In many ways, 2019 was the year of the influencer, with mainstream media buzzing with the latest, ever more fantastic influencer stroke celebrity focussed stories; whilst key influencers found themselves achieving prominence as ‘industry experts’ or ‘zeitgeist barometers’ providing comment and commentary on a wide variety of topics on news shows everywhere. Industry or trade media may have taken a more measured approach, urging caution, for example, in the areas of accountability and ROI, but influencers were still a main topic of contemplation – everywhere.
Meanwhile marketers were bombarded with a slew of new influencer management tools, influencer databases and even influencer focused agencies aiming to get in on mushrooming influencer brand action and budgets. So where are we for 2020?
One thing is for sure, and that is that ‘peak Influence’ is still to be reached, so steel yourself for even more media and consumer ‘noise’ around influencers and the influencer market. Most of our client influencer budget allocations for 2020 are now signed off and without exception there is more in the pot than for 2019, and what’s more the types of industry sector are increasing as each gets to grips with the potential relevance of influencers on their brands and marketplaces. Whilst we have always had heavy influencer traction in the beauty and fashion industries, sport and lifestyle are now picking up big time.
The Top Line
From our perspective, the quasi-official industry stats that predict that the global influencer industry will be worth up to $8 Billion in 2020 and will then nearly double in value by 2022 are not inconceivable and, even if half true, provide eye-watering numbers that cannot be ignored.
From a standing start in 2010, when the launch of Instagram first provided bloggers and brands with a new platform to share primarily visual-led information, it took just eight years to 2018 for the platform to pass a billion users.
Then, of course, there’s TikTok, the new platform on the block and favourite of Gen Z’ers – and that has gone from zero to 1.5 billion downloads in just two and a half years and is only now really being got to grips with commercially. With all these developments in social media going on, we thought it might be useful to provide some top line insights from the influencer frontline (after all we manage relationships with over 10,000 of them!) to those who might have or might want ‘some skin in the game’.
Whilst growth is a given, and we fully expect to do be doing more influencer business in 2020 than we have ever done before, there is considerable pressure across the industry to tame the ‘wild west’ nature of the influencer market and increase such things that are taken for granted elsewhere in the marketing mix, such as accountability, ROI and verification. Now that the influencer market is maturing and achieving mainstream prominence it is only natural that the demand for more accountability would follow.
QUALITY NOT QUANTITY
There’s always going to be demand for the big bucks, big numbers, mega influencers and VIP talent such as the Kardashians, that bring big notice to mainly big brands quickly. But whilst these types of deals tend to hit the headlines, the majority of influencer activity takes place further down the food chain and here we are seeing a big move away from the big numbers scattergun approach to a more considered and targeted approach where authenticity and credibility are much more important than top line numbers.
Consumers aren’t stupid, and now Instagram is making it increasingly the norm for sponsored posts to be acknowledged, is it important that influencers have more than just a cash motivation to align with a product or brand. They also need to be seen to ‘live it’ – and this often means a real relationship rather than just a transactional one and one that is longer lasting than a single post. In this respect, it is better to be working with influencers with a smaller but much more engaged following as the level of authenticity and credibility will be higher. Real brand alignment with each influencer is now more the norm and we are often looking for more complex influencer deals that last beyond just one campaign.
MICRO GOES MAINSTREAM
A natural progression of point 1 is the rise in interest in influencer programmes that target what we consider ‘Micro Influencers’ those with often small but influential and committed followings, often in niche areas. A ‘Micro Influencer’ component is now quite often a part of the influencer programmes we deliver for some of our brands across a wide range of industries – usually as an extension to more mainstream influencer programmes – and in many cases it is all about throwing the brand net out wider – there’s also an element of getting in early with influencers and working with them as their followings grow. Obviously, the brand proposition will be different financially, but we are finding that often these Micro Influencers are the most committed brand advocates, keen to build their own brand relationships, generous and committed in terms of the provision of UGC and keen to keep the brand flag flying longer. Obviously the overall numbers are less and it takes a lot of work in the research stages to identify and engage with this tier of influencer but once campaigns are put together they can provide a truly dynamic element and when sales are tracked, often punch well above their weight in terms of revenue generated.
NO MORE FAKE IT TO MAKE IT
Brands and agencies might have fallen for fake followers initially but new AI driven forensic tools mean influencer cheats are no longer getting away with. Indeed quite a few high profile celebrity influencers have been called out for buying followers in the mainstream media.
Now, before embarking on any influencer campaign, most agencies, Brandnation included, will undertake due diligence to ensure our influencer partners are truly represented across their social media channels and add material to this effect in individual influencer contracts.
At some stage influencer marketing activity, like the rest of elements of the marketing mix needs to be properly evaluated, and it would be fair to say that although there are quite a few measurement metrics and even platforms that can be put into the mix there is not one industry standard, much in the same way that there isn’t for media coverage in the PR industry. There’s always going to be an argument as to how you can effectively measure brand awareness or brand goodwill, or ‘Likes’ how can you put a price on this versus direct sales which can obviously now be tracked at least in terms of e-tail sales. Our feeling is that whilst brands will need more ‘paperwork’ to validate the efficiency of influencer campaigns there will always remain some leeway in terms of the value of heightened, positive brand visibility. We use a number of tools and stats to provide clients with as realistic picture of ROI as possible whilst being open to experiment with new tools as they become available.
CAUSE RELATED BRAND ACTIVITY
Let’s call it the Attenborough effect. Recently, brand owners and marketers have been quick to recognise the enormous traction that has quickly built up around environmental issues and awareness, and have quickly jumped behind the cause.
Whilst all that traction stemming from this issue is hugely appealing, brand alignment with unnecessary causes can be highly problematic. Simply put, if you don’t have the creds to back up any stance you make – beware! Virtue signalling is one thing but if you get caught out as a phoney or ‘bandwaggoning’ you’re going to damage to your brand reputation. For example if you are in an industry with a poor sustainability reputation, by all means signal improvements you are making but don’t make out you are completely clean and guilt free if you aren’t because at some stage this will be pointed out to both you and your influencers and you always need credibility to defend a position.
In terms of aligning with cause related influencers it’s also important that brands do their due diligence, fully understanding the nature of the cause the influencer is promoting and their personal ground rules. And there have been many instances of influencers seeming to bite the hand that feeds them.
If your brand has amazing eco-creds by all means amplify your brand goodness but pick your partners in influence carefully and ensure you and they are really clear up front what the cause is and what your respective stances are – and always check the influencers stance on aligned issues as these may not be compatible with your brand.
It’s a big yes to more transparency when it comes to disclosure over paid and organic posts. More guidelines and regulation are on the way to go with those already initiated to stop the blurring.
Here in the UK influencer guidelines have been issued by the ASA, CAP and CMA. These provide useful clarity for agencies, influencers and brands. Not bad considering as at first no one could get to grips with where influencer market regulation should fall. The latest updated guides are much clearer and provide less wriggle room that earlier guides that were regularly flouted.
There’s been action on the ethical side too with concerted moves against financial products, and slimming aids, for example. Which have actually been blanket banned in some cases. There well publicised moves towards coherent governance help the whole industry appear more professional and properly regulated.
Put against this is the explosion in influencer numbers, which makes control and policing all the more complex, but let’s hope the majority aim to follow the lead of the more high profile influencers that are being seen to comply with best practice.
NEW TIK TOK ON THE BLOC
2020 will be the year the word influencer becomes less synonymous with Instagram and the main reason this will be the case is TikTok – the video and meme platform that Gen Z has taken to its hearts (with over 1.2 Billion app downloads already). TikTok is now actively going out to agencies and brands with commercial packages. Our advice? Watch this space…