The influencer marketing industry has witnessed a very quick rise of the professionalization of influencers and the surrounding ecosystem in 2018 marked by Viacom’s acquisition of WHOSAY at the start of the year. WHOSAY President of Sales Rob Gregory posits influence marketing has been fueled by humans' unwavering trust in other humans—even as their distrust in some institutions hits an all-time high.
“The good news is that humans still trust other humans and, in many ways, they trust other humans more and are enabled to do that more deeply than ever before,” Gregory told a group of marketers at a Brand Innovators conference in New York City.
Sharing economy companies such as Uber and Airbnb demonstrate that the Internet has empowered consumers to choose to engage with other humans—even if they’re total strangers—rather than with certain corporations. “The sharing economy relies on users to be trustworthy and to trust each other,” he said.
Gregory argues that influencer marketing, though in its teenage years, is here to stay. The WHOSAY executive compared it to traditional television advertising. “If you think about how long it took for TV commercials to go from clunky, cheesy black and white vignettes to really clever and believable advertising, it took decades,” he said. “This movie is moving much, much faster.”
From the era of rented or sponsored tweets with images of celebrities holding a product or posing with it in the background, influence marketing has evolved into premium, high-quality storytelling—the kind of advertising WHOSAY excels at—which is based on deep data and science to match talent with the brand in order to tell rich, premium stories such as Pampers Pure campaign with Chrissy Teigen.
“We believe there are four key pillars to doing this right,” said Gregory. “Authority. For example, Chrissy Teigen has the authority to tell mom stories and because she is a mom, and she’s a real person.”
He added Relevance to the mix, “Because we’re targeting other moms or fans of Chrissy, John [Legend] or other projects and elements of the culture they’re connected to,” said Gregory. “The Authenticity comes from her not trying to BS about the fact that having kids is not easy.”
The last part, which Gregory says is the most important component, is the Value Exchange. “We prioritize this at WHOSAY and we use an acronym, UFIRE, which stands for Useful, Funny, Inspiring, Relatable or Emotional.” He said that content must “check one or more of these boxes” in order to provide some value to the audience.
The evolution of influence marketing is further evidenced by its subdivision into different categories, said Gregory, citing micro influencers as a big and popular trend. “We think that’s great and that there are ways to do it right and safely,” he said.
It’s no wonder that 67% of marketers believe influencer campaigns produce more impactful results than digital ads. “Obviously,” said Gregory. “They’re a terrific fix for a lot of what is wrong with digital advertising, transparency, interruption, ad blocking and all these things.”
This is not to say traditional advertising is all of all sudden irrelevant. “Traditional media advertising, interruptive advertising still works in certain situations,” said Gregory. “If it’s awareness, absolutely. If a brand wants to present third party facts that are empirically supported [...] that’s how traditional advertising still works [and] it’s a pretty straightforward proposition.”
“But if you’re trying to do other things such as changing consumers minds and get the idea across to them with believability and trust that your company is purpose-driven and that it stands for sustainability or that you are not what consumers thought you were, that’s where third-party credibility really works out.”
“We think influencer marketing is one of the best ways to do that and it should be part of a mainstream marketing strategy, not something that sits on the side."
Lastly, Gregory closed with a few predictions for the future of influence marketing, based on insights from 450+ campaigns at WHOSAY for dozens of brands with dozens of talent and billions of impressions.
The Professionalization of Influencer Marketing: Evidenced by things such as WHOSAY’s Statement of Authenticity and video auditions for micro-influencers to asses professionalism and brand safety.
A Balance between organic and paid media: “It wasn’t that long ago that the client said things like, ‘well yeah one of the influencers we used in the campaign had 11 million followers on Twitter so we got 11 million impressions, right?’ And we said, ‘No, that’s not how this works.”
“We believe very strongly in backing or supplementing organic with paid," said Gregory, adding that the algorithms have changed and organic accounts for 5% or less of the reach. "What you really have to think about is," he said. "Can the talent persuade an audience that’s a good fit for your brand beyond his or her immediate organic following?”
The Value Exchange. "We talked about that," said Gregory. "We think this is gonna be, as the novelty of all this wears off, the true value in the content exchange is gonna be important.”
Talent boom: Gregory referred to "all these original shows for Netflix, Amazon and HBO, according to THR there are 500+ original shows in development right now." The WHOSAY President said these productions provided a "fantastic farm team for rising talent of influence and celebrities: young digital natives who have really passionate followings and fan bases. "They," Gregory said. "Have no stigma about working with brands, they’re very eager to do it and they’re eager to do it right.”
A Co-Creation Revolution: Gregory said that a lot more brands are interested in hiring not just influencers or spokespeople but what he calls “spokesfluencers” a fascinating middle ground between a one-off influencer for hire and the traditional endorsement or and talent "that can really co-create with the brands over time.”
Influence beyond mobile: "This is one of the things that we’re very excited about WHOSAY a Viacom company," he said. "That’s something that can and could, and increasingly does, live on linear TV as a 15-second or 30-second linear unit." "We think at home experiential shopper marketing, retailtainment, in-store all of these places are opportunities to bring influencer marketing beyond mobile themes.
Header photo credit: Jenn Evelyn-Ann