In order to keep in step with Millennial and Generation Z shoppers’ fleeting preferences, brands are turning to influencer marketing to present products to the socially savvy sets. Brands are increasingly left to navigate a cluttered influencer climate to discern the best fit for their initiatives. Necessitating the availability for databases and platforms to connect with tastemakers, platforms like StyleHaul furnish relationships between influencer and brands for premium visibility and engagement.
And for good reason: these demographics refer to social media to crowd-source approval of an item before completing a purchase and refer to their feeds for style inspiration and product research. “Gen Zs are inclined to consider the number of ‘likes’ a product or service receives on social media and the opinions of trusted bloggers,” said Accenture’s “Digital Dust” report on Millennial and Gen Z consumer behavior. “Seventy percent of Gen Z can’t wait to buy on social media and almost twice as many Gen Zs than Millennials turn to YouTube before making a purchase.”
Here Stephanie Horbaczewski, chief executive officer of StyleHaul discusses building the platform’s influencer community, appealing to Millennial shoppers and the influence of new technology on bolstering business strategies.
WWD: What characteristics does StyleHaul examine in potential influencers to join its network?
Stephanie Horbaczewski: In selecting StyleHaul influencers, we take into consideration inherent characteristics such as their following, engagement metrics, content themes, creator and audience demographic. In addition, it is very important for us to look at derived characteristics that are quantifiable with data. Examples include a lift in performance when they make branded content, how connected a new creator is to our existing community. We’re curating a community to work with brands that are significantly more engaged than the average user on each platform.
WWD: Millennials demand authenticity from brands — and their marketing efforts. How will the strategy need to evolve as influencer marketing becomes commonplace?
S.H.: There is enough data to make sure as a brand that you are making all the most educated decisions to ensure authenticity. A brand cannot over-script or demand a creator use language that isn’t authentic to them. It should be a partnership – if an Instagram video is only 15 seconds there’s a limit to the messaging that can be included. The best and most valuable results are when everyone works together to create a customized asset.
Given the advancements in technology, we can now determine that the customer is telling the brand exactly what they want to see, hear and engage with. Brands can maximize impact and value by listening to the customer.
WWD: How is StyleHaul including new technologies to remain relevant?
S.H.: There are two classifications of new technologies relevant to StyleHaul: Consumer technologies and data technologies. Consumer technologies such as VR and live-streaming are changing how viewers consume and engage. We recently ran a program that used VR to give creators an opportunity to experience types of conditions [in which] a product could protect skin. This resulted in powerful and impactful content than [if] the creator [had] simply been told about those conditions.
We also recently shot a series in partnership with YouTube to support 360-degree video. This is creating choose-your-own-adventure elements. Brands are utilizing live-streaming because it’s changing the way a fan and a creator interact. Creators and brands are capitalizing on the opportunity to discuss more complex products in a setting where viewers can ask questions in real-time. In addition, the connection of a dialogue has impactful results.
On the data side, we have drastic advancements at StyleHaul. Our own proprietary product, Society allows us to use data sources like YouTube CMS, authenticated video and social channels, public API’s and indexing to provide unique cross-platform insights and strategies. We can now capture for brands information about every engaged consumer across platforms and then map those social relationships to determine the most crucial connections.
Machine learning is rapidly advancing the incredible value of predictive analysis.
WWD: How do you discern emerging trends in the landscape that can be applied to updated business strategies?
S.H.: The most important element is the difference between a new product or platform and whether customer behavior has caught up with the advancements or surpassed them. Current examples are the shoppable products on Instagram and virtual reality.
Instagram’s shoppable solution is a great tool to connect Instagram and e-commerce. But the product is only available to authenticated users and involves including a link that’s accessed by swiping from an Instagram story to a new screen. While functionally it’s a success, customer behavior hasn’t caught up. Most users aren’t even aware the link exists. It’s important to keep brands informed and test new tools, but also create realistic expectations.
Virtual and augmented reality are additional developments. VR requires expensive hardware that most users don’t have. Creating content to engage the highly passionate fan base is a great strategy as long as expectations are managed. Experiential programs can alter things such as sampling strategies, event sponsorship strategies and allowing brands more flexibility to find the best customized solutions for them.
WWD: What are key factors brands and retailers should consider in launching an influencer marketing campaign?
S.H.: Using data to select the right creators and the best formats for your brand is pertinent. The creators selected and their content may look like a perfect fit but if data tells us that the creators and their audiences only shop at a competitor, the campaign will not result in driving the sales expected.
Influencer campaigns are like dropping a rock into a puddle. If you only concern yourself with the rock, no matter how perfect, you will not maximize the potential of the reach. It’s important to invest in partnering with the fans of your brand and your core influencers to insert content into the continuing conversation that clearly reconfirms your message.
By using creators simply as a different ad format, brands are missing out on the true power of an influencer campaign. Millennials have replaced search with discovery on social platforms. To approach that opportunity as though it is just a way to recreate their advertisements is a huge lost opportunity. The most successful campaigns we have seen are experiential. Creators get immersed in an experience and the result is creative content that is truly personalized.
WWD: How does StyleHaul analyze the success of a campaign?
S.H.: The most effective way to analyze the success of a campaign is to clearly define goals and make sure they are quantitative, analyze performance data to draw conclusions and capture data for use in additional initiatives.
We capture all data for analysis and customize the use format most valuable on a client-by-client basis. A great example is our in-house data proprietary technology we call the “Eye,” which creates a visual representation of both paid and earned media on Instagram, as well as mapping the relationships within a brand’s community. Brands can learn that one of their smaller influencers is actually one of the most powerful.