Influencer marketing has become the industry’s hottest go-to strategy – just take a look at all the celebrities on your social media feeds that are encouraging you to try beauty product they claim you ‘simply cannot live without’. Brands are investing big budgets in influencer marketing, enticed by the opportunity to amplify their content and attract new business. But is this buzzworthy trend all that it’s cracked up to be and, most importantly, is it a sustainable strategy for brand success?

The truth is, influencer marketing was bound to be alluring to marketers. With the ongoing challenges of ad-blocking and banner fatigue, digital ads have lost their appeal and marketers began seeking alternative strategies. Immune to ad-blocking, influencer marketing makes a lot of sense, especially because consumers are already receptive to recommendations when they’re shopping. In fact, according to our research, over 50% of internet users claim to seek an expert opinion before making a purchase, and it’s logical that they would look to influencers for advice – just as they would their friends and family.

We know this form of marketing can and should be extremely powerful; not only are there best practices, there’s also some key pitfalls, to look out for.

AS THE SPACE BECOMES SATURATED, AUDIENCES COULD BECOME DISENGAGED

Influencer marketing isn’t as fool-proof as it sounds. As more and more brands jump on the bandwagon, there comes the threat of influencer fatigue. Between the high-profile celebrities that are paid to hold handbags, and the lesser-known micro-influencers that review free products, promotional content is beginning to clutter up our news feeds. And as this space becomes more saturated, there’s a good chance that audiences will become disengaged. Just as they turned to ad-blockers when sites became overloaded with ads, there’s the chance that they’ll turn away from influencers in exactly the same way.

There’s also little evidence in our data that this continues to be a major route to reach consumers. While it could be argued that it’s harder for consumers to recognise when they’ve been influenced by or exposed to an influencer (as opposed to a TV or print ad), it’s just 14% of digital consumers who say they discover brands via celebrity or influencer endorsements.

This is a figure that has remained remarkably steady over the past couple of years, despite the influx of influencer posts. We do see a slight peak of 17% for 16-24 year-olds, but even here its impact is limited when compared to other strategies, like traditional advertising. Digital consumers are about 3 times as likely to say they discover brands via TV or online ads, for instance.

BRANDS NEED TO FOCUS ON SINCERITY AND RELATIONSHIP-BUILDING THAT MATCHES THEIR ETHOS

With the supply of influencers at an all-time high, the practice is actually starting to lose its personal touch. And a backlash against influencers who aren’t authentic is sure to follow, and brands need to be prepared for this. They need to be smart, focusing on sincerity and building a long-term relationship only with those who fit with their messaging and ethos.

This strategy is far from new however, it’s already proved to be a success for several brands. Back in 2015, department store Lord & Taylor collaborated with 50 Instagrammers, asking them to Instagram themselves wearing a specific dress on a specific day. The result? The dress sold out in lightning speed online. And then there’s L’Oréal, which shifted its investment from traditional media to influencers, reportedly seeing a positive impact on sales – all thanks to the influence of its ‘Beauty Squad’.

It’s only a matter of time before consumers turn their backs on the influencers who have clearly been paid off by brands, or when there’s no genuine story behind promotional content. But part of the reason for L’Oréal’s success is because it partners with micro-influencers rather than high-profile celebrities. And by allowing everyday women to critique products, the content appears authentic and believable.

Storytelling is what should prevail in every marketing strategy, and brands need to come to terms with that fact. If you’re wondering what success looks like, it’s about marketing with influencers, not influencer marketing – and making sure their audience reflects the personality of the brand they’re promoting.

Influencer marketing can translate into valuable attention, but that only holds true if the practice is taken beyond apparent product endorsements. Getting audiences to empathise and relate is far more effective than blatantly trying to make a sale. And an overloaded use of influencers is not a sustainable strategy either, so it’s time to get it right before the influencer bubble finally bursts and ruins it for everyone.

FRAUD – THE PITFALL OF INFLUENCER MARKETING

Influencers have come under a lot of scrutiny for buying fake followers and engagements and that really comes as no surprise. Since Unilever put it under the spotlight at Cannes, the attention that has been drawn to what we’ve all known has been a problem for ages, has increased tenfold. This puts agencies and platforms that sell influencer marketing as purely media under greater pressure. The flock of agencies in the space selling ‘a network’ has been massive, and it’s no surprise to see the same influencers on every roster as each influencer looks to try and make as much money as possible living the Instagram dream. I follow many Instagram hackers on YouTube and what’s really incredible is that the spotlight seems to only be on fake comments and followers, not the people who spend every waking moment gaming and hacking the algorithms.  

Influencer fraud goes beyond just fake followers. There are a variety of ways influencers are gamifying the algorithms to manipulate their numbers. This makes measurement and impact very difficult to detect. If the proper due diligence is done, and brands work with agencies that implement best practices, then they can ensure that they won’t get caught out. Many platforms will implement systems for fraud detection, but a need will still remain for a human element to align brands with influencers and define the parameters for success.

With the demand for influencers at an all-time high, and the seemingly endless supply of fresh talent, influencer marketing is beginning to lose its personal touch. This doesn’t mean it isn’t still extremely effective, if done right, but brands need to be prepared for a potential backlash against influencers who aren’t authentic, those not aligned with their values, and those that have been chosen to promote them for the wrong reasons. As the market gets more crowded, campaigns with authenticity and those building longer term partnerships will win out and prove the most valuable to brands.

If you would like to talk about the ways in which Disrupt can help you avoid these pitfalls and plan an effective and authentic influencer and social content strategy then drop us a line on holla@disruptmarketing.co or fill in our contact form here.