Sigmund Freud may be the father of marketing as we know it, but these days there are new beardy influencers on the scene in the shape and form of hipsters, whose image of old school, wholesome (and whole food) values is now used to sell everything from Fair Trade to high-end luxury brands.
Of course, hipsters are not the only social influencers today helping brands build strong relationships with customers and potential customers. But the power of personal recommendation has never been stronger in the marketplace when it comes to shifting product – and mid-level influencers who reach out to like-minded souls through social media, tweets, blogs and podcasts can help shift product and build customer loyalty often more effectively than using high-level influencers, simply by adding the personal touch.
In 2018, one of the top social media influencers is entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, whose investments include Twitter, Snapchat and Uber and whose firm VaynerMedia has worked with corporate giants such as Unilever and GE. Vaynerchuk can be found on YouTube (#DailyVee) and answering questions about social media on Facebook (#AskGaryVee).
Then there’s former Apple evangelist Gary Kawasaki – now a brand ambassador for Mercedes Benz and keynote speaker for Audi, Microsoft and, of course, Apple. Kawasaki is on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. He has 1.44 million followers on Twitter alone.
Social influencers like Vayneychuk and Kawasaki are literally all over it when it comes to social media and there are many more mega-influencers representing the high-end of social media influencing – the message from them all is inspiration, inspiration, inspiration. I did it – you can too. It’s enough to make anyone feel motivated and social influencers can get rich quick
Targeting potential customers via blogs, vlogs or other social media and paying social influencers for their endorsements can motivate potential customers simply because the social influencer has already built an audience on trust. Followers of social media gurus have the same values and outlook – meaning the influencer has done all the hard work in attracting an audience to a brand. According to Adweek, around 25% of marketers say influencer marketing is the best way to boost customer numbers, with Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube attracting the most millennials to the marketplace.
Wish fulfilment – virtually
Identifying useful social influencers before their input is required is a smart cookie – getting to know an influencer does not happen overnight, but once the relationship takes off, the brand can too. Social media posts are basically an entrée into a life and a lifestyle – exactly the hook brands need to attract consumer interest and build brand loyalty. The social influencer can become the pathway to wish fulfilment for an online audience, with each new post potentially opening up a new and enticing world, as well as engendering a sense of belonging to an aspirational and exclusive club – “people like us” –whether the brand is encapsulating homespun eco or high-roller values.
Millennials more than any other group – and millennials include lots of sub-groups, including our friendly hipster – have been found to be more responsive to peer opinion in making purchase decisions, perhaps because they have been exposed to the online community for most of their lives and empathise with and trust the concept of the online forum better than anyone. Adweek says that millennials are more cynical about traditional marketing and ads – with just 6% finding traditional online ads “credible”. In December 2017, Forbes reported that millennials say they are more likely to buy fashion online through recommendation, perhaps because of a distrust of traditional marketing, with 72% of millennials splashing the cash on fashion and beauty products featured on Instagram.
Research shows, however, that 89% of brand marketers questioned agreed that social media influencers could “positively affect” how consumers felt about a brand. That is some endorsement of the role of the social influencer in marketing strategy.
The future for social influencers
Of course, audiences change and new brands come to market, just as new influencers do. Mega-influencers have been around for a while but the intimacy of the mid-level social influencer online is still relatively new. Social media influencers may attract more discerning millennials than other tried and tested marketing methods, but it remains to be seen whether brand loyalty built via social media can last a lifetime, as millennials age and the digital world changes. It may be that one day the social influencer will seem more telegram than Instagram. This means that social influencers need to change and grow as the digital world does to retain their position in marketing.
Social influencers – the new leaders of the pack
It was Viennese psychologist Ernest Dichter who came up with the theory that the irrationality of consumers in making a purchase could be used to devise a strategy of “smart selling”, based on hidden fears and whims in consumers. Dichter made a fortune from his theories, encapsulated in his book The Strategy of Desire. Basically, the consumer splashes their cash on “illusory brand images,” which, in a nutshell, means the object of our desire is not necessarily what we think it is, but what we want it to be and believe it to be: and in this day and age, is what the social influencer leads us to believe it is – something we desire and believe people like us should have because we trust the social influencer to be real.
The influencer is the new leader of the pack – but the pack is, of course, recyclable. The focus group may have shifted imperceptibly online, but moving with the times has never been more crucial for brands and social influencers in the quickfire digital age: if you want to get ahead in marketing, get ahead.