The End of Business As Usual: The New Influencer Marketing Game

Two years into Covid-19, consumer shopping online has increased significantly across many segments, but a seismic online shift has affected especially Millennials and GenZers whose intent to shop online continues to increase, in both essential and nonessential items. In Fact, staying at home is now a long-term expectation for most people and this is not only affecting the shopping intent, but also the shopping frequency: A study conducted by Selligent Team in 2021 has revealed that 36% of people are now shopping online weekly, up from 28% before COVID-19.

As a matter of fact, companies are perceiving this as a unique moment in time during which they can reinforce and shape behavioral shifts to tap into larger pools of audiences and to position their products and brands better for the next normal. For instance, companies can now nudge consumers towards more new purchasing habits through Influencer marketing which has become a popular strategy to catch on the loyal audiences of trusted thought leaders and influencers.

The expected trade-off is that by working with individuals (Social Media Influencers) to promote their products, companies and brands would build trust more effectively with a target audience.

But, that isn’t always the case. 

Over the last decade, influencer marketing – the business of brands paying social media celebrities and influencers to advertise their services or products – has become a well-established marketing tactic. Recently, however, this industry is now entering a new phase: A phase where the traditional top-down influencer marketing is fading and a two-way, and more authentic communication and targeting tactics are rising.

So, why is traditional Influencer Marketing not relevant anymore?

1. Consumer purchasing patterns are maturing:

Generation Z and millennials are changing the game. Consumers today are increasingly ignoring targeted marketing of all kinds. They are skeptical about every product or service and they are seeking a real social proof before buying anything. In fact, a study by UM, a global Media Agency, revealed that only 4% of people globally trust that the majority of information influencers share online is true. Modern consumers prefer relationships with brands that offer an authentic voice, and trust is an essential precursor to purchase. As a matter of fact, 71% of people refer to their social networks for direction before purchasing, according to Sprout Social.

2. Influencer Fraud: Fake Followers, and Fake Product insights.

While there are still some legitimate influencers in the business, some, lured by how this business can be lucrative, are turning to bots to juice their engagement numbers. Although it is not so hard to suspect a fake influencer, fakeness does not only entail that an influencer has a number of fake followers: Influencers are praising products that they do not use, and that do not appeal to their audience. Companies go to an  influencer with a pre-made set of products and designs and all the influencer has to do is to promote it. Nothing feels original and really just seems like an ad, not an advice. That is why, consumers are now more likely to respond to the endorsement of a peer, friend or a family member than to an influencer-run ad’s claims.

3. Influencer Overexposure:

With brands craving endorsements from “Top” influencers, many of them fall into the trap of missing the point, simply because many of the top personalities are overexposed. In fact, engaging someone at the peak of their popularity poses many risks. The worst is that by endorsing many products at a time, (because they are solicited by many brands) these influencers will lead consumers towards bad brand recalls.

Given the media coverage of influencer fraud, fake followers, and just plain overexposure, the backlash against influencers continues to grow: An anti-influencer sentiment is spreading across all buyer segments, and as brands and marketers, the game is now requiring new tactics.

An Anti-influencer sentiment is Growing.

This desire for the real, the honest and the authentic is not just driving a big change in how people conceive the notion of influence. People are getting sick of plastic and unauthentic social media posts that are obviously staged, where a promoted product is different from an influencer’s niche that they do not even use it.

Indeed, The far-too-pretty avocado toast Photo is not interesting anymore, and the posts the massive hoards of products that these influencers are promoting are going neglected because modern consumers are now aware that these influencers won’t be able to use them up before they expire or before the hype around the product dies because there’s just so much of it to begin with and more and more coming out all the time.

Consequently, to be successful in this new landscape, brands must adapt to change, connect more with their customers and tap into a community-based influence rather than individual-focused one.

It is called “ Influencer fatigue, " and the cracks are beginning to show.

In a market saturated with loud opinions at every turn, it’s no wonder that consumers’ trust is becoming so fragile with time. Millennials and Gen Zers are tired of influencers’ inauthentic, stagey Instagram photos and filtered content. A survey conducted by the Drum, showed that 47% of social media users had grown tired of seeing “repetitive” influencer content.

More to that, people are feeling insecure, unconfident and enough is never enough anymore. The pressure to uphold an impossible standard of living, having the best and newest technology, having an amazing career, being physically flawless is making people dive away and switch brands to others who might relate to them on a psychological level. This happens especially with Generation Z because they think that this “influencer” behavior plays to the lowest common denominator and it’s destroying individuality, something that counters their beliefs in idealism, and desire for inclusion, world change and diversity.

The influencer game is changing and modern consumers like brands that offer transparency and seem to share their values with regard to lifestyle, sustainability and the social good. Buyers do not just want to identify with a real story, but with a real storyteller.

People are now putting more stores in online reviews and friend and family endorsements, and it is working!

For centuries companies have used social proof to reach new audiences and sell more products. It started with celebrity endorsements on TV and more recently, influencer marketing. The latter, experienced a boom in the previous years and it is continuing to grow. However, Influencer marketing may soon fade away, experts in the field warn. Indeed, influencer marketing faces problems with fraud, trust and costs. Both consumers and brands are losing faith in people who claim to be influencers.

The narrative of this new age of influence may be unpredictable. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that we are about to enter a new era of people-powered marketing. A new approach to marketing where Influenced users of today become the influencers of tomorrow, and where real people, not royalty, celebrities or influencers have a chance to collaborate with brands and create real, relevant, and creative content.

Brands must recognize the value of their existing customers, who are some of their best advocates. By identifying their biggest fans and building loyalty and community over time with them, brands can benefit from those customers’ advocacy within their peer groups. Brands must involve their customers in the storytelling process because storytelling is no longer an individual act. The audience is involved in the co-creation of the brand’s story.

If companies start to see “authenticity” as a key part of their marketing strategies they would start to consider their “citizen influencers” who may lack the enormous reach or status, but who boast legitimate social networks with strong ties and time-earned expertise. In fact, “Winning the hearts and minds of customers with new media experiences will turn them into your most valuable sales force.” (Peter Guber, author of Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story).

By involving users who would become your allies in telling your story to their friends and family, and by empowering them to do it online, you are on the right path of adapting to consumer-behaviour shifts because failing to successfully adapt to this change, your story may well remain unheard. Your customers will share their experiences both good and bad. Now that everyone is connected, it’s amplified and incredibly influential.

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