In a multichannel era in which people’s daily lives are increasingly spent devouring content through mobile devices, consumers are increasingly tired of interruptions from advertisements. Because they regularly install ad-blocker software, or skip past obvious ads, marketers have had to generate new ways to reach potential customers on these valuable digital platforms. Enter influencer marketing.
Influencer marketing is a method of promoting your brand or product through the medium of an influential individual — whether that is a digital celebrity like fashion and beauty vlogger Zoella, or an opinion leader in your industry, such as the editor of Vogue. It allows brands to reach their target audience through the voice and network of a person directly in the social news feeds they’re looking to for entertainment.
For example, Dolce & Gabbana filled the front row of its Spring 2017 fashion show with millennial influencers, which got them countless press features. Big and small niche influencers were the stars of H&M’s TV campaign that challenged what it means to be “ladylike.”
The rise of mobile advertising — in which the amount of time spent on mobile is disproportionate to the amount of money spent advertising there — has led marketers to specialize in social media-focused content and influencer marketing. According to a survey by the influencer marketing platform Linqia, 39% of marketers intend to increase their influencer marketing budgets in 2018, compared to only 5% who intend to reduce it.
These influencers have more sway than newsworthy celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence or Tom Cruise because they have a closer connection to their followers. In some demographics, such as Gen Zers, they’re at least as well known, if not more so. But marketers need to build those relationships early in the influencer’s career, before they’re mega-famous. That way they can foster a genuine business relationship that can result in reduced costs, better content, a lower cost per engagement, and a higher ROI. Then, you must continue to invest time and budget to ensure your pool of individuals is connected to your brand, both emotionally and via the relevance of their style and audience.
What Makes a Good Influencer?
Influencers fall into various categories, each with their own benefits and challenges:
|Fans||Already loyal and committed to spreading love for your brand.||Tiny reach, and require campaigns/competitions to engage.|
|Key Opinion Leaders||High level of trust, and good for B2B. They will not expect high fees.||Need to build the relationship offline. Cannot be transactional.|
|Microinfluencers||You can become their champion; build an early relationship.||Smaller reach and time-consuming to manage.|
|Creators||They create high-quality, unique content with minimal budget.||Lower reach and complex negotiations.|
|Digital Celebrities||Huge reach and highly efficient to contract.||Engagements can appear sponsored, lessening the brand impact.|
|Celebrities||Drive awareness, consideration, traffic, and high-authority links, too.||Highly expensive contracts that require focus to activate effectively.|
For our purposes here, we’ll be talking about digital influencers, a term that each brand must also qualify on its own terms. For example, the popular online cosmetics company Glossier famously considers every one of its customers to be an influencer, reflecting an open attitude that’s consistent across all of the brand’s marketing activities, and clearly shapes its influencer strategy.
The Rise of Influencer Marketing
In the last few years, brands are increasingly considering influencers to be more valuable than global celebrities who can gain them coverage in mainstream press to drive awareness, but don’t increase brand consideration as highly. This was evidenced by the game-changing New York Fashion Week show held by Tommy Hilfiger in Autumn/Winter 2016, during which a handpicked audience of more than 3,000 influential individuals experienced the “show” in a “Tommy Pier” carnival experience littered with Instagrammable moments that flooded attendees’ social feeds.
While influencer marketing content in Europe and the U.S. must be clearly identified as an advertisement through the use of #Ad or #Advert hashtags on Facebook or Instagram, or flags built into the platforms themselves, the influencer’s “authority” and character attributes (e.g., their behavior or artistic flair) are lent to the brand, providing rich product marketing that creates a deeper connection with the target audience than pure-play advertising.
At my creative agency This Here, we conduct regular analysis into the engagement rate on posts containing #Advertising tags, and repeatedly find that the hashtags’ inclusion does not affect performance, when compared to untagged posts. Consumers increasingly understand that a portion of the digital content they consume is sponsored; they understand that their favorite influencers need to draw an income from their work, and react negatively only if the brand in question is not a natural fit for the influencer.
How Influencer Marketing Works
If you think about it, there have always been influencers around us. Think of celebrities promoting brands and products. This hasn’t changed. What has changed, perhaps, is the type of people the world has decided to trust.
Today many of us look up to the individuals we follow on social media — people who resonate with us. And while a famous actress might give a beauty brand a massive reach, digital influencers serve a more targeted, engaging, and cost-effective way to reach specific demographics. Plus, the connection with their audience is so much more magical. ✨
As with any brand collaboration, marketers need to approach influencer marketing strategically and with both an analytical and creative mindset.
When it comes to finding the right brand-influencer match, the key challenge for marketers is finding influencers who:
- Reflect the brand’s values.
- Are followed by a demographic that’s desirable to the brand.
- Will be happy to be associated with the brand in question.
After finding this sweet spot, the influencer manager — if there’s not someone in this specific role, these duties could fall under social media, content, communications, or even paid media teams — provides the influencer with a clear and creative brief about the project. The brief details the actions the brand would like the influencer to carry out, and the deliverables, e.g., the number of posts, relevant copy or hashtags to use, and a posting schedule. That leads to a budgetary negotiation, influenced by the level of effort involved and, of course, the desirability of the influencer ad the brand in question.
A luxury brand like Gucci can often negotiate lower fees for its innovative campaigns like #TFWGucci (influencers are lining up to work on such briefs), but high street fashion brands, for example, need to work a lot harder. This is particularly true if the brand needs the support of influencers to drive a perception shift.
For example, the Spanish fashion brand Desigual needed to make a significant investment to inspire a global pool of influencers to get involved early in the process of the brand’s transformation in 2017 and 2018. The brand had huge awareness across Europe, but a poor reputation. As a result, the company revamped everything from its products to its retail stores, and decided that influencers were the perfect mouthpiece to communicate the change.
Finally, the influencer receives the product or experience and creates engaging content in their unique style to help the brand achieve widely varying objectives, from brand awareness or reputation, to directly attributable sales, and even SEO. Most agencies and brands track the performance of each post carefully, ensuring the response was positive, before working with the same influencer again.
Influencer Marketing at General Assembly
Though influencer marketing can be a marketer’s sole focus, anyone in the industry, especially those who focus on content, social media, and communications, could benefit from a deeper understanding of the field. In General Assembly’s Digital Marketing course, on campus and online, students gain insight into this growing sector while digging into content strategy and social media practices. Through selecting influencers for your class project and crafting an influencer strategy, you’ll get hands-on experience that you can use in real-world campaigns.
Meet Our Expert
Jemima Garthwaite has nearly 10 years’ experience in the world of digital and social media marketing. She’s the founder of the data-fueled creative agency This Here, where she oversees strategic, creative, and analytical work, and has held roles as head of social media at Groupon and Poke London.
Jemima has taught at General Assembly for five years, first on our London campus, and more recently for GA’s corporate training programs. Jemima is also a judge at the Lovie Awards, was a Cannes Young Lions winner, made The Drum magazine’s 30 Under 30 list, and has been a guest on The Guardian’s Tech Weekly podcast.
“Influencer marketing all comes down to connection. It’s not about impressions — it’s about creativity, collaboration, and reciprocity. It’s about real influence and human relationships.”
Jemima Garthwaite, Digital Marketing Instructor, GA London