What makes content creators the ultimate advocates of brand authenticity? Charlotte Euzenat analyses how social media influencers have contributed to a rise in customer engagement
Harnessing the power of authenticity and transparency to build a trustful relationship with an audience has become an aspect of marketing that brands can no longer shy away from. It should come as no surprise that digital and influencer campaigns are successfully filling this role in the wake of the trends that have emerged in a consumer landscape transformed by covid.
According to a 2023 study by Ogilvy, ‘from 2016-2022, the size of influencer marketing, taken at a global scale, increased from $1.7BN to $16.4BN’. The reason behind the mammoth impact influencers now have is that consumers are putting their trust in real people, with their organic and authentic voice, rather than brands. And it all comes down to one concept: relatability.
Influencer marketing relies on one of the most genuine forms of advertising: trustworthy peer-to-peer recommendation. Be honest, has an influencer ever convinced you to buy something? If the answer is yes, you are far from being alone. Long gone are the days when ‘I fell for it’ was the usual response to an Instagram-led purchase, as if the only justification for trusting an influencer was an impulsive moment of weakness. I’d go so far as to say that content creators influence over half of our shopping habits today.
I’m nearing my seventh year as a talent agent now, managing content creators, celebrities and online personalities, and I can confidently tell you that these three categories do not yield the same level of influence. It’s a view shared by many of my industry peers. From a semantic standpoint, all three categories own the power to influence. The main distinction, however, lies in how much one is able to relate to the advertiser and their key messaging. For instance, a recent HubSpot study found that 50% of millennials trust product recommendations from influencers. This drops to 38% for product recommendations from celebrities.
While celebrities will help drive awareness and elevate a brand’s image, they are less likely to offer an immediate push in sales. Influencers, on the other hand, act as spokespeople who can be aspirational in a way that still feels relatable.
The power of influencers resides in the fact that they offer authenticity and niche expertise. As real people who have built an audience based on common interests, they know how to connect with their audience because they are themselves a part of that audience. In July of this year, fast fashion online retailer PrettyLittleThings announced a collaboration with supermodel and high-fashion icon Naomi Campbell. The brand’s attempt to tap into the luxury sector has left many consumers feeling doubtful about its original objectives. Over the years, PrettyLittleThings has built an influencer-led marketing strategy that placed ‘real people’ at the forefront of its identity. Campbell’s genuine appeal for fast fashion is being questioned by the general public alongside the brand’s integrity. The backlash that has followed the news of the collaboration, whether understandable or questionable, is testimony to the need for authenticity and transparency that has arisen in recent years.
A shift in thinking has occurred forcing brands to reevaluate the true meaning of influence. When it comes to working with brands, influencers have a lot to offer. Because they engage directly with their audience – more often than not on a daily basis – they have valuable insights into what potential buyers are looking for.
As talent become more relatable and trustworthy to their audience, so do the brands they choose to partner with. Plus let’s not underestimate how merciless followers can be if they believe they’ve been lied to or taken advantage of. The lesson here is that trust and respect work both ways. Brands and talent must go above and beyond to ensure authenticity and transparency prevail on all sides.
Influencers, however, do not seem to be able to pause for breath when it comes to proving their integrity. But contrary to popular belief, in the UK, at least, content creators must follow stringent regulations strictly ruled by the ASA (the Advertising Standards Authority), which has created a guide to ‘making clear that ads are ads’. (There is however, no equivalent regulation in the US or China.) Should influencers breach the rules, they could face losing their social platform accounts, a consequence most of them are unwilling to risk.
The key to working with influencers is to trust their knowledge and instinct. Tailor your campaign briefs to fit the talent’s voice; do not rip off the talent’s voice to fit your brief. The beauty of influencer marketing is its ability to target the right audience and build consumer trust using real people who have gained their following by remaining authentic and transparent. Giving them the opportunity to add their twist and own identity to a brief will only help elevate your brand and encourage potential consumers to believe in the campaign’s messaging.
Charlotte Euzenat is a senior talent agent at The Fifth. The digital-first talent management agency represents a roster of highly acclaimed content creators and talent who are considered to be the next generation of influence.