9 Influencer Marketing Trends Every Marketer Needs to Know in 2018 (and Beyond)
The discussion around influencer marketing trends is as wide as it is deep, and with good reason. Influencer marketing has evolved from a question (“is influencer marketing right for us? Is it here to stay?”) to a near-necessity in any brand’s digital marketing effort. This resulted in almost every marketer I spoke to at DealMaker New York sharing an opinion about this exciting channel. And make no mistake – there was a wide scope of opinions and expertise being shared by brands as well as influencers themselves.
Below are nine of the most significant perspectives and conversations I had about influencer marketing trends while at DealMaker New York. These trends are not only taking shape of 2018 marketing strategies but will also impact the future of influencer marketing for years to come. This is only the tip of the iceberg as far as content about these topics goes, so keep an eye out for podcast interviews and follow up posts in the weeks to come!
1. Influencer marketing’s growth means a more watchful FTC – but not necessarily at the cost of content performance.
Influencer marketing generated countless conversations throughout the DealMaker conference, with marketers looking to be as tactical as possible with this growing channel. However, one major aspect of these conversations involved FTC compliance. The growth of influencer marketing also meant a concern for mindfulness regarding partnership disclosures and making it clear when a post was an advertisement. There’s no secret in influencer marketing that the FTC is looking for compliance for both influencers and brands, with expectations from the FTC maturing alongside this popular channel. Just last fall influencers saw a first from the FTC when they cracked down on two individual influencers for failing to make proper disclosures – reigniting the cause for the necessity to remain vigilant for the sake of their partnerships and themselves.
One thing everyone agreed on is that proper disclosure helps protect both brands and influencers alike. Additionally, studies and research have shown that sponsored content doesn’t negatively affect how a post performs with “nearly identical like rates” between sponsored and non-sponsored posts. In other words, the FTC’s watchful eye should be taken seriously but there shouldn’t be heavy concerns about how a disclosure could impact the content’s performance. Check out our blog post for ways to comply with partnership disclosures, and make sure that whether you’re a brand or influencer, you’re keeping yourself safe and your marketing experiences authentic.
2. Starting influencer marketing relationships is challenging for newer influencers.
One thing I’ve always liked about DealMaker (and marketing conferences like DealMaker) is that it allows brands to discover new partners they may not have considered before. For influencer marketers, this is a huge opportunity. But there’s a problem: many mid-sized or smaller influencers aren’t entirely sure how to take the “first step” towards building a relationship with a brand. These influencers have what they need to be successful, from a good and loyal audience to content that creates compelling engagements. But finding a way to show their influencer capabilities in a way that’s meaningful for a brand is a mystery. This is a barrier that can cause a loss on both sides of the coin: influencers lose the opportunity to make money and work with brands, and brands lose potential partners and the chance to tap into new customers.
Brands and new influencers alike are exploring creative “foot-in-the-door” opportunities that will help bring them together. DealMaker is one of many opportunities that I saw act as a “stepping stone” for newer influencers, but it’s certainly not the last. Another one that comes to mind is the Bonus Box program that Rakuten Marketing offers to influencers and brands. Influencers looking to learn more about getting started should also subscribe to this very blog, as we’ll be putting out regular content on how to get started as an influencer to help newer influencers emerge.
3. Authenticity will be the metric everyone wants…and nobody knows how to define.
Just the idea of having “authenticity” in content seems like an automatic must-have for most marketers. I heard discussions about “authentic” content marketing and influencer marketing all throughout DealMaker – and with good reason. Shoppers love authenticity because they’re getting something “real” as opposed to generic copy or – even worse – something that tries to “trick” them into participating in the marketing experience.
Every marketer wants authenticity, but there’s a problem: nobody seems to know how to measure it.
The challenge is that “authentic” content in influencer marketing isn’t something defined by marketers or quantified to a KPI. Authenticity is defined by the audience that’s engaging with the content and it’s the responsibility of the marketer to understand what their audience considers authentic and then deliver on it.
That’s where influencers are so critical. They are the experts of their audience. They know what their audience likes, how they want to hear about something, and what matters most. Advertisers can leverage an influencer’s understanding of their audience to bring authenticity to their brands. They can accomplish this by trusting the influencer to represent their brand in a way that is real. This includes letting the influencer talk about the brand in a way they would normally talk, share personal experiences about using the brand or products, and relating this to what the audience wants. What brands will be challenged with, however, is letting the influencers do this on their own – really trusting them to be who they are and represent the brand to their audience. It’s even scarier to think about when there’s no set KPI to determine if they truly are being authentic. This is a weird, philosophical conversation that I heard a lot of as I walked through the halls of DealMaker but it’s a conversation that will continue to grow in the digital marketing space and one we’ll be exploring further with future content.
4. Influencers are expanding
Beauty, fashion and apparel verticals are widely recognized for the impact that influencers have in the marketing space, with verticals like video games and lifestyle not far behind. As consumers continue to trust influencers that have authority over certain spaces, expect influencers to become more widely recognized in niche channels as well. These types of areas can range from niche markets to subsections of growing markets (think “retro video game collector” influencers within the broader “video games” category). Having this wide range provides two huge advantages for brands and consumers. First, it helps brands identify more niched audiences who will still care about the brand but may not have discovered it yet. Second, it provides brands with a natural connection to these audiences through the influencers by understanding what they care about because the influencer provides that for them. This allows a slew of new brands in different verticals to leverage this digital channel.
Of all the influencer marketing trends I picked up on while at DealMaker, this one probably had me the most excited. By now it’s been proven that influencer marketing isn’t a niche channel but this takes it one step further and proves that the channel is growing and has viability beyond specific verticals or categories.
5. Influencers are helping brands tap into a global market
Influencer marketing is global. In a recent interview we published with Alex Hart of 55 Haitao, we discussed “key opinion leaders” (KOLs) in the Chinese marketplace – and how those KOLs can help international brands reach Chinese consumers. Similar to how the expansion of influencers in even more niche industries will benefit brands in niche verticals, the global expansion of influencers will help brands reach new audiences overseas. However, This will take more than just building brand awareness as new strategies for ordering and delivering the products will need to be considered. All this was covered in the podcast interview with Hart, and we highly recommend you listen to it.
6. Influencers help reduce creepiness
Customers like personalization, but you know what they don’t like? Personalization that goes too far. There’s a fine line between providing a customer experience that feels personal and authentic, and one that feels…a little creepy. During DealMaker New York 2018 we recorded a podcast interview on this very topic, which will be released later this summer. This interview brings up one important point that we would like to address now: brands want to improve personalization while also reducing the creepiness factor. Brands will rely on influencers to help accomplish that. Influencers provide an authentic and honest experience for their audience while simultaneously advocating for the brand. There’s a balance that influencers help brands accomplish, increasing the positivity of the customer experiences while decreasing the negative aspects of personalized touchpoints.
7. Influencers will expand their own brand
One thing I discussed with many influencers at DealMaker was their effort to grow their personal brand further by diversifying what they offer. Their audience already followed them for the insight and content they provided but now they wanted to find more ways to engage with their audience – as well as potentially expand their reach. This included new mediums, such as video content or podcasts, as well as new ways to leverage what they’re doing, such as live video streaming. Many influencers speak on panels or participate in events that help them promote themselves to brands, while also using the opportunity to reach out to their audience by showing some of the interesting things they’re up to – providing a different perspective on who they are and making them seem more real. Influencers who have an audience are taking the next step to engage with them more and that means more opportunities for brands to do the same.
8. Influencers are consumers – and they’ll treat working with advertisers as such
Influencers have a key goal: connect their audience to products and brands the audience will love. That means understanding who the audience is, what they want, and – most importantly – what they expect from the influencer. The best way the influencer can deliver on all of this is to be selective themselves when it comes to partnering with brands. One thing that many influencers expressed to me at DealMaker was that they cared about who they partnered with because those partnerships were a reflection on them – one their audience would see and assess. Make a poor partnership and it’s a loss on the partnership in the long run and loss in the eyes of their audience in the short. The solution? Influencers are picking brands like they would if they were shopping for a product themselves. Brands should actually consider this a win – if an influencer is selective enough that they’re imagining their own money being invested in the process. This means that when they do partner with a brand, they’re likely to speak to reasons why they would invest in the product or brand when they bring it up to their audience. This is important because it puts the influencer in the same position as the audience, and makes the recommendation not only more relatable but more real and powerful for the audience as well.
9. Time is money for everyone
One thing I heard while at DealMaker was that brands are coming around to the idea that influencers are a long-term investment. There’s no “short-term” influencer campaign. It’s not a billboard you slap up over the highway and leave for a few months as traffic goes by, hoping to build awareness and acquire new customers. Influencers are living, breathing partnerships that require a long-term commitment for each campaign in order for the message to resonate over time. Going too short will make the audience quickly forget about the influencer’s partnership with the brand because it didn’t really mean anything to begin with. With more brands coming around to this realization, influencers are having an easier time highlighting the ROI on longer campaigns. But there’s still work to be done, and many brands who are smaller or don’t have the budget for a long-term campaign must find a solution that works for them. That could be working with smaller influencers with a smaller cost, or structuring their payouts a bit differently. No matter what, brands must find a way to work with and invest in their influencer partnerships for the long run because the long term is what pays off!