Why marketing with influencers doesn’t work. And yet, why will it not disappear too soon?
It is said that, when there is no leader, he who asserts himself accordingly through the exploitation of the sometimes inaudible needs of the unrepresented crowd – will rule. The most recent and publicised case: the political ascension of Donald Trump. The same principle could be also applied in the case of the influencer or the online opinion leader who, in fact, does nothing to differentiate himself from the rest. But he has an opinion. If we take the example of what is happening on Instagram, the influencer doesn’t become an “influencer” because he has an opinion, that’s not the order, but he starts forming an opinion because he finally became a content “influencer”, without doing anything to automatically validate the public position he takes.
In this content epidemic, when everyone has something to say and everyone wants to be heard, there is a division – a difference in opinion, which divides the groups. It is a universal rule. But the opinion is not universal. And yet, the thing that separates the influencer from the rest is the specialised content. Because, above all, he is a very good content creator.
This is exactly where the problem is in marketing: in the specialised content. As there can rarely be enough generated content for everyone, or at least for the majority, choosing an influencer who, through the content he generates, does not represent a large part of the brand’s main audience may be a mistake, an unnecessary investment of the marketing budget.
For a large brand for example, the recipe is simple: you either choose an influencer who addresses the majority – a public figure (but here we are rather heading towards the idea of endorsement as we know it), or an army of influencers who can reach a large part of the audience. Small brands, which are specialised either way, will be able to go for an influencer that suits them best, thus reaching their exact audience. But again – for a brand that addresses the masses, choosing an influencer who addresses an audience with a particular profile can do more harm than good.
Let’s take another simple example: a large brand must communicate, as part of repositioning, of a niche – a clear message, while it must also remain in the minds of the other consumers who already perceive the brand and its products in a certain way. I am the consumer who is already loyal and I’m not necessarily a part of that niche or I simply do not identify with it. What happens if my brand goes to an influencer who, being specialised, has never previously reached me? Perhaps the content generated by the influencer in question has a type of humor that does not appeal to me. Or perhaps, at some point, he generated a message I did not approve of, I did not like. It happens often. I do not know him and his online presence irritates me – exactly, we function in the online environment the same way we do in real life: if you dislike someone’s presence, you simply don’t like them, and you also don’t try to do anything to change your perception. I, the consumer, can get away from the brand. It is therefore risky for a large brand to go with a single influencer who can in no way, through his digital nature, represent the majority.
As people in marketing, we look at the data. There is indeed data which shows that, in Romania, marketing with influencers still works in certain product categories. A study by Starcom in 2018 shows that this type of marketing could still have an impact when it comes to niches; but not a big impact. Then, there is little to no scientific evidence to prove that marketing with influencers could have an influence on the decision to purchase. Moreover, in a study done first on Twitter, and then on Instagram, called Everyone’s an influencer, it is concluded that influencers can indeed create viral content, however, this doesn’t influence the decision to purchase in any way.
On the other hand, we can also take a look at the recent events in Romania or abroad. In the USA for example, we have the case of Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump, the first having the support of most influencers: from TV personalities, artists or athletes to online personalities. But what happened in the voting booth – the decisive moment that we can associate with the moment the consumer can make a purchasing decision – was not exactly in accordance with the media feedback. Then, in Romania, we have the example of the most recent protests that raised hundreds of thousands of people in the streets after an online outreach had appeared, one that was similar in proportion to what happened in the Arab Spring.
But marketing with influencers will not disappear too soon for two reasons: on the one hand, as there is not much data regarding the effectiveness of such marketing, and on the other hand, as there is some pressure from the industry in favor of it, we will keep seeing large campaigns using influencers that no one in the online environment has heard of, other than a small, insignificant part of the audience.
Therefore, the problem is not that there are some people on the Internet who are more popular than others, but that we use them in marketing campaigns whose message should reach the masses and influence them in their decision to buy. And, if we want to grow as a brand by spreading our message, maybe we should take a look at the simple people, who don’t have any rare qualities, but who could have a bigger impact on the sales as long as the message is clear and well-articulated from a marketing point of view. And, if the message is also backed by a well-developed media infrastructure, the better. Otherwise, the influencer has died. Long live the influencer!