How Can Brands Effectively Partner With Influencers?

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The 10 biggest influencers in the world of fashion alone carry 23 million followers on Instagram. The unquestionable impact of these trend setters on consumer habits has inspired retailers to engage with them via social media in order to reach a targeted audience.  I was lucky enough to attend “Influencers are the Next Generation Retailers”, a panel session which took place at SXSW’s 2018. It’s been a while now, but I finally sat down to tell you about it.

At OXYGEN, we help brands connect with influencers. 20 years ago, PR professionals were solely pitching to journalists. Today, proactively sharing the story behind a brand also means dealing with another type of audience: influencers. For consumers, these online thought leaders - with a moderate to very large online popularity - are a trustworthy source of curated information regarding products or services. No matter the size of their follower base, many resonate with consumers in a very powerful way because they’re a human face with experiences people can relate to. Utilizing social media influencers adds a personal touch that amplifies your marketing efforts. Retailers now understand they can’t ignore this additional link in the value chain. On the contrary, taking advantage of a thriving social media relationship with their followers has quickly become the holy grail! In the following paragraphs we’ll share some insights on how to effectively connect with these 4.0 trendsetters in an impactful way.

Retailers have learned that having a one-on-one relationship with trendsetters - very early in the product cycle - can help them access end consumers in a more authentic and impactful way.

Influencers Did Shake the Value Chain

The influencer market is worth $2 billion globally and is set to achieve $10 billion by 2020. According to Gartner, 91% of clothing brands reported partnering with trend creators, and 83% of beauty brands did the same. Influencers themselves have now embarked on designing and manufacturing their own product lines. Thanks to their existing online community, influencers began acting like retailers. Some even started direct selling and built their own ecommerce website.

Journalist Maghan McDowell, who moderated the SXSW panel, outlined the major dynamic shifts that have occurred in the retail industry due to the recent rise of influencers. First, in comparison with the time when publishers were the only taste makers, trends are now changing faster and collections are multiplying. What’s more, product discovery and development are happening through influencers as well. In other words, retailers’ go-to-market strategy has transformed dramatically since influencers stepped in. In an era where direct-to-consumer matters more and more, retailers have learned that having a one-on-one relationship with trendsetters - very early in the product cycle - can help them access end consumers in a more authentic and impactful way. As a result, brands are listening more carefully to the creators and their audiences.

The Era of Micro-Influencers is Rising

Speaking about her followers, lifestyle and beauty blogger Ashley Robertson, known as The Teacher Diva said, “they’re like my friends.” We’re usually easily impressed by statistics, but a large number of followers doesn’t necessarily correlate with high engagement from the audience (proportion of likes and comments compared to the size of the audience). It also doesn’t reflect the commitment of the influencer toward the audience (likeliness to actively interact with the community). From the panel’s perspective, retailers have started turning their back on Instagram celebrities touting millions of followers. In the meantime, micro-influencers - those accounts followed by a few  thousand users - demonstrate a higher eagerness to engage with their audience by responding to each comment in a personalized way. Because their audiences appear more “manageable” compared to a million follower base, they are logically more available to maintain direct contact with their audience.

Rethinking the tricky “Brand-Influencer” Relationship

If poorly handled, a “brand-influencer” relationship could potentially lead to a lack of trust and confusion on the end consumers, to the detriment of both the brand and the influencer. Ashley Robertson confirmed that retailers have started creating influencer budgets, which wasn’t the case only five years ago. A recent study claimed that about 40% of marketers had planned to increase their budget dedicated to influencers management in 2018. But how to make the most of those budgets? In the music industry, we’ve already seen streaming platforms innovatively supporting creators. For instance, Spotify has launched the Secret Genius project, a springboard for promising songwriters to begin their music careers. By analogy, retail players could begin nudging influencers beyond the traditional communication partnership or financial deals. For example, online beauty community Ipsy is offering photo studio space in downtown Los Angeles where creators can access to high quality equipment. And just like YouTube partnered with Genius to offer interactive Snapchat-like “Behind The Scenes” content for artists, retailers could start empowering influencers to generate creative assets around the internal design and manufacturing processes.

Including Creators in the Design Process

Listening intently to the influencers within the retail industry matters too. How can you invite them to be part of your content creation and enrich your story? Greater effectiveness may be found in reaching out to influencers for feedback - following a test-and-learn approach - rather than pursuing an actual product review in return of financial compensation. In this regard, Poshmark, a social marketplace for fashion, has been experiencing an interesting value proposition. It’s now creating matches between creators and brands. Based on its data, the startup is able to spot the trendiest creators in any given category and facilitate the best partnerships to meet the needs of one specific brand. According to Tracy Sun, Poshmark has encouraged 60-70 brand partnerships so far.

With the rise of micro-influencers one may question  what the minimal size of a follower base must be to be considered an influencer. Tracy Sun is answering that question: “All of us are influencers. Everybody who shares his/her point of view somewhere is somehow an influencer.” In the end, it’s all about how brands can interact with their target consumers in a way that feels direct, authentic, and personalized.