How will influencers shape the future of marketing?
By Georgia Turton, Account Executive
We were delighted, and a little star-struck, to play host to a panel of influencer experts last month with Financial Services Forum to debate the role of influencers in the future of marketing and brand communications. “Icons and Influencers – the future of marketing” featured some of the influencer marketing’s top experts on the panel, including Rob Mayhew, Gordon Glenister and Tom Ward.
In the time that’s elapsed since then, the Twitterstorm that engulfed Gary Lineker and the BBC has offered yet more evidence that traditional comms hierarchies and norms have been overthrown by the potential scale and impact of direct-to-audience interactions via social media.
When it comes to brand campaigns, influencer marketing is fast becoming mainstream, even in traditionally conservative sectors like financial services. This hasn’t happened without complications: the FCA reported a 14x rise in misleading promotions during 2022 with action taken against several “fin-fluencers”. But given regulatory attention often follows behind the curve, this itself looks like a sign that influencer marketing is maturing and is here to stay.
For brands that are still experimenting to find out what good looks like, these tips will help to steer you on track:
Why is influencer marketing important and relevant? The answer is authenticity
Social media’s evolution beyond pure entertainment into a tool for education, used extensively by brands, means consumers look to people with a platform to guide and inform their purchasing decisions. In some eyes, true influencers are perceived to hold credibility akin to academics in their field, with consumers willing to invest their trust in influencers’ opinions and endorsements. A YouGov study suggested that adults aged 18-44 are twice as likely to claim that influencer marketing posts are better than TV ads when it comes to encouraging product adoption.
In an age where digital attention spans have narrowed and the desire for instant gratification has grown, brands must work harder to create compelling content. Success is distilled into two factors: authenticity and trust. Today, consumers are more likely to place trust in someone they recognise who makes an authentic recommendation than a traditional advert. The strength of influencers is both their sense of relatability and perceived credibility that is rooted in their inherently “human” presentation of information.
Are influencers worth investment? Working together should be a co-creative process
When working with influencers on a paid basis, brands aren’t just investing in that person’s content creation skills but also their wealth of knowledge and deep understanding of their chosen platform and insights into their audiences. This includes their consumption habits, what content triggers engagement and what doesn’t to optimise ROI.
Working with influencers should be a co-creative experience to truly benefit from everything the influencer brings to the table above and beyond a sizable following and the willingness to share branded messages with their audience. Brands should provide a brief which includes a clear outcome as well as how success will be tracked. Equally important is discussing the aims and objectives with your chosen influencer and entering conversations with an open mind. Briefs should be used as a foundation with scope to adapt the approach to engage the influencer’s audience most effectively.
Influence starts at home: employees can be a brand’s most authentic influencer
For most brands, finding the balance between sharing brand messaging authentically while staying within advertising standards can feel conflicting. To combat this, a brand’s own employees can become legitimate mouthpieces for the company. For example, c-suite executives can lend an authentic voice to brands, increasing engagement through their personal channels. Employees beyond the c-suite can also offer a valuable route to their external peers, enhancing brand awareness through their vast web of connections by sharing and amplifying branded content with their own online networks.
IBM harnessed this thinking by creating its IMBers programme, which encouraged employees to share and engage with company social content. Employees could add their own perspectives to content and, by doing so, increase brand exposure.
How to find and sustain the perfect influencer partnership?
To execute successful influencer marketing, brands must first identify the audience they’re trying to reach, before looking for influencers who have an authoritative voice with those audiences. Size of following isn’t the only consideration here; a nano-influencer may be just as effective if they hold a high level of engagement across a niche audience demographic.
Influencer marketing is not a silver bullet; it still requires a strategy for success. Those brands who pilot programmes and constantly refine their strategy after each activation tend to be most successful. Influencer marketing is a continual learning process. Influencer trials and consistent re-evaluation are key to creating stickability and lasting momentum above the noise on often crowded and dynamic social media platforms.
We were very grateful to hear the fascinating insights of the influencer marketing panel. One big takeaway was that there’s no brand who couldn’t benefit from a partnership with the right influencer for their audience. TikTok is the biggest platform for this, with a discovery algorithm that allows users to find you.
One key takeaway is that it can be a time-consuming process, but the unique connection brands can have with audiences through influencer marketing is a powerful tool worth looking into.