London - The rise of the Selfie is an internet phenomenon that has been well-documented over the past few years. However, an area less explored by the fashion remains the rise of the digital influencers and the marketing sway held by the individuals behind the screens taking the selfie. As appetite for word of mouth marketing from these influencers continues to grow more and more retailers and brands alike scramble to work with these leading fashion taste-makers. But what led to the rise of the social influencer? How should retailers work with them? And what approach should fashion labels be taking when working with influencers? FashionUnited takes a closer look.
The emergence of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and Twitter paved the way for people to share ideas, thoughts and information like never before. Along with consumers shifting preference towards shopping and 'show-rooming' online came the increasing inclination for a 'authentic' and trusted opinion over the marketing voice boomed by brands themselves. According to Nielsen's latest biennial Global Survey of Trust in Advertising, which polled 30,000 online individuals in 60 countries, personal recommendations are the most trusted form of advertising - with 81 percent of UK respondents agreeing to this. This is a vast difference from the 23 percent of British consumers who believe their purchasing decision is influence by brand advertising from the label itself.
Rise of digital influencer fed by consumer demand for 'authenticity' in marketing
Although influencers are certainly not new to the marketing game as the fashion industry has been working with artists, celebrities and models for over 100 years to sell their products, the rise of the digital influencer is a new addition. Rather than turning to traditional forms of advertising, consumers are turning towards these selected individuals who share their personal opinions on brands and products via social media channels for advice. As this new breed of influencers, also known as content creator or bloggers, begins to gain momentum, some of the most successful influencers are able to attract thousands and millions of followers from around the world. These influencers have gone on to become brands in their own right - just think of Chiara Ferragni, the woman behind The Blonde Salad, who is said to be "the most influential fashion blogger in the world."
"The best ones are honest, authentic, use good imagery to showcase themselves and act as a positive role model," said Estée Lalonde, lifestyle blogger during her panel at the Web Summit. "There is a real shift happening in the industry from general marketing to authentic." For many fashion brands and retailers the rise of these digital influencers has led to a new form of marketing, such as sponsored posts on social media, tapping them to star in their editorial campaigns or having them grace the front row of their catwalk shows during fashion week. However, in spite of the growing frenzy surrounding these fashion shakers and makers there are still other labels who have yet to embrace this form of marketing and may be missing out opportunities to digitally engage with consumers.
Best fashion and beauty influencers are "honest, authentic"
According to research carried out by the Fashion and Beauty Monitor, together with international research firm Ecoconsultancy, 57 percent of the 348 questioned marketing specialists currently have a influencer marketing strategy in place. 25 percent of the respondents added that they are allocating between 30 percent and 75 percent of their marketing budget to influencers, which is quite a significant amount. However, one of the main challenges for fashion retailers and brands remains identifying the right influencer, with 59 percent of respondents finding it to be a difficult task. In addition, getting a large influencer's attention and being able to engage them also presents an ongoing struggle for 59 percent of those questioned.
In order to ensure the right blogger is approached for the brand, retailers should look deeper than just follower numbers and Instagram posts. "I’d look at an influencer’s social reach, but I would also dig a bit deeper to look at the engagement they’re getting," said Rachel Bloom Senior digital account coordinator, Liberty Marketing. "I would never just look at follower numbers, as quite often you can get a follower count, but they could have bought some of those followers. We would look at their blog metrics too, such as their domain authority and their trust flow, and we’d make sure the blog looked professional, because as well as receiving a mention, most fashion and beauty brands like to receive nice photography from bloggers as well, which they can then use themselves."
"Credibility is of ultimate importance"
Budget issues also poses another issues for fashion retailers working with influencer marketing, as 63 percent of the survey respondents noted that digital influencers are an expensive outlet for smaller brands. Nevertheless 59 percent still aim to increase their marketing budget for influencers this year. However, just as having the deepest pocket for a marketing campaign does not guarantee immediate success, tapping the biggest fashion influencer will not always reap the best rewards for a brand. If the fit is not correct and the blogger's or vlogger's personal image does not align with the brand's image then it is likely to have little impact in terms of sales.
"Credibility is of ultimate importance. Someone may have a million social media followers but if they don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re irrelevant to a brand’s followers then those numbers have very little real value," pointed out Anna-Marie Solowij, founder of online retailer BeautyMart. "We have seen big numbers in social media campaigns where the uptake in terms of sales conversion has been very low. Many influencers have teenage audiences who are not necessarily active consumers."
Influencers beware of becoming "too commercial"
Although there is no denying the wielding power influencer can have over a brand, more and more of these digital content makers are also becoming wiser as to how and when they work with brands. In the past, partnerships made would have been led by the brand itself with many bloggers given product in exchange for positive copy and good image association. But times have changed and most digital influencer now expect to receive monetary rewards for working with brands according to the report - although selling product is usually never the primary focus of an influencer.
In this sense labels should also be wary with taking too much of a commercial approach when working with influencers, as consumers are able to read through the lines of product sharing versus paid product promotion. "It becomes a race to the bottom between the brand and the influencer. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours, and what’s in it for me?," said Tim Bax, creative director of iCrossing. "And as soon as it becomes too commercial, people aren't stupid, they can see what the influencers are doing. If they’re pushing stuff too much they’ll lose their voice in the community."
"Always keep your integrity
Of course, influencers should always be fairly compensated for their work but their promotion should not be solely focused on sales conversions. In this sense influencers should be wary with their approach to brands as well and not be swayed by a big pay check. "You should always keep your integrity otherwise once it's gone, it's gone!," stressed Lalonde. She added that bloggers should always follow their institution and listen to their gut feeling when it comes to promoting brands and retailers. “Influencers think that because they have some audience, they have the power. And of course they have some power, but they should be careful in how they use it,” concluded Bax.
"Influencer Marketing is not about throwing money at someone and expecting wonders to happen overnight for your brand," pointed out Sarah Penny, editor of Fashion and Beauty Monitor, at the Festival of Marketing. "It is about a long-term partnership with a person who will consistently add value to your business because of the influence they yield online."
Photos: Estée Lalonde Facebook