Influencer marketing will remain one of the most important strategies for brands to master in the coming decade — but it’s not your mother’s influencer marketing. Like most other disrupted industries, influencer marketing has changed almost entirely over the last 10 years, but this change is nothing compared to what is yet to come, according to a recent report my market research firm prepared for one of our clients.
The Age Of Informed Consumers
The new generations of consumers — millennials or Generation Y (born between 1981 and 1996) and Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) — are more open-minded and diverse than previous generations, and they expect brands and influencers to reflect their values and views, mirroring their own uniqueness and diversity. Therefore, by definition, this demographic tends to appreciate subcultures and finds mainstream influencers to be less relevant or engaging.
And these consumers are using social media to shop and discover brands. According to a report from Morning Consult, 70% of Gen Y and Gen Z consumers learn about products they’re interested in buying on social media often or sometimes, while 56% have purchased a product after seeing a post from someone they follow, and 50% say social media is where they most often learn about new products to buy.
The Age Of Creators
The people that Gen Z consumers trust the most are not traditional celebrities, movie stars or famous athletes; they are creators. According to a YPulse 2019 survey, 31% of 13- to 37-year-old consumers said they trust YouTubers above all other influencers, making them the No. 1 most trusted source. This is no surprise: younger generations don’t trust brands and macro-influencers as much as previous generations did, as they search for quality content that demonstrates expertise in any niche they are interested in. According to Morning Consult, the No. 1 reason for buying a product or service recommended by an influencer is that “the influencer seems knowledgeable on the product, brand, or industry they are promoting.”
Influencers, in turn, are passionate about their content. A recent survey by Julius found that 51% of influencers prefer the term “creator” while 32% prefer “influencer.” And influencers overwhelmingly believe that the most important driver of their success is the quality of content they make.
Note that the importance of the “creator” vs. “influencer” definition goes beyond semantics. It is the key to understanding the strategy that brands need to implement when collaborating with today’s creators, as we shall discuss here.
The Age Of Peer-To-Peer
Gen Z consumers identify as entrepreneurs and creators: 12% of young Americans (millennials and Gen Z) consider themselves to be influencers, and 54% would become influencers, given the opportunity.
Similarly, peer-to-peer platforms are shaping the future of e-commerce, as noted by our research. These “e-comm-unities,” such as Depop, blur social media and online shopping and are, by definition, “long tail,” meaning they mirror the subculture mentality and are dedicated to niches and preferences of smaller groups of consumers. They are digitally designed using mobile video, and are leveraging two major technological advancements: the ability to shop from content, and blockchain technology, which enables brands to track a transaction back to the source of influence.
For example, the YEAY platform is powered by blockchain company WOM, enabling consumers to post videos of themselves using different products and get rewarded for them. And the Dote app creates a social network in an e-commerce environment that helps people become “Dote Influencers” if they produce quality content and reach 20,000 followers — but, more interestingly, it rewards any user for their influence by granting “coins” to users whose stories help others in their shopping journeys.
Already, today’s emerging platforms all enable users to respond, react and create, to express their unique personalities and views. In addition to YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, alternative channels are becoming Gen Z consumers’ source of discovery and influence, including gaming/streaming (e.g., Twitch, Microsoft’s Mixer), alternative social networks (e.g., Reddit), and video platforms like TikTok.
In fact, a new Gen Y and Gen Z survey by HYPRBrands (of which I’m on the advisory board) found that TikTok is overhyped in comparison to YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, with lower usage rate and time spent compared to other platforms. However, if we factor in the increasingly important role of consumer-to-consumer influence and the type of brand activity currently emerging on TikTok, we can expect to see a change in this platform, as it could shift more toward “branded challenges” and play a role as a social/e-commerce convergence platform — Japanese retail company Uniqlo’s user-generated contest, in collaboration with TikTok, is a great example.
Since friends and family influence brand consideration and purchase decisions more than any other source of influence, and there’s a willingness of young Americans to influence others, I believe these platforms now pose the greatest opportunity for brands to engage in peer-to-peer conversations.
Keeping It Real
Because content authenticity is at the heart of what drives creators’ success, brands cannot expect to inflict an external message or promotion using the creator as merely a voice. Rather, brands should empower the creator’s knowledge regarding the product or service, collaborate with the creator for influencer-generated content, and let them be heard and discovered by more people to support the creator’s quest for a growing audience.
Squads and Insiders, utilized by many fashion and beauty brands today, can extend even beyond nano-influencers, to anyone who can use the brand to engage a niche market, be it online or in real life. Influencers will provide curation that can turn virtually any mass or mainstream brand into a relevant, expressive one.
We will see the same extension happen to collaborations in cocreated products, “drops” and capsule collections seeking subcultures and niches rather than mega-celebrities and their respective social media-parallel personas.