse talent that speak to relatable and diverse topics/audiences. The age of content with conscience is upon us, and Born Bred have a talent roster that speaks to that.”
If your brand hasn’t yet seen the benefits of influencer marketing, it is not too late to engage and reap the rewards. A recent report by Kepios says that 4.55 billion people around the world use social media daily.
This article was originally published in the December 2021/January 2022 issue of NZ Marketing. Click here to subscribe.