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Think | Influencer Marketing 101: Who, What & Why

The world of influencer marketing is screaming out for a set of proper industry standards. It’s not quite the wild wild west it once was, but there is still a long way to go.

We’ve learnt an absolute tonne from the thousands of collaborations we’ve helped commission and so I wanted to share my take on the questions of: Who are the influencers? What is influencer marketing? Why does influencer marketing work?

Who are the influencers?

A straightforward question, but one without a straightforward answer because the term ‘influencer’ can easily be used to describe at least three distinctly different groupings of individuals;

  1. Mainstream celebrities who are influencers.

  2. Social media celebrities who are influencers.

  3. Social media influencers who are not celebrities.

Mainstream celebrities have long been influential trendsetters and while there is much conversation around if their impact is the same as it once was, the fact remains they still have significant influence.

Social media celebrities have risen to fame through the new mediums of content consumption, but they are still celebrities nonetheless and arguably have a higher level of influence over certain demographics than the mainstream celebs.

What’s new, and our focus, is what the third group represents.

These are the bloggers, the vloggers, the instagrammers, the snappers and the who knows whatelsers. The travellers, the fashionistas, the foodies, the designers, the animators…the…you get the drift.

They are not celebrities and in fact they tend to be viewed as peers by those that follow them. Ironically, they don’t tend to like the label of being an influencer, preferring to be viewed as creators. They have carved out a space for themselves where they create and publish content that means something to them, which reflects who they are and is relevant to the people that choose to follow them.

We’ve coined the label of ‘creators with influence’ as the best way to describe this group made up of people like:

@mrbenbrown - An ex professional Kayaker, Ben now shares his journey as an adventurous globetrotter.

@escapingyouth - Natalia is incredibly playful, creative and colourful. Have a deep dive into the 17 year old’s imagination.

@qmike - Also known as Mr Levitation. This Vietnam-born-Romanian-raised-Londoner, Mike, likes the high life.

@eleanorj92 - Stylish, feminine, yet modern. A peek into the fashionista’s lifestyle of Eleanor.

@paperboyo - Rich turns Big Ben into a wristwatch, the Arc du Triumph into a Lego man and Easter Island into a foosball table. With just a piece of paper, some scissors and a camera.

@livingnotes - Ever wondered what life with 6 children would be like, wonder no more with this account from Olya who is capturing family life one day at a time.

It’s this group of influencers that are changing, and hopefully enriching, the advertising landscape.

What is influencer marketing?

When asked, most people would say that influencer marketing is all about getting influencers to promote products, often quite overtly, to their audience of followers in the belief that this will deliver a more authentic marketing message than ‘traditional’ advertising.

While there is some truth to the theory, the problem has been an obsession on the numbers. It’s been all about how many followers someone has and how many likes they get. The relevancy, the context and the quality of the work has often taken a complete backseat. Worse still, often no consideration has been given to the relationship between the influencer, their audience and the brand.

A far better approach, in my view, is to take influencer marketing as an opportunity for marketers to collaborate with influencers…for great work to be the KPI. Forgetting the audience component of influencers for one moment, the content and insights alone have an incredible value to a brand.

When the right influencer is commissioned by a brand the content produced is the influencers individual interpretation of a brief as someone who’s a consumer, who’s also a trendsetter and who’s at the cutting edge of the medium in which they’ve been asked to create content.

It’s like saying to an influencer, ‘I’m trying to advertise my brand to consumers just like you and those you represent, through a channel that you are an expert on and produce incredible content for. Can you help us produce the creative that you think would resonate and engage with people like you?’.

Of course, the influencer can then share with their own audience, but you can see how the influencer can have just as much of an important influence on the brands marketing strategy. As our chairman, Sir John Hegarty, so eloquently put it, influencer marketing the way we approach it is all about ‘Liberating the Creative Voice’.

Why does influencer marketing work?

The easiest way to think about why influencer marketing works is to consider the role it can play in the context of two major shifts taking place in the advertising industry.

  1. An Explosion of Communications

The attention of consumers is now spread across a wide range of communication channels. The result is that brands must create so much more content than ever before. However, it’s not just about increasing the volume of content.

To get it right, brands must work out the right creative strategy for each channel and do all of this with a faster turnaround time than was ever previously required. Influencers lead the way in understanding the different channels and can help brands produce the right content, for the right channel in a scalable, timely and cost efficient way.

For more on this check out how the 4 to 4,000 is now achievable.

  1. A Shift in Cultural Influence

We live in a time of deeply personalized content consumption and this means the way in which we each decide what’s culturally desirable and relevant to us has completely changed. What was once more top down, with big celebrity endorsements or hero advertising campaigns is now more bottom up…or at least somewhere in the middle.

The output of influencer collaborations can be considered as commissioned UGC, which is particularly powerful when you consider statistics released by Salesforce on the impact that user generated content can have on the sales funnel:

- Visitors to websites that include UGC galleries spend 90% more time on the site

- Social campaigns that incorporate UGC see a 50% lift in engagementAds with

- UGC generate 5-times greater click-through rates

- UGC drives a 73% increase in email click-through rates

- UGC increases conversions by 10% when included in the online purchase path

All this points towards a trend of consumers no longer trusting brand produced content with the same confidence as before. Clever, high-production value brand messaging and celebrity endorsements are no longer enough, consumers are now also relying more and more on their peers to provide their personal experiences with brands and products.

Influencer marketing can be so much more than just trying to tap into an influencer’s audience. Influencers can assist brands in achieving that cultural relevance from the bottom up; they are a source of invaluable consumer insights and they can help brands produce the messaging that will be relevant to the audience group they are representative of.

Done well, influencer marketing means that brands stay approachable, relevant and connected as they liberate their creative voice.

Article originally published on LinkedIn.

Neil Waller

Neil Waller

CEO and Co-Founder, Whalar