No longer just a buzzword: Influencers changing the marketing industry

12 March 2021

In just a few years, influencer marketing has gone from a mere buzzword to an established form of online marketing. Companies are devoting more time and money to reach their target groups through the help of so-called influencers. But what exactly is an influencer, and why has the marketing strategy proven to be so effective? The Link asked SCC members and influencer marketing experts at Cure Media, Tailify and Boostified about the ins and outs of this growing multi-billion pound industry.

In short, influencer marketing is a marketing method that helps companies to stand out from the media noise and reach their target groups more efficiently by using influencers. “At the core, it’s built on the premise that people trust people. We look for people who share our values, interests and aspirations. We use them to filter out noise, and as a source for inspiration, entertainment and value,“ Fredrik Martini Andersson, Co-Founder at Tailify explains.

“An influencer is basically a person who has the ability to influence another person. Social media influencers are individuals who have established a platform of followers with whom he or she shares his or her life and opinions, inspires in different ways, and who also can talk about products and services. However, you don’t have to have thousands or millions of followers in order to influence someone else. We usually say that anyone can be an influencer as long as you have the ability to influence another person and that’s something most people do every day”, Sanna Ödmark, Head of Marketing at Cure Media says.

Imad Ibrahim, CEO and Co-founder of Boostified agrees: “Many people have a perception of an influencer as someone who has a large following on social media and works full time promoting stuff in their channels. But we are all influencers because we all have the ability to influence people around us. It’s also important to add that the definition of influencer varies depending on who you ask, and it has also changed in the past few years. Today, an individual with a relatively small following may get compensated for promoting a product.”

An industry yet to see its full potential
“Being able to say something that affects another person is in the heart of marketing. That’s always what you want to achieve as a brand or as a marketer, and there are many studies showing that we feel more trust when hearing something from another individual than when we hear a brand say something, e.g. in an ad. Whenever a consumer is considering buying something, it’s usually their friends or family that they turn to for advice. What has happened now on social media is that this peer-to-peer method has increased in scale and evolved from just involving recommendations from friends and family to also include influencers that we follow on social channels and which we feel we have a relationship to, even though we might not even know them,” Sanna says.

Although influencer marketing is seeing tremendous growth, the industry is yet to see its full potential according to Fredrik: “I would say that influencer marketing hasn’t become as popular as it should – yet. I believe that is because most brands don’t understand it yet, and when you don’t understand it, it becomes risky and you’ll be more likely to fail. It’s easier to just stick with the traditional and the comfortable.”

Cutting through the media noise
All three seem to agree on the strengths of the industry’s rapid growth. “In contrast to other marketing methods, influencer marketing is based on personal relationships. Most mediums build business models around hijacking attention. Influence is about providing value to people, through voices they trust, in the context of marketing. In the end, this means increasing brand loyalty and brand preference by connecting deeply with people and their interests, values and aspirations. A person that is influential to you can change your opinion or behaviour in a matter of seconds. Ask yourself if a TV commercial can do that,” Fredrik says.

“Social media is full of advertising and it’s very hard to cut through the media noise. Influencer marketing is an effective method of doing just that because of its ability to build credibility and trust with target groups. Even if an influencer post on social media is marked as an advert, a loyal follower will not perceive it as such if the influencer is considered credible,” Imad says.

Sanna agrees: “The average, western consumer is exposed to thousands of commercial messages every day, so it takes a lot for a brand to reach through the noise. People are also very tired of traditional advertising, not least because it’s often perceived as disruptive and interrupts us from what we really want to
do. The greatest strength of influencer marketing is its power to build credibility and trust with target groups and create relationships - something which is very difficult to create with traditional channels.”

Fewer followers sometimes more effective
A big change the industry has seen over the past few years is the realisation that cooperating with influencers with a relatively low number of followers has its advantages. “The fact that micro-influencers have fewer followers means that they often have a stronger bond and a closer relationship to them. This makes the micro-influencer more relatable than e.g. a celebrity influencer with millions of followers and who often live completely different lives from that of their followers. In contrast to a celebrity influencer, who won’t be able to respond to the comments of perhaps several million followers, a micro-influencer may engage in a dialogue with its followers. Another strength of micro-influencers is that they are often more niched in a specific area and have followers who share that interest which means that a company that gets that influencer to promote its brand on the channel will reach its target group with a credible message,” Sanna says.

“It’s about driving human behaviour, and sometimes an influencer with 50,000 followers can do that better than someone with 750,000 followers, and vice versa. Selecting an influencer is much more complicated than the size of someone’s following. You need to use data science and psychology to find the right ones,” Fredrik says.

A clear purpose is absolutely necessary
In order to get the most out of influencer marketing, it’s clear that companies first need to know exactly what they want to get out of it. Sanna explains: “Before you start working with influencers, it is absolutely necessary that you have a clear purpose why you’re doing it. How should it fit in with your other channels? Who is your target group and what influencers do these people follow? Is influencer marketing the best way to reach it? You also have to make sure the followers you’re planning to target are real, loyal followers, and not just bought followers, trolls or whatever it may be.”

“I usually say that most companies can work with influencer marketing, but you have to adapt the strategy depending on what kind of product and target group you have. Of course, it is easier to start working with influence marketing if your target group is largely on social media,” Sanna says.

Imad agrees: “Many brands make the mistake of deciding what influencers they want to work with before doing any research. Instead, you should be looking at what influencers your target group is actually following. It’s also important for companies to think more long-term about what they want to achieve with influencer marketing. Do you want to increase brand awareness or generate sales? In case you want to increase brand awareness, for instance, you will achieve a lot by working with a large number of micro-influencers because you will get a very large spread.”

A changing industry
As influencer marketing has become an established channel, with larger budgets being invested in it, it has also become more important to measure and demonstrate ROI. Imad explains: “It’s not the wild wild west that it used to be. More complex and sophisticated methods are used. Most influencers also take their niche more seriously and are more prudent about what products they choose to promote,” Imad says. Fredrik agrees: “It has become more sophisticated and less risky. Brands have access to more data and are protected by legal contracts.”

“One of the biggest changes in recent years is that it’s getting more common for brands to work more long-term and always-on with influencer marketing, rather than making a campaign 1-2 times per year. Another change is that it has become more results- and data-driven. Just a few years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for brands to do campaigns with influencers without even examining whether they would actually reach their target group,” Sanna says.

The future of influencer marketing
A huge opportunity that applies to the entire influencer marketing-industry is the digital shift that is taking place in all of society. “We are becoming more and more digital. People, as well as companies, are moving from traditional channels such as linear TV to digital channels and social media, so our industry is becoming even more relevant. Since it is such a new channel for many, however, it’s a challenge to make companies understand how influencer marketing should fit into their marketing, how to measure the result, when and why it’s better than other channels in some areas,” Sanna says.

Imad agrees and continues: “Our own personal challenge is to get prospective clients to understand what we have to offer without labelling our service as influencer marketing. We want companies to understand that our service may differ from their perception of influencer marketing. In contrast to what some companies believe, a large following is not a requirement to join us. It’s up to the companies to decide who they want to work with – how many followers they consider sufficient.“

“In the next few years, Influencer marketing will become much more intelligent, and the brands that try to understand the data and psychology behind influence will be the major winners. I also believe we will see more brands launching campaigns built completely around influencers who can represent the brand’s values and their voice, and who can be their ears and eyes against the people that matter – their customers. I also think more influencers will launch their own brands. We’ve seen brands like Kylie Cosmetics completely exploding. Many influencers already have their own brand, and they know exactly what their followers want,” Fredrik says.

The Influencer marketing industry in stats
The influencer marketing industry is estimated to be worth up to £11 bn by 2022, compared to £6 bn in 2019, according to Business Insider. While most platforms do attract influencers, Instagram is the single platform that stands out with the most marketing investments being made.

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