It’s hard to imagine our online lives without the strangers that regularly pop into our feeds, instantly promoting products that may or may not have any meaning to us. Social networks have shifted from forbidding sponsored content to actively encouraging influential users to bring on their sponsors and monetize their content. As these relationships become a staple of every marketing program, the expectations from them grow.
The excitement around influencer marketing, along with the decline in returns provided by traditional marketing channels (due to ad blockers, loss of attention and increased competition), led brands to compete for the attention of the “best” influencers. This was often determined by follower count or a “cool factor,” instead of meaningful analytics, but it may be time to revisit the way we look at influencers in the industry.
Brands have to rethink the way they evaluate and work with influencers. Sometimes it seems as if there are so many of them, that they often appear indistinguishable. Popular influencer The Fat Jewish hinted at the end of influencer marketing, but really, it’s just a realization by brands, led by the beauty and fashion industry, that influencers aren’t celebrities. They may sometimes resemble celebrities, but they’re actually a commodity. If looked at with the proper technology, each Influencer has thousands of alternatives that a brand can activate in order to reach exactly the same audience.
Building the Brand
Influencers have demonstrated that they can generate tremendous value, but we have to differentiate between fame and actual influence. Influencers have to understand that if they create an easily imitable identity or a popular presence that isn’t accompanied with thought leadership, they’ll be replaced. Beauty and fashion companies that have focused on making extraordinary influencers the face of the brand — like Kat Von D or Huda Beauty — have already been able to capitalize on this paradigm shift. It’s essentially a social-focused evolution of the Kate Spade or Bobbi Brown models of the previous generation. While this model still has its drawbacks — the face of the brand might run out of favor with the audience, or the brand itself might want to expand to other audiences — at the very least it guarantees the influencer longevity and an income.
Nordstrom chose an interesting angle with their very successful partnership with blogger Arielle Charnas’ fashion label, Something Navy. It’s a great example of selecting an influencer to perfectly match a target audience. Yet while Something Navy is an amazing option for Nordstrom, the company doesn’t own her ability to personally expand on the label in the future, and she could probably break off at any time. The nature of these types of relationships could put the retailer at risk — all their eggs are in one massively sought-after basket, and competitors will always pay close attention. Just think about Verizon, the “Can you hear me now” guy and his move to a competitor.
A more common case is when influencers are a temporary means to an end. Revolve, a fashion brand that built $1 billion of revenue on a foundation of influencers, filed for an initial public offering in September 2018. Several brands with a similar model are set to receive a big payday. At its core, this model treats influencers as channels to an audience, and requires constant measurement and verification of performance metrics. Not to mention getting rid of influencers that don’t produce results.
It’s a cold-hearted world out there for these influencers, but in the long run businesses see that it’s the right way to implement influencer marketing: You can’t be an influencer if you don’t influence audiences.
Pür is a great example of a beauty brand capitalizing on this shift. With its pledge to offer cruelty-free beauty solutions to a wide range of ages, races and skin types, it’s the kind of product that can instantly benefit from influencers — like Jackie Aina, Angel Merino, Griselda Martinez, Kristi McKee and more—who can communicate this unique, inclusive value proposition.
“Nowadays, makeup lovers care more about the ingredient story than ever before, which places an emphasis on our b-to-c communication efforts,” Tisha Thompson, Pür’s vice president of brand marketing, told me. “We want to educate consumers that they no longer have to choose between products that work and products that are good for their skin. We need tools to help us reach those audiences and measure whether our messaging is working.”
Thompson also emphasized data and analytics have played a major role in allowing them to identify new influencers, compensate them and measure their performance.
“One area that has grown in our organization is a focus on analytics and data with regards to influencers. Beauty lovers are exposed to never-ending amounts of content, and we want to find those that are hunting for superclean beauty and skin-care solutions,” Thompson said. “Understanding the type of content that they’re interested in will help us curate future messaging. Influencers are the channel that helps us communicate clearly with audiences that need to understand our many points of difference, and we need to understand how our efforts with influencers are performing.”
As social media changes, so, too, will the emphasis on influencers and brands capitalizing on the audiences they can target there. Social networks have progressed in the last decade, initially shunning the idea of encouraging influential users to represent sponsors and monetize their content. But we’re well beyond that now, and businesses that are clueless about where to look next should follow the lead of the fashion and beauty brands that continue to be ahead of the curve.
Gil Eyal is chief executive officer and cofounder of Hypr Brands.