Influencer Marketing: The Next Big Thing

By Lauren Herber, Editor-in-Chief

I have a bad habit. Every morning when I first wake up, I check my email. And then I scroll through Instagram. And scroll and scroll and scroll. I see a handful of posts from friends and family followed by a deluge of perfectly-timed photos of faraway places, delicious-looking treats, sparkly accessories, and impeccable outfits. I’m addicted. I love seeing photos of beautiful things, whether those things are the adored faces of my loved ones, bubblegum pink ice cream, a pristine beach, or the perfect pair of shoes. And lately, I’ve noticed one specific type of item dominating the perfectly-curated, artfully-arranged layouts of my Instagram feed: watches.

An example of a perfectly-curated social media shot of a Cluse watch, posted by an influencer. Courtesy Pinterest
An example of a perfectly-curated social media shot of a Cluse watch, posted by an influencer. Courtesy Pinterest

Watches everywhere. Big watches, small watches, pink watches, black watches. So many different styles of watches. But all of the same brand—Cluse—which I’ve never heard of before. All of the fashion bloggers I follow were suddenly posting about the same brand of watch. Suspicious, I looked up the company on LinkedIn and learned that it was founded less than 5 years ago. A young company, with little to no brand presence, has suddenly taken over my social media feeds, popping up everywhere I turn. That brand, which a few months ago I had never even heard of, now occupies one of those coveted top-of-mind spots in my head. When I think of watches, I almost immediately think of Cluse, a brand which I have never personally owned before. Thus is the power of social media influencer marketing.

You’re familiar with influencer marketing—it’s nothing new. Jennifer Aniston gushing about Aveeno’s moisturizing capabilities? That’s influencer marketing. So is LeBron James enjoying a refreshing Sprite and Lil Wayne pouring champagne on his Samsung cellphone. Influencer marketing is nothing new, but the rapid growth of social media has changed the game entirely.

Social media influencer marketing is powerful for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it simulates one of the most valuable forms of marketing: word of mouth. McKinsey & Company found that it is word of mouth, not that advertising campaign you paid millions for, that influences 20-50% of all purchase decisions. The study also found that “marketing-induced consumer-to-consumer word of mouth generates more than twice the sales of paid advertising,” and it gets even better: customers gained through word-of-mouth marketing have a 37% higher retention rate. Social media influencers simulate word-of-mouth marketing because they are sources that consumers already trust and engage with. It doesn’t matter that I’ve never met any of the influencers I follow on social media—I see what goes on (or at least what they want me to think goes on) in their everyday lives, and the result is that I feel like I know them and that I can trust them. Truly successful social media influencers know how to create this sense of relationship with their followers, despite the fact that the relationship is entirely virtual and, in many cases, imaginary and one-sided.

This trend is growing increasingly true with the Millennial generation, which has grown up with and come to expect constant hyper-connectivity. GCI Magazine has found Millennials, who are raised believing that they are unique and special, are much more receptive to personalized, tailored marketing messages as opposed to widespread TV ads that have been reduced to nothing more than the background noise you consciously tune out as you scroll through Instagram and “like” Facebook statuses during commercial breaks. Social media influencers present a way for marketers to target consumers in a way that feels natural and personal. This is called native advertising. Native advertising supplements consumer experience with organic content rather than interrupting it with ads. This type of advertising has proven itself to be highly effective: MDG Advertising found that 70% of consumers prefer to learn about products through native advertising methods, such as relevant content, over traditional advertising methods. And it’s not just a consumer preference—it’s a method that generates actual results, with native ads generating higher purchase intent than traditional banner ads (52% vs. 34%) and higher brand loyalty (32% vs. 23%).

An example of an influencer campaign on Instagram for shoe brand Soludos, pulled from my own feed.
An example of an influencer campaign on Instagram for shoe brand Soludos, pulled from my own feed.

Social media influencer campaigns give brands the ability to target specific consumers with specific messages. With the average American seeing over 5,000 ads per day, consumers have learned to unconsciously tune ads out. Furthermore, many have consciously done so, with just under half of online consumers using ad blockers. Influencer campaigns circumvent “banner blindness” by delivering an authentic message to a highly specific group of consumers that are already engaged. And consumers that are highly motivated and already engaged are much more likely to pay attention to your message, your brand, and your product. Marketers are starting to catch on to the potential of influencers: more than 70% of brands have increased their social media spending, specifically on organic content marketing, in recent years, and Instagram influencer marketing is now a $1 billion industry.

When it comes to influencer campaigns, however, not all products are created equal. Harvard Business Review found that there is a continuum for the dependency of product categories on nontraditional information sources (“O”), such as online reviews, ratings, and general input from other people. Habitual, low-involvement purchases aren’t dependent on peer feedback, while other categories, such as high-complexity or service products, will benefit much more from “O” than from traditional marketing communications strategies. The takeaway? If you’re the brand manager for milk, you probably won’t see much ROI from investing in a high-profile social media influencer campaign. But if you’re the brand manager of a complex beauty product or a new high-end, local dessert shop—well, the proof is in the pudding.

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