Influencer marketing is not a fad
A view from Jules Lund

Influencer marketing is not a fad

Influencer marketing is not going anywhere. The industry is moving towards a world in which brands seek ongoing engagement over and above commerce.

"Influencer marketing is a bubble, and it’s about to burst," proclaimed a recent headline in Campaign.

Beyond the attention-grabbing rhetoric, the piece concluded that, done well, influencer marketing is very effective for brands.

The article had been written partly as a reaction to the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP)’s recent issuance of fresh guidelines for brands working with influencers, and the body’s calls for more transparency around the labelling of sponsored posts. It ties in with recent news that the ASA ordered an Instagrammer to take down a post for failing to identify it as a marketing (paid for) communication.

What this burgeoning industry needs, we were told, is to take responsibility. This brings influencer marketing into the spotlight, as the latest scapegoat in wider murmurings about the "wild west" of digital marketing.

But the fact is that digital marketing – and this includes influencer marketing – is maturing all the time. It’s not going anywhere. And, with AI now the next big thing – we are moving inevitably towards a world in which brands seek ongoing engagement over and above commerce.

Time and again, we’ve heard how the TV advertising of the past was all about push or broadcast mechanics, while today’s digital world is more about the "pull". To say that word-of-mouth marketing – AKA influencer marketing – is dead is, frankly, ridiculous.

Genuine recommendations and endorsements are, and always have been, the Holy Grail for brands.

Yet, while the industry rightly discusses the best ways to label sponsored posts, to my mind this talk risks missing the point. Effective brand engagement is effective brand engagement, however it’s labelled.

It comes down to this – we are all consumers and we are all creators.

Genuine recommendations and endorsements are, and always have been, the Holy Grail for brands.

We’ve seen how influencer marketing is shifting away from celebrities and towards everyday citizens celebrating the brands they already use and love. Thanks to technology, brands can now manage hundreds of influencers in the time it took to manage one, with greater results and impressive cost efficiencies.

Indeed, these "micro-influencers" have already cultivated a level of trust with their communities which goes far beyond that of celebrities.

They’ve built their tribe one by one, post by post – and as a result they have earned high levels of engagement.

We see enormous power in the everyday influencer who engages authentically with their audience and understands what resonates with their tribe better than anyone else.

What’s more, every brand with a social platform is in need of a continuous pipeline of premium content. A brand which allows its advocates to create some of that content is simply a logical next step.

At every opportunity we urge influencers to disclose sponsorship. The brand and the influencer have a responsibility to be true to themselves and their brand – to ensure no one is being misled. In any case, consumers work it out anyway. They are smart.

Calls for greater transparency are part of this maturation process, and they are a positive thing.

For the first time in history we can activate genuine word-of-mouth marketing at scale – and with the ease of buying display advertising. The success of influencer marketing hinges on the relationship between the influencer and the consumer, and is based on an economy of trust.

As a follower, I can just as easily unfollow an influencer as I can follow them. This is a living, breathing and very human relationship, and it’s this authenticity which underpins the model itself.

Working out the correct labelling issue for posts is necessary, but whatever the outcome may be, it won’t herald the kiss of death for the industry.

A multi-billion dollar industry I might add, that Google, Adobe and Amazon all recently entered.

Jules Lund is the founder of Tribe.