Ten years ago, you’d be forgiven for thinking that influencer marketing was just another buzzword—another flash-in-the-pan phenomenon in an already crowded digital advertising market. Nowadays, however, it’s abundantly clear that influencer marketing is big business and here to stay.
Statistics on the industry back this up. Recent surveys indicate that 39% of marketers plan to increase their influencer marketing budget in 2020 and that influencer marketing is positioned to become a $10 billion industry. Influencer marketing, however is changing almost as fast as it is growing, and these trends are reconfiguring the very basis of what influencer marketing is. In this article, we'll look at how the world of influencer marketing is changing, and how this can benefit your brand.
For a few years now, online influencer marketplaces have used follower counts as the primary metric of success. This was always a fairly primitive and euphemistic way of measuring the true reach of an influencer because it didn’t capture the nuances and complexities of how influencers actually connect with their audiences.
This is why, in the past couple of years, there has been a renewed focus on micro-influencers: those influencers whose area of expertise and reach might be incredibly narrow, but who can have a huge impact on audiences already engaged in these micro-communities. This focus has, in part, been a consequence of broader shifts in the way that younger generations, and particularly Gen Z (which we’ll come to below), interact with each other online. These audiences are now divided into thousands of tightly-defined interest communities, and marketers need to recognize this fact.
In addition to reflecting the audiences they work with, micro-influencers also have another major advantage over their more mass-market peers. With smaller audiences, they are able to achieve much higher engagement rates. Influencers with 5,000 to 10,000 followers have 6.3% engagement rates, according to recent research—a very high rate in comparison to those influencers who have larger, but apparently less engaged, audiences.
The second trend in influencer marketing for 2020, and arguably the one that will have the largest long-term impact, is the deployment of more sophisticated data acquisition and analysis techniques.
This development is long overdue, in my view. In fact, influencer marketing has long been an outlier in the world of digital marketing. This is because, in a field where every click and page view is now measured and analyzed, influencers have long claimed that their connection with their audiences cannot be measured in this way. The development of platforms that seek to measure audience engagement with them may come to challenge that assertion.
In practice, this shift will mean that the kind of data-driven, KPI-heavy approaches seen in other marketing approaches will be increasingly used in the world of influencer marketing. For many digital marketers, and indeed for the influencers they work with, this may present a challenge, because there remains a lack of expertise when it comes to designing and deploying effective analytics systems for digital marketing. In fact, according to various studies, 71% of hiring-managers struggled to find marketing professionals skilled enough to fill their job openings.
If these challenges can be overcome, however, the deployment of data-driven approaches within influencer marketing will be a major driving force behind the maturation of the field. Instead of relying on vague and fluctuating measures of success—such as the level of engagement with a particular post – these approaches promise to provide brands with a rigorous, repeatable, measurement of the value influencers bring to the table.
A third important way in which influencer marketing is changing will also bring it closer to other, well-matured types of digital outreach. Up until now, many brands have added influencer marketing to their spectrum of digital advertising without thinking about how these channels can interact and mutually inform each other.
Today, with multi- and omni-channel approaches also becoming standard, looking at influencer marketing in isolation from other channels is increasingly untenable. Brands should strive to develop holistic marketing strategies that incorporate influencers by default and seek to integrate the services they offer into a total brand offer to customers.
In practice, this will mean working more closely with influencers than many brands have until now. Effectively deploying influencer marketing is not, in other words, a fire-and-forget approach where you employ an influencer to do their own thing and hope that it benefits your brand. Instead, you should investigate ways in which you can work with your influencers to co-create content, and thus integrate your content marketing strategy with your influencer marketing.
Another way in which influencer marketing should be extended and integrated is when it comes to your social marketing strategy. As far as is possible, you should grant your influencers (limited) access to your social media feeds, so that the strength of your partnership is visible to your customers. Just make sure, if you take this approach, that you don't fall victim to influencer marketing fraud, which has been—sadly—another growth area in recent years.
Finally, influencer marketing is driving larger shifts in the digital advertising landscape. One of these is that, given the dominance of Gen Z in the influencer world, brands are starting to take this generation seriously: not just as content producers, but also as customers.
This shift mirrors that which occurred ten years ago, as millennials become an important growth audience. Financial statistics indicate that the millennial market is still growing rapidly, but also that millennials are also notoriously hard to reach through traditional advertising channels because they simply don't trust ads. That insight goes double for Gen Z, who have an even lower tolerance for the content they regard as irrelevant.
This is, in fact, one of the reasons why influencer marketing has been so successful among Gen Z. According to recent studies, 77% of Gen Z said they like ads that show “real people in real situations”, and they also spend a lot of time watching their favorite stars on YouTube. In other words, traditional advertising channels are much less effective when it comes to connecting with this audience.
This is where influencer marketing comes in. Because influencers are—or at least claim to be—“normal people”, they have much better traction with Gen Z audiences than standard digital marketing approaches. In turn, the brands that have had the most success with attracting this generation are lately recognizing the huge value they can offer as customers.
It’s not surprising, of course, that influencer marketing is still changing so rapidly. As one of the newest forms of digital advertising available to brands, it has yet to settle into a familiar, easily-defined form. However, developing an influencer marketing strategy is actually is quite simple. Find someone your audience trusts and with a large reach to endorse your product. This will generate sales, and also have beneficial knock-on effects on your other marketing activities.