Digital Strategy

Influence Marketing: Heyday or Mayday?

Influence Marketing consists of using the digital influence of an individual to indirectly advertise his or her followers. This new marketing tool has quickly become fundamental for most digital companies.

 

Why is Influence Marketing successful?

 

Social Networks Timeline

Understanding the performances of such a marketing phenomenon requires to go back to its origins. It all began about fifteen years ago, with the rise of the giant Google, and the profusion of free, critical, and popular content that it allows. Forums, personal sites, and blogs have become platforms on which millions of Internet users exchange their opinions. The Google algorithms have quickly boosted the visibility of these websites with an important traffic and a high engagement rate by making them appear among the first results of the search engine. Very quickly, “opinion leaders” have appeared on these websites. They are usually enthusiasts or experts in their field, and they are respected, listened to, and imitated by the rest of their community.

Digital companies started to be interested in these people, which represent a considerable marketing potential. Indeed, since more than 50 years, sociologists have demonstrated the importance of interpersonal relationships (family, friends, faith group, ect.) in the decision-making of an individual. In 1944, the Austrian-American sociologist Paul Felix Lazarsfeld was one of the first to refer to this subject in his book “The People’s Choice“. He conducted a study to understand the process of decision-making during the 1940 presidential election. If the first plan was to find out how and why people voted as they did in regards to media effects, Paul Felix Lazarsfeld concluded his study claiming that personal contacts were actually more influential than media exposure. Later on, many psychologists and sociologists confirmed and deepened this theory, thus questioning the power of media. Among them, Robert Cialdini explained in his book “Influence: Science and Practice” how appreciation and friendship can generate sales by increasing the power of persuasion. These theories are applying to the relationship between influencers and their followers. According to a french study conducted by the Argus de la Presse / Cison Group, one in three Internet users follows at least one influencer on social networks. 75% of Internet users who follow influencers have bought a product after having read a content published by an influencer. A boon for brands!

Nowadays, brands experience difficulties capturing the attention of consumers and their volatile demands. The usual levers of communication are becoming more and more obsolete and consumers no longer trust advertising. Influence Marketing seems to be the most effective tool for acquiring new customers through an original content. Moreover, the advent of social networks, such as Facebook, Youtube, Instagram or Snapchat emphasizes this phenomenon. On one hand, the interest of companies is growing as fast as the different ways to communicate online; on the other hand, the ever-increasing number of Internet users is becoming more and more active and engaged on social networks. Fashion, sport, travel, cooking, video games, etc. All sectors are represented online, creating a multitude of opportunities for new influencers to emerge. Thus, it is getting easier for brands to target the right audience, through the right influencer.

 

How is Influence Marketing evolving?

Influence Marketing is evolving in a fast-paced environment. At first, relationships between brands and influencers were limited to the sending of free products. The explosion of this phenomenon has quickly led to tariff relations, which means that influencers present a product through a post, video or story in exchange for a fee. Being an influencer is now a proper job. The evolution is still going on, and marketers now have to implement innovative strategies in order to stay competitive in this market.

Social media has become saturated with posts from influencers. Audiences have become numb to this standard approach. Therefore, brands must think creatively and come up with innovative concepts to resonate with their target audience. Desperados, which aims to be the iconic brand for Millenials, threw one of the most amazing and original parties of the year for their ‘Release Your Inner Tequila’ campaign. The company rented out the world’s deepest pool and hosted a Deep House party featuring world-renowned DJs. The idea was not to present a product, but to share a concept; an idea of an environment which characterizes the brand. The invited influencers were able to enjoy music under the water thanks to their diving gear. Those who didn’t want to dive were able to submerge themselves into the party via tunnels at the base of the pool. They shared their unusual experience with their followers, thus strongly connecting the brand to its target audience. With this event, Desperados found a way to stay at the top of event-marketing activations with influencers, a new marketing trend which is already spreading among marketers.

Within the Influence sphere, there are several types of influencers: the “mega-influencers” (with over one million followers), the “macro-influencers” (between 100,000 and 1 million followers), the “micro-influencers” (between 10,000 and 100,000 followers) and the “nano-influencers” (less than 10,000 followers). Instead of spending a large amount of money on few famous influencers, the disruptive beauty startup Glossier has chosen to focus on the two last segments. The community of this type of influencer is most often composed of consumers looking for sincerity, transparency, spontaneity and authenticity. This is more about interpersonal, almost friendly relationships, and it allows the brand to increase its awareness in a very targeted way. This is the reason why this category of influencer has the highest engagement rates, as shown by a study conducted by Markely in 2016. By choosing this segment, Glossier has created an engaged community of “regular women” which is successfully spreading brand awareness around the world.

 

What are the challenges of Influence Marketing?

Transparency is one of the main challenges of Influence Marketing. As this phenomenon is pretty new, usual advertising laws can’t be applied to it, hence, there is a lack of regulation.  In several countries, such as France, the United States or Germany, the authorities are starting to take actions. As an example, the word “sponsored” must be present under each sponsored post, video, or article. However, according to the british study The Social Survey, 77% of Internet users do not know the meaning of #sp (“sponsored publication”) and 48% don’t know what #ad (“advertising”) means. These statistics are probably even higher in non-English speaking countries, such as France, where these english acronym hashtags are also used by influencers. There is a gap between the actual situation and the solutions put in place by governments. The new Influence Marketing trends, such as Influencer Marketing Events,  are probably going to deepen this gap, as they are making the situation even more complex.

According to the same study of The Social Survey, almost half of the consumers surveyed would not trust the publication of an influencer if they knew the content was paid for by a brand. As mentioned previously, Internet users want to have access to sincere and authentic content. Therefore, companies have to choose the influencers that are going to represent their brand carefully, and implement long-term relationship with them in order to show their followers how genuine their relationship is. This encourages trust and authenticity, as customers don’t have the feeling of being taken a fool. Moreover, building a strong connection with few trustworthy influencers allows the brand to avoid the concerning issue of follower fraud. A lot of so-called influencers are actually buying fake followers, making the Influence Marketing Strategies inefficient.

 

Influence Marketing has not finished evolving. On one hand, influencers continue to seduce and their audience does not decrease. On the other hand, consumers are not fooled and are well aware of the game played by brands and influencers. They no longer consider the content of the influencers as authentic. A recent study conducted by Bazaarvoice in France, the United Kingdom and Germany, highlighted the lack of credit now given to influencers by European consumers. Therefore, in the coming years, the challenge for brands will be to reinvent their Influence Marketing strategy, and above all, not to remain in the current scheme, which has already begun to evolve.

About the author

Cécile Viret