The Evolution of Influence

Google trends show how, over the past 5 years, the term “influencer marketing” has steadily been used more and more by curious web surfers. Fortunately, a deeper understanding by marketers of the topic has also grown alongside this trend line as it was not that long ago that most marketers had a very singular – and incorrect – idea of what influencer marketing was. Influencer marketing was seen by most in its celebrity form only. In other words, it was mislabeled as that channel that exploited the popularity of famous people for the benefit of brands. To be fair, that description is not necessarily incorrect, but rather it is merely one facet of what is now a thriving and well-accepted part of marketing strategy.

Let’s go back a bit and start by asking what influencer marketing is, and where it came from? Well simply put, and to answer the first part of the question, it is a form of collaboration of a brand with an individual where that individual uses their personal sway to endorse or promote the products or services of that brand. It, therefore, has a foundation on the oldest and most valuable tenant of marketing – word of mouth. My standard quip on word of mouth is that it is as old as Eve convincing Adam to bite into the forbidden fruit. That aside I don’t think there would be too many people that would argue that it remains the most effective form of marketing.  

Photo by Tom Swinnen from Pexels

So, the second part of the question is answered by understanding the impact that social media has had on word of mouth and that is to create the space for word of mouth to happen at scale. Word of mouth and its Siamese twin, influence, are no longer limited by having to be in the physical proximity of others to be effective, and that – i.e. the addition of the internet and social media – is what accounts for the rapid adoption of influencer marketing into the marketing mix.

The budgets being spent by marketers on influencer marketing are almost incredible, but not surprising. This is partly due to the realisation that digital touchpoints are fast becoming dominant aspects of all media plans, but it is more aligned to understanding that people are less and less enamoured by brands attempting to seduce them by talking at them, and more and more reliant on each other when it comes to making purchasing decisions. Indeed, it is the perceived lack of pure motive of the brands that make the trust and authenticity of others (=influence) so appealing.

But, the impetus behind influencer marketing’s rocketing adoption, is also premised on the increased understanding by marketers of the multiple options available within the singular term. Notable amongst these is the rise of micro and nano influencers as a powerful option available to marketers, and the utilisation of this subset to allow smaller budgets to effectively get in on the action. And, the ever-increasing utilisation of employee influencers as part of the communication set (see theIntern-ship.co.za) highlights how fast influencer marketing in all its multiple permutations is being adopted by marketers.

Take a look at this graphic, produced by theSALT on what is correctly and cleverly titled the democratisation of influence.

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Not only does it highlight the exponential growth in spending in recent times, but it also neatly outlines how influencer marketing has become accessible by all kinds of budget sizes, from huge to small, and how individuals that have small yet highly influential networks, have been able to be involved on the influencer side of the equation.

The bottom line is that influencer marketing has grown up and has firmly earned its permanent seat at the marketing table, and whilst social media channels may ebb and flow in their relevance over time and with certain target markets, it is here to stay as an effective and essential consideration for marketers.

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