Where Do Brands Go After Peak Influencer?

Where Do Brands Go After Peak Influencer?

In 2019, Merriam Webster finally admitted the term ‘influencer’ into its dictionary. But influencer culture had changed the way brands connect with consumers long before that, with major social media stars graduating from the beauty and mum bloggers of the 2010s to the Instagram and TikTok megastars we know today.

However, as quickly as influencers rose to superstar status, their sheen has tarnished; in the same year, 2019, research unveiled that over 95% of consumers did not trust social media influencers. Now, under a quarter of consumers feel that influencers motivate them to buy from a brand.

A Changing Trend

This trend of diminishing trust has only accelerated. Once-loyal followers are becoming increasingly savvy to paid content over the authentic glimpses of the ‘real’ lives they crave. Similarly, a host of influencers wildly misjudged the mood of their fans during the pandemic, posting pictures from all-expenses paid trips to Dubai, for example. As a result, 85% of young people in the UK unfollowed influencers during the pandemic.

Further research suggests Gen Z wants greater authenticity from those they follow – a third even said that influencers must speak up about injustice. Increasingly, followers no longer see influencers as real-life leaders to emulate but out-of-touch, inauthentic #ad machines.

While platforms such as TikTok have borne a new wave of influencers, such as Addison Rae, the rules have changed. Where Instagram influencers served up heavily filtered, overly manufactured versions of themselves and their lives, Gen Z and Gen Alpha have turned to TikTok, Discord, and Twitch for greater authenticity, and raw, unfiltered, and genuinely entertaining content.

While platforms like TikTok still provide places for brands to connect with their customers, the storytelling experience demanded by fans is vastly different. The age of the traditional influencer has reached its peak, and for many brands this is causing a problem.

Today, it is not enough for brands to throw money at unimaginative influencer campaigns. Now, emotion drives brand loyalty, and that means connecting to customers as individuals, understanding their ‘why’, not just viewing them as generic purchasers of influencer clickbait. Rather than bland content focused on the aspirational life of the influencer, consumers want specific, personalised experiences that reflect their lives, values, and needs. Influencer power has peaked, and personal, authentic experience now reigns.

ROI is Long-term Loyalty

A brand experience based on personalisation requires a whole new approach, far beyond the influencer-heavy strategies adopted by many brands in the last decade. ROI on paying enormous sums for influencer posts is waning and tells brands nothing about their customers or how to better connect with them. Influencers may boast millions of followers, but they can’t dig down into the granular understanding of who those followers are or how they think, not least provide the insight a brand needs to build a customer journey that delivers long-term loyalty.

Brands must understand why their customers do what they do and how to use that information to craft narratives and stories that address that. Understanding the why helps retailers build narrative experiences that drive behavioural change. This is a far more sophisticated approach than the decade-old influencer marketing strategies that have become stale and, increasingly, the subject of derision rather than desire.

Understanding the why marries two marketing disciplines — the qualitative approach of customer research and engagement alongside the quantitative, specific, data-driven approach powered by today’s analytics and martech tools. If brands can understand human behaviour, they can predict behavioural changes and use it to their advantage to deliver a positive customer experience.

This is about brands focusing on the right strategies at the right times. And these strategies must be based on emotion — creating emotional impact based on what people care about. For example, recent research shows that 76% of millennials and 83% of Gen Zers feel that brands should take a stance on social issues. How can a brand react to what their fans care about if they have no insight into these fluctuating priorities?

It's More than Transactions

Just 14% of consumers say brands ”greatly” know them, remember them, and understand their needs. Honesty, trustworthiness, and authenticity, where consumers are treated as individuals, are incredibly important to a relationship where a brand and consumer feel aligned. Influencer campaigns of old cannot deliver this. At the same time, the centre of the brand-consumer interaction is not the transaction.

Consumers want relationships with the brands in which they choose to engage, not in a surface-level sense but a one-to-one level. Now, brands must invest in the customer journey as a personalised, emotionally-driven experience, where ROI is measured in loyalty.

This means that brands must continually adjust their strategy based on their customers' ever-evolving behaviours and expectations. And these expectations are myriad. Whether consumers’ increasing focus on sustainability or concerns over social justice, their desire for authenticity or thirst for new platforms that foster creativity — brands need to be at the vanguard of these shifts… not too-late followers, out of touch with the reality of their customers.

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