When Christmas wish-list time came around this year, my eldest only had one item, unlike my other two children. As an aspiring semi-pro paintball player, he apparently requires a drone to capture his "clutch" moments (still not clear on what that is) for future editing and distribution to build his profile.
So being the dutiful father, I did lots and lots of research. I also decided to talk my final drone consideration list over with a techie friend. And not unsurprisingly he reeled off the pros and cons of the drones, added a few I'd never heard of and then gave me his recommendation. The outcome? I bought the one he recommended (my son is unlikely to read this, so safe) even though it was not on my original list.
How easily I was influenced by my friend's perceived tech expertise, despite all my detailed research. As an advertising professional and psychologist, I am not surprised. We are unconsciously responsive to influence triggers such as ‘status’ where expertise influences (my techie friend) or ‘identification’ where admiration influences (celebrity endorsements), or ‘social proof’ where collectives influence (trends, groups). How we perceive credibility, trust and authenticity, intertwined with our need for belonging and approval, determines how we are influenced. And don’t delude yourself—influenced we are.
This power of influence is recognised in advertising research:
- 83% of consumers trust recommendations from their peers over advertising (Nielsen)
- 49% of consumers depend on influencer recommendations (Digital Marketing Institute)
- 74% of people trust social networks to inform purchasing decisions (Sprout Social), and
- 54% of consumers believe the smaller the community the bigger the influence (Technorati).
Which brings us to influencer marketing. Whilst not new and having suffered recently in its digital guise with significant credibility issues, it is now growing rapidly and maturing into a seriously powerful channel.
Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing and Advertising, 2019 shows Influencer and Advocacy Marketing moving up from the 'Trough of Disillusionment' onto the 'Slope of Enlightenment'. This movement is reflected in marketing behaviour, as 65% of marketers plan to increase their influencer-marketing budgets (up from 39% in 2018), 89% say its ROI is effective, and 55% believe it generates better customers when done properly (Mediakix).
Business Insider Intelligence estimates the influencer-marketing industry’s worth as US$15 billion by 2022, up from US$8 billion in 2019. Instagram is the current platform of choice for brands, with almost 80% using if for campaigns. However the shift towards using more targeted credible expert influencers will reshape this platform dominance over time.
Adding further credibility the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is starting to regulate influencer marketing, especially relationship disclosure, and there is more focus on detecting fake influencers and followers.
Whilst a number of elements need to be considered for successful influencer marketing, I feel two are fundamental.
Firstly, brands must ensure a genuine value match between them and the influencer. This helps avoid brand-damaging situations where influencers demonstrate poor judgement or controversial behaviour. It also helps unpick the conundrum that whilst the more famous or celebrity status the influencer has, the more followers they will likely have, there can still be a lack of credibility or authenticity in the relationship with their followers. The key when engaging a celebrity status influencer is always, how influenced are their followers by their suggestions?
Secondly, brands should establish longer term authentic relationships with properly value-aligned and vetted influencers or a network of them, moving away from a tactical campaign-by-campaign approach. These relationships need to be reviewed on a regular basis for continued brand-value alignment.
We are all influenced in some way by others and that influence is built on a relationship of trust, credibility and authenticity. In influencer marketing, the influencers are mediators of this between a brand and a consumer, so the choice of that influencer is crucial. My friend’s tech credibility influenced me. I guess I will find out on Christmas day whether it has helped me or not.
Kristian Barnes, formerly APAC chief client officer at Dentsu Aegis Network and APAC CEO of Vizeum, is co-founder of consulting firm Moriarty, Flynn & Barnes in Singapore.