When I was a kid growing up in the 90s, I wanted to drink Gatorade and wear Nikes because I saw all those commercials on TV with Michael Jordan. Like Mike. I wanted to be like Mike. Celebrity endorsements have been huge for a number of generations and while they may still hold some weight among some circles, the scope of their power is certainly starting to wane.
In their place, we are really starting to see the rise of what may be best described as “influencers.” We may have once seen these in the context of sponsored posts on blogs, but they’ve expanded significantly across social media in particular. These big online personalities may not be full-on celebrities like a Tom Hanks or LeBron James, but they have their mass followings of enthusiastic fans.
A Circle of Influence
And brands are increasingly interested in tapping into that sphere of influence. A recent article on Forbes went so far as to say that “influencers are the new brands.”
We can attribute the rise of the “influencer” to a number of different factors. Fewer people are consuming traditional media than ever before. They’re not reading as many newspapers, listening to as much radio, or watching as much traditional network television. It’s all online, on demand, and instantly gratifying.
This is especially among the younger generation, including young adults, but it’s a trend that we are seeing across all demographics. Brands need to be where their audiences are.
Reaching the Right People
But they can’t rely on the traditional celebrity endorsement with a banner ad on the side of a website anymore either, because more and more people are using ad blockers. The latest statistics say that as much as 47% of people are using ad block technology. Brands need to get past this filter to reach their audience.
“Influencers” provide that “in.”
What’s more, people are growing increasingly skeptical of traditional celebrity endorsements and traditional advertising, because they know they are being sold to. The experience doesn’t feel authentic. By contrast, 92% of consumers said that they trust an influencer more. They believe they’re being real. They believe they’re being honest.
And this is built on an economy of trust.
If people don’t trust this online “influencer,” then none of that paid or sponsored placement is going to mean anything. Look at someone like Casey Neistat. He has a huge fan base, because online users feel a real connection to him. When you consider that he consistently gets over a million videos on each and every one of his videos, you can be certain that many brands are anxious to get a product placement. And he does it so naturally that it never really feels like an advertisement.
Putting Up Numbers
Another thing that’s really important to note, especially if you’re not in the same league as someone like Casey (most of us aren’t), is that it is not a pure numbers game. It can be far more effective for a brand to reach out to an influencer with a smaller but very targeted and very engaged following than to reach out to one with millions of followers who may not be as loyal.
Pizza night! Thank you @cocacola_ca for the #CocaColaLife. Sweetened from natural sources and it tastes great! Pizza ordered from @stevestonpizza (Princess: Shrimp, crab, tiger prawns, smoked salmon). Click on the link in my bio for more info. # #SweetMoments #CocaColaPartner #brandambassador #sponsored
Take my friend Dennis Pang as an example. He’s reasonably well known in the Metro Vancouver area and is a popular “foodie,” but he certainly won’t have the same reach as someone like Kylie Jenner. Even so, he has over 10,000 followers on Instagram and all his posts always get good engagement.
This notion of trust is critical and it’s a two-way street. If a “smaller” influencer doesn’t take on as much sponsored content, each campaign holds that much more weight and creates much higher purchase intent with prospective customers. Influencers should be selected for their relevance and engagement and not just for pure follower count.
Human to Human Marketing
From social media to “native” content on blogs, the power of the online influencer simply cannot be denied. Whether you’re coming from the perspective of the advertiser or the “online personality,” recognize that there is a huge opportunity to be had here and you’d be foolish to ignore it.