Marketers are constantly in search of the next big thing. The vast migration toward online marketing has already happened, and in their new homes online, marketers laid claim to sketchily defined concepts like “content marketing” and “social marketing” that, despite being very general terms, evolved into their own unique (albeit overlapping) fields, and guided marketers into innovative and profitable campaigns. Now they’re refining their focus even further, by focusing on a specific new lane of social marketing that combines the share-hungry emphasis of social media promotion with the old-school celebrity endorsement model. It’s being dubbed “influencer marketing,” and it’s all the rage. Here’s what you need to know about the marketing buzzword that’s likely to be on everyone’s lips well into 2018.
Who Are Influencers?
An influencer, simply put, is a person with a solid personal brand and a strong social media presence, typically represented in a sky-high follower count on Twitter, Instagram, or Youtube. Influencers often have uniquely personable relationships with their followers, though they may be largely one-sided. Influencers aren’t always famous outside of the Internet, like the Kardashian and Jenner sisters. Many have built their fame entirely online, by sharing an idealized and curated version of their lifestyle with followers who aspire to reach such heights, while others have blown up on Instagram or Vine and been able to convert their online fame into working with full-blown media companies.
Why Do Influencers Have So Much Power?
While a product endorsement from Jennifer Aniston in the 90’s clearly had an impact on her fans’ buying decisions, her relatively aloof public image limited the degree to which her fans connected with her (and thus trusted her endorsement). Influencers, by sharing their personal lives for the world to see, build connections that their followers interpret on a more personal level, and because of that, they have much more power to affect their follower’s buying behavior. The modern influencer could not have existed before the era of projected vulnerability and fan connectivity that social media sharing ushered in.
Influencers vs. Endorsers
This is why they’re called “influencers” and not merely “endorsers:” they influence and drive action, rather than merely increasing awareness of a product. An endorsement of a product represents an opportunity for a fan to live like their idol - and it feels like a personal recommendation, rather than a paid advertisement, regardless of how transactional the behind-the-scenes arrangements are. So a post by an influencer posing with a product doesn’t just generate exposure, the end goal of many other marketing efforts. If executed properly, it creates an association between the product and the influencer, resulting in a motivated consumer who’s much closer to a purchase than someone viewing a traditional endorsement by a paid spokesman.
Why Is Influencer Marketing Edging Out Traditional Marketing Efforts?
The biggest problem facing the modern marketing professional is the desensitization of consumers to advertisements. On the rare occasions where we can’t skip or fast-forward through ads, we typically zone out and direct our attention to our phones or other open tabs on our web browsers. We’ve become inundated with too many ads, and they’re ceasing to have any real impact - plus nearly half of online consumers are using software to block ads entirely. What they can’t block (and don’t want to) is content from the people they find interesting, and more importantly, influential. The unique attachment social media followers have to their chosen idols means they never skip a post; paying an influencer to feature your product guarantees it will be seen, rather than blocked or ignored. Influencer marketing is part of a larger cultural shift toward personal branding, and as such, it’s likely to grow beyond a buzzword into an essential part of any marketing strategy.