It is a well known fact that companies are now trying to cooperate with influencers to have brands endorsed and get product placement on their communication channels, such as social networks, websites and blogs. Brands from certain sectors are especially interested in this strategy, namely luxury, lifestyle, beauty, travel, cooking, finance, health and wellbeing.
This is possible since influencers have a way to impact consumer behaviors and purchasing decisions, using their power, authority and credibility. It is a mix of testimonial advertising and the sort of contamination that helps companies capitalize on the trust and reputation of their endorsers.
Social media and influencers are changing the marketing landscape
Social media managed to cut the expensive “middleman”
Social media managed to cut the expensive “middleman” through encouraging individuals to create content and build communities.
Users no longer need to pass a casting or go through an authority to be validated as influencers; therefore, nowadays endorsement is no longer restricted to celebrities who in general would cost a fortune, but anyone with a voice, i.e. a key opinion leader. It is less about fitting in the standards imposed by industries, but more about delivering consistent and engaging content to audiences worldwide.
Powerfully platforms like Instagram, Youtube, TikTok, WeChat or Taobao now play a very important role in branding and engagement as well as advertisement, direct-to-consumer sales and customer services.
Influencers are attracting lots of investment from brands
In today’s marketing strategies, influencers are true assets. Figures show that just in the US the influencer market is assessed at around $10 billion; while in China, its value is about astounding $116 billion.
World’s highest paid influencers include: Kylie Jenner, Ariana Grande, Cristiano Rolando and Kim Kardashian, who receive from $900.000 to $1.300.000 for one single Instagram post.
Some of them are creating self owned brands from scratch
One of the most appreciated influencers in the world is Huda Kattan, a makeup artist who started her online journey by posting tutorials and beauty tips in 2010. 7 years later, she was included by Time magazine in “The 28 Most Influential People on the Internet” and declared one of the “ten most powerful influencers in the world of beauty” by Forbes magazine.
Since then Huda has developed her own makeup line and is now a widely recognized entrepreneur.
Micro or nano-influencers might be an even better choice for certain business
Influencer marketing isn’t limited to only biggest names with millions of followers. There exist brands of all sizes and beliefs, and sometimes micro and nano-influencers present a much better price–performance ratio, as they are more connected with a smaller number of followers with higher engagement and conversion rates while charging significantly less.
This is why sometimes building a network of micro-influencers might prove to be a better strategy than working with one celebrity influencer.
Role of China in setting the tone for influencer marketing
Responsible for over 50% of the luxury market’s growth between 2012 and 2018, China seems to be the trendsetter in shopping, especially in the luxury industry. This highly digitized country that created the concept of conversational commerce is where brands firstly deploy their most immersive and technology driven marketing campaigns.
China’s luxury buying population is significantly younger than that of American and European countries. In 2018, Generation Y represented 10.2 million luxury consumers and more than half of the total market, and influencer marketing is a must for any brand that wants to make it with this demographic.
Jiaqi Li brutally criticized Rouge Hermès during his Taobao livestreaming channel, which attract over 12 million views, and had lots of Hermès fans lose interests in the products.
Apart from using social media like Wechat, Xiaohongshu and Weibo for content, Chinese consumers are now crazy about live streaming conducted by influencers. They are now turning to this method to know, test and buy items from luxury private jets to cheap agricultural products. According to MIT Technology Review, live streaming helped China’s farmers survive the pandemic and is here to stay.
Live streaming now accounts for 95% of e-commerce activity in China and has indeed become a powerful tool, with Deloitte estimating that China’s live streaming revenue hit $4.4 billion in 2018, up 32% from 2017.
What exactly will influencers bring to the table?
Certain marketers have doubts as to whether working with influencers is just a trend and whether, like the fraudulent luxury music festival Fyre Festival, consumers’ trust would remain at a high level after cooperation. Fact is, statistics show that influencer marketing is and will continue to play an important role and that there are already several big things in store.
Influencers help brands earn trust from potential consumers
The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that 63% of research respondents aged between 18 and 34 years old trust what influencers say about brands much more than what brands say about themselves in advertising.
Drive interests, purchases and FOMO: Fear of missing out
When asked what they did because of an influencer:
- 58% confirmed they bought a product;
- 40% said they trusted a brand;
- and 33% mentioned talking about a brand.
Humanize and open brands up to new audiences, fostering community growth.
Users have fantasy about the perfect lifestyles posted by the Hadid sisters, Kylie and Kendall Jenner, David Beckham or Zach King. Influencers contaminate products with their own personality traits and bring them in front of their own audience. This is why it’s extremely important to choose the influencers that not only have a huge followership, but also share your brand’s values.
Influencer marketing in 2020
Current practices such as ads and collaboration are working well
Since its early days, the focus of influencer marketing has been particularly on visual content in the form of DIY clips about tutorials, product testing and recommendations, unboxing, experience sharing and so on.
After seeing successful results, brands started issuing discount codes to influencers as to promote products or services on channels. This practice enables companies to directly gather data on the value of each influencer as well as their audiences.
Another extra mile: the brand-influencer collaboration. In 2017 fashion retailer H&M partnered with Julie Sariñana to create an Instagram-worthy collection; while Chinese KOL Mr. Bags has worked with multiple luxury brands to create limited editions sold in record time, such as Longchamp, Tod’s and Givenchy.
Make the most of new digital tools such as 3D product configuration and Augmented Reality
Consumers nowadays are extremely digitized and enjoy interaction and personalization even when shopping online. Fresh ideas and tools need to be put in practice to showcase innovation, flexibility and customer-centricity. This is why today’s marketers are supposed to make use of all D2C tools available to engage and convert.
As demands for personalization increase, 3D configuration becomes an excellent recommendation. With the help of such an advanced technology that is intuitive and easy to use, consumers may interact with the product and co-create their own design, adding or removing functionalities.
When influencers push such DTC features, they showcase this freedom of expression and sense of individuality as a core characteristic of their attractive inspirational lifestyles, which gives audiences an extra reason to visit the brand’s self-owned channels as well as to generate word-of-mouth.
Moreover, a product configurator that enables consumers to create their own unique products encourages them to share on social media, turning buyers into content generators themselves and contributing to the growth of the brand.
LIVE commerce is not that far away
Luxury brands in China are now capitalizing on live commerce as one of the most important retail tools. A proof of this is that, in 2018 81 influencers generated over $15 million in sales through live streaming.
Also known as live commerce, this strategy makes use of already popular networks, such as Taobao Live and mobile payment technologies, and KOLs or high authority profiles to offer information about products, performance and techniques for styling and application, while taking consumers on a journey that ends with actually purchasing the item.
L’Oréal Group in China has been an active participant in Live commerce since 2016, when Maybelline sold over 10,000 lipsticks in two hours by bringing together influencers and live streaming.
The group set another record on Singles’ Days in 2019, when L’Oréal worked with influencers in its Taobao Live channel for live streaming for a total of 392 hours. The company received 10.34 million orders from users that were excited to discover the brand’s beauty products with the help of their favorite influencers.
Live streaming has also been embraced by established French luxury houses that want to add some freshness to their brands. Louis Vuitton, for example, launched their first livestream on Xiaohongshu/ Little Red Book with influencers Chuxi Zhong and Yvonne Ching, which witnessed positive engagement from viewers and garnered over 152,000 pageviews.
The industry has been craving for video content for years
Statistics continue to prove its consistent growth. According to Smart Insights, by 2021 users will spend 100 minutes per day watching video content and advertising on online video will reach 61 billion dollars, while ad spending on TV reduced.
Source: Smart Insights
Mckinsey & Company research shows too, Chinese consumers spent 11% of their time on watching and engaging with short videos on social networks like Douyin, also known as TikTok in English and on streaming services like Tencent Video.
This may be successfully done by working with influencers who have the know-how ad tools to put together catchy and relevant clips that drive conversions and real-time engagement from certain target groups.
An excellent example here is Mr. Bags, who has been betting on video for over 2 years. Since late 2018, the luxury versed Chinese influencer started substituting his WeChat microblogs with video content that are meant to educate followers on bags, jewelry and watches. His various clips on Wechat, Weibo and Xiaohongshu have attracted millions of viewers, making him extremely successful.
What are virtual influencers really? Do they work?
Demands for presence and perfection have given birth to virtual influencers, created through computer generated imagery and Artificial Intelligence technology. Virtual influencers are considered an excellent answer to prayers of marketers who want to control everything while eliminating the unpredictability and various variables associated with real-life influencers.
These virtual influencers work 24/7, post content according to desired schedules with almost zero fault and are exclusive within brands. More importantly, they have no personal lives, which means working with them can’t backfire or cause communication problems and poor associations.
Also, developing a full-time VI proves more cost-effective than collaborating with celebrity influencers, as they have a much higher engagement rate as shown in the graph.
Brands that use virtual influencers include Balmain, Prada, Dior, Yoox, Calvin Klein and so on. Of course, not every brand is comfortable with using computer-generated imagery. Companies that engage in such tactics also have to respond to identity problems, moral issues, cultural appropriation and even legal challenges. Still, the trend is expected to grow in the next few years.
Of course, never forget big data and personalization
A great advantage of influencers is that they build homogenous communities based on interests, demographics and even similar shopping patterns. In order to make the most out of it, marketers need to have such information.
Today’s technologies like machine learning and automated data analytics, enable brands to understand user behaviors and segment targets based on similarities so that they could provide tailored content to ensure relevancy.
Even more, analysis of the decision making process and customer journey makes it possible for companies to measure the success of each influencer and make this influencer- agency- brand relationship more transparent and manageable.
DOs and DON’Ts
- Let influencers be a part of a more complex marketing strategy that involves storytelling, sharing personal experiences, educating and informing consumers.
- Choose influencers that resonate with your brand’s values and audience.
- Use ephemeral content in the form of stories to suggest authenticity.
- Adopt data analytics to monitor influencer campaigns.
- Implement new tools and technologies to drive word-of-mouth.
- Don’t focus solely on celebrity influencers as their price / conversion percentage might not be optimal.
- Don’t try to control their tone of voice and the way they approach their own audience.
- Don’t avoid nano- or micro-influencers as they might have better engagement.
- Don’t forget to set clear objectives and connect to campaigns.
- Don’t do it as a one-shot thing.