Celebrity endorsements have always been essential to a brand or product’s success – think Suzanne Somers and the Thighmaster. But today’s influencers go beyond commercials or As Seen On TV ads, recognizing that curating a personal relationship with their followers creates a more relatable point of view and transforms their following into a ready-made audience for brands. Needless to say, influencer marketing is quickly growing and agencies are finally catching on to its impact.
According to a 2017 survey, 37% of marketers surveyed now have a dedicated influencer marketing budget and 67% expected their influencer budget to increase. It’s smart business, as 55% of consumers 18-24 trust influencer posts, and consumers 25-34 are twice as likely to trust what influencers say about a brand over what a brand says about themselves.
Considering the brand and audience impact, the logical next step would be to incorporate influencer marketing into the experiential realm. Luckily, the industry agrees. As Adweek put it, “Experiential is the yin to influencer marketing’s yang.” Experiential and influencer marketing both focus on fostering brand authenticity and audience engagement. However, influencers are the missing puzzle piece in effectively leveraging audience trust.
Influencers already have a strong, and sometimes personal, relationship with their fans. Social media and sponsorship opportunities have only heightened this relationship, providing influencers the ability to actively respond to comments, retweet posts and even recommend favorite products. Leveraging that trust with personal appearances, endorsements, and partnerships creates new opportunities for brand growth and impactful activation potential.
Other ways influencers are reaching fans and consumers involve:
Creating “real” content and interactions – Authenticity in marketing remains essential, and experiential and social are the best examples of that. Brands recognize that trust between brands, consumers, and influencers is increasingly important. Unilever recently announced that it will not work with influencers who buy their social media following, and it will also not buy its own followers. Maintaining transparency with a social strategy creates a dialogue between brand, influencers and fans that stresses trust and real experiences.
Virtual influencers — AI avatars meant to mimic the social media behaviors of live influencers have gained attention for their seemingly realistic posts, photos, and ability to attract investors and brands. One notable bot, Lil Miquela, has over one million Instagram followers and has recently partnered with Prada and Diesel. Though, these bots raise questions about the future of AI and brands. AI influencers have the potential to reach new audiences in categories like gaming, as gamers are already active in virtual worlds. But if bots become profitable without expecting profit in return, how will current influencers adapt when AI bots are programmed to say exactly what brands want? Will there still be a need for human influencers?
Reaching a younger, newer audience – Some entrepreneurial teens are recreating the definition of a summer gig, shifting from babysitter or retailer to professional influencer. These seemingly average kids are more relatable to family audiences, and jump at the opportunity to promote brands they believe in along with their own personal image. Brands recognize that teens trust the recommendations of their friends, and take advantage of their organic social reach and authentic posting habits to reach extended audiences. As Gen Z abandons traditional media and advertising, teen influencers will become more important to branded experiences as they get in on the ground floor of making a name for themselves with brands.
Above all, authenticity remains the most important part of influencer and experiential marketing. An important piece to consider is how to choose effective influencers. Working with an influencer whose social media presence and public persona already aligns with your brand’s values brings more trust and transparency to how they interact with an audience. As consumers become savvier, it will become more apparent when an influencer is just shilling for a brand they don’t believe in or are working off a script written in-house.
Influencers and experiential marketing, as they co-exist, are the most immediate ways to bring a brand to life. Seamlessly incorporating influencers at all stages of an experience helps generate buzz and encourages brand engagement long after the experience is over. As authentic marketers and brand partners, influencers give fans a reason to attend an event and provide a “human” face and personality to a brand that an audience can trust.