5 Reasons why the Influencer Industry is going through a New Wave of Momentum
Today, we’re decoding the momentum of the ever evolving Influencer Marketing industry (#ad) vs. Traditional Marketing (TV, Billboards, Radio, etc).
Pre-covid, “traditional marketing” ads appeared to be making a comeback as brands got creative with large billboards (like Spotify’s Decade’s Odd Listening Habits Campaign), subway ads (like Casper’s Bedtime Puzzle campaign), and interactive / dynamic ads on streaming platforms (e.g. the ability to choose the types of ads you want to see while watching Hulu or Netflix). All the while, social media feeds (Instagram in particular) were becoming oversaturated with monotonous influencer content: exotic paid-for trips, mirror selfies featuring an OOTD (noun: outfit of the day) and morning skincare routines featuring #shelfies (noun: photo of your bathroom cabinet).
2019 brought on speculation that the influencer bubble was about to pop: some brands were over valuing influencers based on inflated (paid for) follower counts (problematic because the “paid for followers” don’t convert or engage). Other brands (typically larger ones) didn’t understand the value, power or purpose of an influencer strategy.
Come March 2020 and everything is flipped on its head. Much like everything else, COVID-19 disrupted the marketing world: budget cuts, furloughed teams and means of producing content halted. Brands big and small were forced to get creative and find more nimble, less expensive alternatives to the way they were marketing before. Enter: the resurgence of Influencer Marketing.
Influencer marketing has been around for about 5–7 years, but momentum for the industry is recently on the rise again. New and unexpected types of brands (e.g. CPG, Auto, electronics) are getting involved with influencer marketing. And influencers are leveling up — taking notes from what works in traditional advertising and serving it up in a way that fits their platform and engages their followers.
ON THE UP: Influencer Marketing
The MFactor has surged from 45 to 66 since January 2020. Here’s how influencer marketing is hitting all Five Drivers of Momentum:
DISRUPTION: Influencer marketing has evolved far beyond the rudimentary days of static product placements in influencer instagrams. Influencers have flipped their industry on its head as they start to consider themselves digital content creators and marketing experts. They are leveling up by taking lessons from “traditional” marketers: higher quality content production and more creative and integrated content storylines. For example, the Benz Family and their partnership with BMW: Sasha and Oli Benz (2 Australian influencers in the 50k — 60k follower range) regularly work BMW #ads into their social media content. Their recent 1:15 minute video showcasing how their BMW car is a cornerstone of their special everyday family moments with their kids is a more captivating and creative piece of content than a static product shot. And from a brand perspective, is a more relatable and engaging pivot from the 45 second TV commercials we are used to.
INNOVATION: When brands were hit with marketing cuts, they started innovating and creating FOMO (adj. Fear of missing out) through organic influencer partnerships with people that are already super-fans of the brand. A shift from the days when followers became skeptical of whether or not influencers actually support the brand or they are just posting to get paid. 2 prime examples: Tom’s of Maine and Hollister Co. Tom’s of Maine partnered with thousands of micro influencers (noun. an influential person on social media with a small yet engaged following) who were already passionate about the natural products. This strategy worked because it put Tom’s products in the hands of culturally relevant people who talk about the products in a genuine way. Hollister Co, a clothing brand that lost cultural relevance in recent years, partnered with sister TikTok stars Charli and Dixie D’Amelio. Followers of these sisters know they’ve been long time wearers of Hollister jeans, making the campaign and partnership felt natural and organic rather than forced. As a result, this partnership caused Hollister’s MFactor to nearly double when the D’Amelio x Hollister campaign launched in July.
POLARIZATION: To some, social media can seem like the Wild Wild West. Legislation is playing catch up in an attempt to implement rules and regulations for this newer form of advertising. In the meantime, traditional marketing restrictions and guidelines don’t necessarily apply. Influencers are taking advantage and pushing boundaries (risque songs and dances, cursing, etc). The more controversial and unexpected the content, the better it performs and engages the audiences. Brands are starting to use influencers as a loophole to get more provocative content. For example, designer fashion brand Celine tapped controversial social media star Cole Chase Hudson (aka ‘Lil Huddy,’) to tease their new SS21 collection. Some brands shy away from leveraging mega social media influencers with followings as big as Lil Huddy’s (9.4 Million on Instagram, 23.5M on TikTok) because of the risk of being associated with the drama that might come with them. Celine will see success from leaning into the polarization.
STICKY: Advertisements and product placements become most memorable when integrated into an influencer’s personal brand narrative. The context helps the product make more sense in the follower’s/consumer’s mind. Amazon Alexa tapped rising influencer Serena F*cking Kerrigan (aka “SFK”), giving her free reign to weave the Alexa products into her “everyday” life. The response from followers was overwhelmingly positive because of the authenticity of the #ad. The genius of this partnership is that Amazon is a brand with arguably the most mass (awareness) in the world. Tapping into an influencer with velocity (followers that are passionately engaged) makes them more culturally relevant among an engaged set of consumers.
SOCIAL IMPACT: Influencers recognize that their platform comes with extreme social responsibility. Now more than ever, influencers are expected to take a stance and weigh in on important cultural conversations. Influencer and entrepreneur Danielle Bernstein of WeWoreWhat created the sub brand WeGaveWhat to support charitable initiatives and pledge 15% of her marketing budget to supporting other diverse influencers. Tory Burch’s #wearadamnmask campaign went viral and caused her brand’s MFactor to nearly quadruple in June. And as a result of this summer’s Black Lives Matter movement, influencers Danielle Prescod and Chrissy Rutherford organized an allyship workshop to guide fellow influencers in their effort to be more socially responsible with their content.
ON THE DOWN: TRADITIONAL MARKETING
Despite best efforts, the velocity for traditional marketing went from 40 to 10 since January 2020. With more mass than velocity, traditional marketing efforts like TV ads, radio spots, billboards and print ads are losing momentum.
Layer on the disruption of COVID-19 when budgets were cut, creative teams were furloughed and resources to create high level productions were no longer available.
COVID-19 acted as an accelerator, forcing brands that were accustomed to the status quo to quickly pivot and get comfortable with non-traditional marketing platforms.
Influencer marketing used to be the go-to approach for smaller brands with low marketing budgets (it was a scrappy approach and there was always a way to negotiate a deal with the influencer that reached the right target).
Now we are seeing bigger brands jump on the influencer “bandwagon” and we predict that more brands will start venturing as momentum for influencer marketing continues to rise.
In contrast, we will start to see “traditional marketing” efforts (e.g. TV, Billboards, Print, etc) evolve and transform to make themselves accessible to smaller brands that couldn’t previously afford it. For example, Hulu is starting to work with small businesses and start ups via their newly launched Creative Partner Program to help them create and place TV ads on Hulu.
Momentum isn’t always about reinventing the wheel. Sometimes it is just a matter of lateral lessons. Taking notes from what’s working for others and putting your own twist on it can help propel you forward in unexpected ways.