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Influencer marketing evolves

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Influencers have emerged as some of the greatest content engines of the social media age. How can brands take advantage of their connection to audiences?

The influencer marketing business was worth $9.7bn in 2020 and is expected to grow to $15bn by 2022, with almost half of marketers saying they’re spending more than 20% of their budget on influencer content. Some have gone much further. Beauty brand Estée Lauder announced in August 2019 that it was allocating 75% of its marketing spend to social media influencers, and finding the investment “highly productive.”

Meanwhile, the grand shift from single-screen to multiple-screen (and multiple platform) access has transformed the way audiences consume entertainment. And as audiences have flocked to new platforms, they’ve embraced new creators as trusted voices in their lives, blurring the definition of stardom.

“The gap between social media influencer and traditional celebrity has narrowed,” says Megan Savitt, vice-president of strategy at BEN. “It’s no longer relevant to distinguish between digital and traditional marketing – just how to market in the best way to reach your audience.”

This process has accelerated further following the outbreak of Covid-19, as we’ve seen Hollywood stars such as Jessica Alba and Will Smith take to TikTok, becoming “creator celebrities” and learning from experienced influencers. The merging demonstrates that influencer-dominated streaming platforms are no longer secondary media for content consumption, but have become an integral part of the media ecosystem as much as linear broadcast entertainment and streaming TV.

Montse Passolas, the chief marketing officer at premium hair styling brand GHD, says: “Influencers are one of the touchpoints in a campaign and as a consequence need to be planned and integrated to ensure maximization of the launch, and consistency of the message.”

In the face of the pandemic, there’s no doubt that influencer marketing has evolved into a mature marketing channel delivering against the rigors of advertisers’ demands. Technology has helped, bringing greater accountability as influence spreads across the streams.

Performance influencer marketing, in which the brand pays for conversions and sales, is one of the newest models made possible by predictive AI and is becoming one of the hottest new offerings available to marketers. “We’re able to offer metrics and analytics that are very granular and speak to specific brand needs,” Savitt says. “If you’re looking to get the best return on your investment, influencer marketing is really powerful because you can track it.”

The results speak for themselves for photobook brand Chatbooks. About 15% of their total media spend now goes exclusively to influencer marketing.

“For us, it’s not intuition. It’s literally cold hard data. And then being able to evolve our partnership in order to take advantage of that data in order to scale,” says Rachel Hofstetter, chief marketing officer of Chatbooks.

The massive amount of influencer content out there offers brands enormous potential to reach audiences. But while a human can’t analyze the hundreds of millions of videos produced by the hundreds of thousands of influencers out there, AI can. The solution is deep learning, which scrutinizes “structured and unstructured data”, Savitt says, to help marketers identify the best influencers for their campaigns and accurately predict how many conversions each influencer can generate, reducing wasted budget and ensuring a higher ROI.

Tyler Folkman, head of AI at BEN, says: “We can pick up on what kind of influencer voice is likely to convert the best, channel health, and can even analyze the unstructured images and text. Things you wouldn’t necessarily think about.” AI is also at the frontline of brand safety in influencer marketing, helping BEN to identify fake accounts or false engagement rates to enable advertisers to gauge whether an influencer partner is really going to be an asset.

The evolution of influencer marketing and the ability to track real impact allows brands to create campaigns that drive full funnel results and unlock campaigns tied back to performance guarantees.

“Having the ability to get both the flash and the power – working with A-List celebrities and influencers, but also knowing that what you’re working on is based on science, that you’re going to see this amount of return – is unprecedented, uncharted territory,” Savitt says.

Passolas argues that alliances with influencers can help brands to establish a sense of purpose: “I believe currently we have a great force with influencers lobbying for female empowerment, charity work, diversity and inclusion, mental health and climate change among many others.”

She notes that influencers have changed the marketing dynamic in the fashion, beauty and fitness sectors. They’re now the primary source of innovative trends.

“Just when I think I have seen it all, the influencers and stylists come up with the most incredible waves, curls or techniques; their creativity always surprises me. Human creativity and affinity are the best marketing tools, and influencers bring them both, alongside relevant targeted reach and engagement, which are critical measurements in this new media model.”

The decentralization of trend-setting from brands to influencer icons has been mirrored by audience behavior. As users consume content across platforms and devices, the savviest influencers have managed to port their audiences across the web, building personal brands impervious to the rise and fall of specific social networks. That so many have been able to remain successful amid platform agnosticism shows the depth of their connection to audiences.

Savitt concludes: “That’s refreshing and provides inspiration in the marketplace that we’ve never seen before, because influencer marketing breeds such strong connectivity.”

The rise of product placement and influencer marketing, created in partnership with BEN, explores the latest developments and capabilities available to marketers through brand integration, with insights, tips, and case studies to inspire your next big campaign. Click here to download this critical intelligence today.

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