Influencer Marketing: Yes, It Works! Let’s Preserve Its Longevity
Media historians will likely look back on 2019 as the year influencer marketing went mainstream. This is far from surprising. Over the past decade, we’ve witnessed an influencer explosion, as the practice surged in adoption, flourished with innovation, and now delivers quantifiable business value. Today, most marketers agree that it’s become a necessary component of any communications strategy because it offers a more authentic way for brands to communicate their messages to the consumers who are most likely to embrace them.
Why is this happening?
Fundamentally, consumers trust people more than brands, so having influential people promote products and services establishes an efficacy rooted in relationships, as opposed to a hierarchical connection between businesses and individuals. This is especially important for younger audiences for whom autonomy is central to their identities. Their connection to their favorite influencers is foundational to the value exchange between brands, influencers, and their audiences.
Furthermore, these connections, powered by social media, have enabled influential creators to become trusted conduits of information for consumers. Hence the meteoric interest and enthusiasm for influencer marketing as a practice with real promise. However, it is no utopia. There are pitfalls marketers must be aware of and take precautions to avoid. As with most new and emerging channels, bad actors have appeared on the scene, intent on gaming the system. This relatively small percentage of the influencer community strives to take advantage of the absence of standardized norms, regulatory controls, and other restrictions. Fortunately, as the space continues to evolve, brands have grown wiser and now have tools to help mitigate the risks associated with brand safety, bot fraud, and other dubious activity.
Nonetheless, mainstream adoption continues to flourish thanks in part to increased experience and expertise, advancements in technology, and the emergence of best practices. In particular we have much better ways of measuring influence today. While brands have known for quite some time that influencer marketing works, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of quantifying that value and understanding its business impact. As a result, we expect mainstream proliferation to spread further as maturation continues, with late adopters learning to master the talent and technology necessary to drive success.
In fact, a recent eMarketer study found that 70 percent of consumer goods companies were already using some form of influencer marketing—and that number is skyrocketing. Not only are more marketers electing to work with influencers, budget allocations have grown exponentially. According to findings in the “State of Influencer Marketing 2019: Benchmark Report” marketers’ influencer budgets can garner 40 percent or more of the overall digital marketing budget. And for an extreme example, last year Estée Lauder spent 75 percent of its digital marketing budget on influencers. Most notably, Business Insider estimates there will be 40 percent year-over-year growth in influencer marketing spend over the next few years, and it will surpass $10 billion by 2022. This is up from $2 billion in 2017!
Now, a few words of caution….
Considering the prolonged growth driven by expanding adoption and dramatic increases in spend, it’s important for marketers to understand the demand and subsequent pressure on the influencer ecosystem. We must be mindful of our strategies and how influencers are utilized within our communication plans. As an industry, perhaps we should encourage marketers take a longer view, considering how we can achieve optimum return in the short-term while being cognizant of the need to preserve the longevity of its value.
One approach is for brands to use influencers with savvy, sparingly. Think of saffron. It’s a spice that can light up a dish, but if overused renders food inedible—the same principle applies to implementing influencer marketing strategies.
Unfortunately, marketers have a long history of plowing ahead with reckless abandon whenever a successful medium is delivering great value. We must learn from past mistakes to protect and preserve a practice brands have come to depend on.
While brands and creators should accept more responsibility to preserve the long-term health and efficacy of influencer marketing, there must be support from others.
A few suggestions of what can be done and by whom.
Industry standards. Influencer marketing would greatly benefit from standardization. Measurement is paramount and the need for standardized metrics is already apparent. Additionally, influencer marketing should require a third-party measurement partner to deliver objective, unbiased reporting. A solution similar to MOAT or DoubleVerify for influencers would be welcome, and demand for it will increase as the dollars continue to grow.
Legislative action. Proactive support from governments could be hugely impactful. The industry needs more diligent enforcement of existing regulations as well as new legislation. For instance, by enacting new rules that address fraudulent behavior (fake followers, fake views, fake engagement, and so on) governments can protect consumers, advertisers, and the influencer ecosystem.
Platform accountability. Social media enables a value exchange between brands, influencers, and consumers, so the major social platforms have a big role to play. The industry will benefit from greater accountability and increased willingness to collaborate with marketers. Better cooperation will enable the industry to tackle challenges that will enhance the value that the platforms provide to consumers, brands, and influencers alike.
It’s reasonable to expect that many of these things will take some time to materialize. But why wait? Agencies, clients, and partners can come together already, in a coalition of sorts, to leverage the collective interest and authority to improve the current situation and make it more reliable, transparent, and accountable. It's time to put our heads together and start devising a better, more transparent influencer world.