Why 2019 Will Be The Year Influencer Marketing Shifts From Who, To How

Solberg Audunsson
CEO and Co-Founder
Social Influencer

Influencer fraud dominated the headlines in 2018. Never more so than when Unilever CMO Keith Weed announced in June that the company would make a conscious effort to improve the integrity of influencer campaigns. He urged the wider industry to help “rebuild trust” in the sector by rejecting fake followers – leading to a deluge of brands pledging to avoid social media accounts with inflated stats and criticism of influencers that didn't signpost paid promotions.

In many ways, his comments encapsulate the current state of influencer marketing. There are challenges to be addressed, but also great opportunities, and that’s something more and more companies are recognising. Instagram itself has responded, having recently announced it is cracking down on accounts using third party apps to enhance followers and engagement.

In the past year, brands and marketers have also tried to approach more accurate measurements of impact. Although influencer marketing remains top-of-the-funnel, attempts at understanding and triangulating its effectiveness in various ways can deliver insight that helps justify deeper commitments to the activity.

All of these developments are signs that influencers are becoming validated as a serious part of the marketing mix, and the coming year will see the sector approach maturity. So what can we expect from influencer marketing in 2019? Here are the three key trends to consider.

A shift in discussion from "Who" to "How"

2018 was all about brands learning who to work with, but in 2019 the focus will be on how to activate them.

When it comes to working with influencers, there are currently three types of marketer. Those who aren’t doing it at all (a category that is becoming smaller and smaller), those who are working with influencers in order to tick a marketing box, but aren’t doing it in a very interesting way (this is the majority of brands today), and those that are really pushing the envelope and coming up with creative ways to collaborate with creators.

Over the coming year, more and more marketers will realise that they need to be in the latter category. As businesses begin partnering with a mix of influencers and putting more marketing budget into the activity, the importance of a good brief that extracts the most creative interpretation will become increasingly important. Even the biggest critics of influencer marketing do not necessarily believe that it is a bad way to market products, just that most brands are currently doing it badly. There is a need for it to be done more elegantly, in a less superficial way.

Brands who learn to activate influencers in interesting ways will cut through the noise and win over consumers who are becoming increasingly frustrated by soulless product features.

Regulation stabilising

Up until now, there hasn’t been much pressure on Instagram to regulate accounts using fake followers and engagement – this responsibility has been placed on brands, agencies, influencers and audiences to spot.

With the authenticity of influencers under the spotlight in recent months, Instagram seems to have realised that it can be a driving force in improving the industry. The platform understands that its core contributors are starting to rely on revenue from sponsored content. Mounting defenses against inorganic activity will make brands feel more comfortable working with creators again and restore trust in the influencer marketing sector. Ensuring quality and accuracy of influencer marketing campaigns improves the user experience and ultimately Instagram’s usage, retention and growth, so we’re likely to see it acknowledge this fact and take steps to address it over the coming year.

Following the backlash in 2018 around influencers not disclosing paid partnerships and the industry-wide demand for greater transparency, #ad will also see acceptance as a form of regulation. Consumers today are aware of sponsored content and are not opposed to these types of posts as long they are clearly labeled (and quality content). Both brands and influencers have gotten the hint that audiences are pretty discerning about dishonesty, and this fact will continue to encourage effective regulation without the need for policing.

Influencers capturing ‘indie’ brands

An overarching trend over the past several years has been indie brands challenging big FMCG companies - just look at craft brewing and cosmetics. Influencers have been riding this wave for a while, using their existing audience and talent for marketing themselves as a leg up to become entrepreneurs. 2019 will have more and more influencers launching their own brands, and we will see them begin taking over the indie brand space. Eventually, I believe they will be able to capture this whole sector, ushering in an era of marketing first, product second.

Traditionally, the model has been to launch a brand, and then use marketing to promote it. Influencers are flipping that model on its head - they amass an audience first, and then just need an idea and potentially a manufacturer, shortcutting both marketing and retailers and creating a direct link to consumers. They are more than just the face of the brand, they are the brand – an attractive concept for a generation of consumers who care deeply about the values of the companies they support, and who are more selective than ever about the brands they choose to align themselves with.

In a sentence, 2019 will be the year influencer marketing and its stars start to be taken seriously. The rapidly growing industry has been surrounded by skepticism, critique and its fair share of growing pains since the start, but it’s here to stay. Social media is tipping the power from brands to creators, and in 2019, it’s about time we start realising it.

Solberg Audunsson is co-founder and CEO of leading influencer marketing platform Takumi. Takumi turned three years old this month, but their team has been involved in the influencer marketing game since the very beginning. To date, they have helped generate over 31,000 pieces of content and work with more than 15,000 influencers and 750 brands, the likes of Nike, Kellogg’s and Amazon. They have offices in London, New York, Berlin and Reykjavik.

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