Brand stories today have to work harder than ever to get noticed on both owned and earned channels. Audiences’ attention, loyalty and trust are shifting away from traditional media environments and towards people who they can relate with.
People still buy people and the emergence of new storytelling platforms over the last five years has accelerated the rate of disruption – 92% of people trust product recommendations from peers they don’t even know and, once hidden from sight, word of mouth marketing is now achievable at scale and will continue to command a greater share of budget. Marketers are predicted to divert at least 25% of their budgets to influencer marketing this year.
Despite the rapid growth of influencer marketing as a brand and performance tool, challenges remain. In order to cement its place as an integrated planning channel, they will need to be addressed.
Challenge 1 – To Identify the right talent, regionally and globally
With valuable reputations at stake, identifying the right talent to entrust with your brand remains the most important consideration and one for which technology is only part of the solution.
The exponential growth of the channel has led to a sudden surplus of both platforms and influencers of varying quality. While potentially positive, the task of identifying quality and the right fit is burdensome for marketers.
An over-reliance on automated solutions produces a shortlist lacking appreciation of either the talent or the brand. Brands require real connections and a deeper understanding of the talent being presented. An appreciation of human connection is the foundation from which this industry has been built and how it will continue to flourish.
Challenge 2 – Delivering creative consistency at scale
Audiences face an avalanche in their feeds and brand consideration is easily diluted. Ambassadorial programmes that build longer-term narratives and incremental, layered brand storytelling commands greater attention and respect from audiences.
The platform approach to ‘influencer advertising’ still has a role to play within the performance space. But to build brands and stir emotions, marketers require greater creative consistency and a storytelling narrative that is created in collaboration with talent.
Large-scale, ‘one size fits all’ programmes make this frustrating to manage. Less will become more as brands seek more strategically aligned content plans that better suit the influencer and their relationship with their audience – leading to genuine and sustained advocacy.
Challenge 3 – Clearer path to ROI and standardisation of metrics
Another clear sign of impending market maturity is the deafening call for improved measurement. The channel has been trading successfully on total follower reach and impressions for too long and the elevation of influencer marketing as a primary marketing channel will depend on our ability to prove we can truly move the dial.
We must be willing and able to benchmark successfully against the rest of the plan.
Challenge 4 – Fraud and audience authentication
As with digital display before it, influencer marketing faces an existential threat to its credibility. Fraud exists, some audiences have been bought and some brands have been the victim of a false trading. However this does not need to impact investment and trust moving forward.
What we need now is greater transparency and honesty. Influencers should be given the opportunity to declare previous misdemeanors without it impacting future relationships, and in return they will be willing to open up their audience data for brands to view.
Platforms such as Q-83 are paving the way for such a transition and supporting a unilateral approach to audience authentication would be huge step forward.
Challenge 5: Influencers are small media businesses competing in a global marketplace
Firstly, they are not a commodity. Storytellers and influencers are not all alike and so taking the time to understand them, their business and their challenges is of real value in this space.
Equally, it is time for the talent to behave like the media businesses that they have become. With greater attention comes greater responsibility and pressure to take accountability within the advertising supply chain.
In return, brands must acknowledge that many of the most desirable influencers are still small – often tiny – businesses competing in a global marketplace and are susceptible to growing pains and fickle audiences.
An influencer is only influential as long as their audience is listening. Therefore, in order for brands to truly capitalise on the loyalty and trust the talent have built, they should respect authenticity as a priority and enter with a spirit of a true partnership.
This year is set to be a defining one for influencer marketing, as it enters the next phase of any new marketing channel – the age of accountability. Brands need a trusted, professional partner more than ever to help navigate the changes and fast pace of the space.
The role of the agency is to manage this complexity and support the brand to build longer-term programmes, providing a consistent source of insight, planning strategy, talent identification, measurement and campaign delivery.
We are The Fifth, an influencer marketing agency doing things differently. Our mission is to professionalise the space and we strongly believe in trusted and sustainable future for influencer marketing. Visit us at www.fifth.co to find out how.
Oliver Lewis is managing director at The Fifth.