As more brands choose to pay “influencers” to chase relevance, the resulting marketplace will not be able to sustain itself in its current state. This has given rise to a bubble formed by the staggering amount of “influencer marketing platforms” that profess to match brands to influencers and track performance, but avoid the responsibility of delivering quality content and business results.
These platforms rely on the industry to tell itself that influencer marketing works, and the only thing that stands between you and success are good decisions about who to work with.
Influencer marketing platforms are part of the solution, not the solution itself. As agencies increasingly “white label” these platforms as their own, they are unwillingly creating a bubble. By not properly training people on how to actually collaborate with influencers, a bubble has formed that results in too many influencer campaigns, that pay too many people too much money, and don’t deliver the business results that advertisers will need to see to prove sustainability.
Furthermore, we know younger people trust people they see as “peers” more than they trust “celebrities”. But as we indiscriminately continue to line the pockets of influencers are we just turning them into celebrities whose trust will be eroded by their financial success?
This bubble is going to burst. As today’s media continues to fragment, and as platforms and algorithms get more powerful, we’ve got to elevate the art and science of collaborating with the right people into something that will work for tomorrow, or brands will rule out the approach altogether without fully realizing its true potential.
The fact is, the term “influencer” is a misnomer. It’s an artifact of a bygone era. In most cases, the people that brands most want to work with are creators and programmers (in the TV sense). They know their audiences, and know what makes them engage. These creators are basically miniature media properties, but without the infrastructure and experience. So an entire economy was built around taking advantage of them.
But that will change.
The future of “influencer marketing” will look very different than it does today. If you want a glimpse, just keep reading.
Today: Influencers are chosen and worked with like “earned media”. // Tomorrow: Influencers are evaluated like “paid media” and briefed like “creatives”.
Don’t believe the hype about “turning over your brand to influencers”. I’ve seen this happen in the world of publishing too. Too many brands are trusting publishers to develop content without restraint. What results is content that is made for their audience, but is too far away from the brand to deliver business outcomes that justify the strategy.
Influencers aren’t earned media. They expect to get paid. And if they get paid, they should be treated with the respect of people that make stuff-that-audiences-want for a living. They should be collaborated with. They should be briefed properly. The content they make with you, the brand, should be the kind of content they’ve been dying to make but didn’t have your bankroll to do it with. And they should be guided towards making the kind of content that will keep the brand coming back for more, because it worked. This new breed of influencers are making more visual content than the previous generation of bloggers, and their content should be held to a different creative standard.
Today: Influencer marketing platforms are built for exits at technology multiples. // Tomorrow: Platforms are a commodity that facilitate workflow.
Influencer marketing platforms are built to scale. Most facilitate the matching of influencers to brands. But that’s as far as they go. The more campaigns they can facilitate, the more value they theoretically build for themselves. Doing anything more would make them service companies, with much lower vacluations than technology companies.
To this day, most exits for influencer marketing platforms have been soft landings for founders and (some) employees. There isn’t enough demand from prospective buyers, and not enough differentiation between platforms to deliver the exits that many investors are expecting. There will most likely be a correction in whatever valuations these companies have previously set, and a recalibration of expectations from investors. Once that happens, we’ll see consolidation that will see these platforms morph into workflow management tools that operate behind the scenes for a newer crop of creatives, strategists and buyers, that know how to get the best content out of influencers and creators.
Today: Influencer marketing has a very long tail. // Tomorrow: Scarcity will creep in.
Influencer marketing platforms exist today, in part, to help brands select from a seemingly endless supply of influencers. But as we get better about measuring the effectiveness of influencer marketing, we’ll learn that not every influencer can deliver meaningful results, much less engagement.
The path to success for most brands will be working with fewer, better, more collaborative influencers and creators. Quality will trump quantity in terms of delivering results — whether those results are views, engagements, brand lift, or sales. The ones that deliver quality and results will be the greatest demand, not the ones with the biggest reach. Reach and results are not necessarily correlated. Besides, when it comes to influencers & creators, reach is a flawed metric on most platforms; once you get to a certain level of popularity, the bots show up to the party.
Today: Influencer marketing is a jump ball. // Tomorrow: Influencer marketing is a turnkey service.
Nobody really knows where influencer marketing belongs in an organization, or which type of agency (PR? Media? Creative?) should be responsible for it. Since platforms need to sell as much access to their databases as possible, they sell to everyone. So everyone uses these platforms to deliver their white-labeled solution. But unfortunately for brands, those solutions only go halfway. By over-relying on platforms to deliver influencer campaigns (something they are not built to go all the way on), service companies have forgone their responsibility to deliver the best product to their clients.
What will emerge is a new breed of creative partner who collaborates with others for a living. A partner that will combine the best of technology, with the best collaborative creative strategists, to work with the best creators across all platforms. Influencer (OK, creator) marketing should be part of an integrated marketing plan, and the best partners will play nice with others.
The future of influencer marketing is an exciting one, but the sub-genre will undergo a correction before it finds its equilibrium. But the opportunity that lies on the other side will be worth sticking around for.