This article is published in tandem with How to Maximise Your Influencer Strategy, BoF’s new Playbook containing actionable insights and practical tools to enable success in influencer marketing. Become a BoF Professional annual member to access.
“Influencer to me is a marketing term that was invented by people in a room that needed to put a name on the girls who have this talent to be able to showcase products, places and ideas to an audience,” she said.
Instead, for Charrière, who is both a brand consultant and journalist, it is credibility and creativity that defines a person’s ability to influence consumers. “People with real influence are the ones who have something to say, other than their selling power,” she said.
And it is a sentiment that is shared by influencers, brands and agencies alike, who are attempting to cut through the noise of today’s brand-influencer collaborations. As social feeds become more saturated by sponsored posts and consumers grow increasingly sceptical of inauthentic sales pitches (and actively call out brands and influencers for their faux pas), new rules underpin what it means to engage with this growing marketing channel.
Global ad spend on influencers is predicted by Business Insider Intelligence to reach between $5 billion and $10 billion by 2022. In order to stay relevant, brands must adapt to the nuances of changing consumer attitudes, and think about new ways to start conversations and generate value for social audiences. Here’s BoF’s guide to the changing face of influence in today’s social landscape:
1. Influencers don’t just influence
The secret weapon in today’s marketing arsenal is a breed of influencers that use their day jobs to maximise their reach and message. When Delphine Del Val set up her creative and influencer agency Pool Creatives, representing the likes of photographer and writer Garance Doré and furniture and fashion designer Ana Kras, she wanted to represent women who are artists first and foremost, and influencers second.
“They all have a project or something that exists and will exist if tomorrow Instagram shut down ...,” she said. “They don’t need social media to exist.”
Brands and agents increasingly seek out influencers who don’t just advertise products for a living, and who possess “insider” access to the industry through roles such as stylists, editors and photographers affords them unique insight to share with their followers. Individuals who resonate with audiences for reasons other than their style are able to bring an increased level of credibility and value to the brand-consumer conversation.
But they don’t want their roles to be reduced to salespeople, preferring to emphasise their genuine creative credentials. Indeed, agents have been known to strike through any mention of the term “influencer” in contractual agreements and replace it with “talent” or “ambassador.”
2. Transactions graduate to partnerships
Song of Style’s Aimee Song this month solidified her power as an influencer by launching her own 50-piece apparel collection with online retailer Revolve — the retailer’s first influencer-fronted private label. Following in the footsteps of elite influencers such as Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine with her eponymous footwear collection, and Huda Kattan who transformed her beauty blog into a cosmetics empire, Song’s long-standing partnership with Revolve has evolved from top-tier membership in the retailer’s 2,500-strong influencer network to product collaborator.
Song is a “macro influencer,” with over five million followers on Instagram, an enormous potential market for her clothes. But even though only an elite few have the follower count and star power to launch collections with major retailers, a wider group of influencers are attempting the transition from advertising outlets to creative machines.
Instead of relying exclusively on a one-off transaction model — the paid post — brands are tapping the unique talent of their influencers to diversify into more multifaceted and long-term collaborations. This speaks in part to a desire from brands to more creatively leverage the influencer-brand dynamic, and also on the part of influencers to further separate themselves from a salesperson identity.
Beyond generating traditional activations for her 460,000 Instagram followers, Susie Lau, otherwise known as @susiebubble, says that her brand partnerships extend to ambassadorships that involve “behind-the-scenes” collaboration such as consulting, curating and editing. “It’s an all-encompassing role because [influencers] have different skill sets [that they] bring to the table,” she said, “and basically what brands are after is a form … alternative storytelling to traditional media.”
3. Online and offline go hand-in-hand
Brands and influencers are looking to different touchpoints, both online and IRL, to creatively collaborate beyond sponsored Instagram posts. And while Instagram remains the most powerful of all the social platforms for fashion influencer partnerships (accounting for 86 percent of the total earned media value for the top 30 fashion brands in 2018 according to Tribe Dynamics), brands are looking to draw a line between activations that take place both on and off social platforms.
“A high percentage of the companies I work with on Instagram book me to DJ their events and parties,” said New York based DJ and content creator Isaac Hindin-Miller, whose 42,000 followers qualify him as a micro influencer. “For me it’s the best possible arrangement — I DJ the event, wear or use the products and post about it all on Instagram.”
Not only does this create a sense of 360-degree integration between influencer and brand, diversifying content touchpoints also safeguards against the risk of a social media platform going under, be it through a tech glitch that results in a lengthy blackout or something more severe.
“Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, those are all on lease. You don’t own any equity. You are just leasing that space, you don’t even own the photos that [are on it]. Once it is gone, you have lost all your content,” said Tina Craig, who has over 450,000 followers on her @bagsnob Instagram account and founded influencer agency Estate Five.
4. “Woke” conversations come to the fore
In a politically polarised landscape in the West where consumers are tapped into online activism like never before, influencers can be a powerful channel through which to engage with social and political topics that were previously considered radioactive for brands.
“Audiences are going to be looking at people that they respect,” said Del Val, and working with an influencer who has something to add to the conversation is a great marketing opportunity.
In fact, it can be riskier to not take a stance when marketing to consumers who prefer brands with a social purpose. According to BoF and McKinsey’s 2019 State of Fashion report, young consumers increasingly back their beliefs with their shopping habits, favouring brands that are aligned with their values and avoiding those that aren’t. And influencers have more to say on topics such as sustainability and diversity than ever before.
Certain influencers can help brands tap into the attitudes and values of the influencer’s audience, too. Take Jamaican-born street-style photographer and blogger-turned-influencer Tamu McPherson’s work with Gucci. In addition to traditional sponsored posts for Gucci’s Bloom fragrance, she’s sat on roundtables and panels for the brand. This includes an internal panel on diversity, and a roundtable on the 2019 controversy surrounding Gucci’s withdrawal of a sweater criticised for resembling blackface imagery.
“I was invited to speak about my experiences as a black woman,” said McPherson. Involving influencers more directly in the brand can pay dividends when seeking to understand an audience.
“It really excites me that there's [an] additional purpose to my work,” she said. “I'm doing something that I love. And, in addition, I'm making a small difference.”
Take these insights to the next level and find out how to apply them to your influencer marketing with BoF’s Playbook How to Maximise Your Influencer Strategy.