You can no longer afford to be cynical about influencer marketing (#SORRYNOTSORRY)

Claire Riding
By Claire Riding | 12 May 2022
Claire Riding

Claire Riding is Strategy Director Content & Partnerships at Wavemaker.

Influencer marketing is delivering real results for brands so it’s time for our industry to shed the cynicism and embrace the opportunities, argues Wavemaker’s Claire Riding.

I never intended to become an influencer marketing expert. However, with influencer briefs growing exponentially over the past year at Wavemaker, it was admittedly very much a case of get onboard or miss the boat. 

Globally in 2022, 71% of senior marketers are set to increase their investment in branded content by influencers – this is second only to online video ads at 76% (WARC Data Points, September 2021). APAC reflects this trend with 70% of brand owners in 2022 set to do the same – and in equal proportion I might add, to their increased investment in Gaming (WARC Exclusive, January 2022). 

Why then, do so many of us still roll our eyes at the mention of the word ‘influencer’, yet quickly agree that Gaming is an untapped advertising opportunity for marketers? Is it a case of envy? If only I was earning upwards of AU$ 1500* for every social media post (Refinery29, 2021). Or embarrassment even? No, I did not buy those vita-gummies / leggings / martini glasses…only because Jules Sebastien does (#ad). 

Influencer marketing breaks the traditional borders of creativity

Before we dive into the business case for influencer marketing… imagine for a moment you’re a teenage trainspotter living on the outskirts of West London, quietly minding your own business spotting trains…when suddenly, fast forward a year later, and you have amassed over 2.1 million fans, 37 million likes, and are taking centre stage in the latest Gucci x North Face ad. 

Now imagine you’re a chess-playing 19-year-old, bored at home in Nairobi during a global pandemic…when suddenly, fast forward a year later, and you have amassed 2.5 million fans, are getting calls from Vogue and have become a brand ambassador for Fenty, as well as Beats by Dre.

And if you think #livingyourbestinfluencerlife is restricted to teens with niche hobbies…now imagine you’re an 80-something Taiwanese grandparent quietly running your little laundry business as you have done for decades…when suddenly, fast forward a year later, and your grandson is dressing you up in unclaimed clothes with a fresh pair of New Balance kicks, which ultimately leads to you walking the red carpet at Taipei Fashion Week.

These three examples are evidence of how influencers can spark a whole new world of creativity that breaks traditional borders. In an industry desperately in need of greater diversity of thinking, influencer marketing is a surefire way to do so. 

Of course, not every campaign will reach such heights – there will likely always be a role for pose with product influencer posts – but remaining cynical about the discipline as a whole will only restrict us from ever getting close to actualising its potential.

Influencer content is widely underleveraged 

In Australia, there are broadly three predominant ways that businesses use influencers:
1. Instagram and/or Tik Tok (YouTube is also big, but more expensive, so 90% of briefs tend to focus on the former two).
2. Discount Codes.
3. Social Amplification.

But let me tell you from the frontline…the missed opportunities are endless. 

If I were to place bets on the step-changes we’ll see in the next year it would be: 

  • Experimenting across more platforms – Twitch and Pinterest being my top picks

Twitch recently partnered with the G League, NBA’s official minor league, to broadcast 16 games over the course of this year’s season. Twitch streamers are given the opportunity to broadcast the game live to their community and bring a more authentic, ‘from the streets’ style commentary that is much more akin to watching with a knowledgeable mate than your dad who complains about the new rules. It means young fans sitting at home in their bedrooms are now hot on the heels of long-standing sports commentators sitting in studios. No doubt a good few sports will soon follow suit.

Last year, Pinterest launched its Global Pinterest Creator Code, holding creators to account to promote greater online positivity and kindness. I am personally looking forward to embracing more Pinterest Creators in our media mix, focusing on quality content over quantity.

US businesses are making an average of $5.20 for every $1 spent on influencer marketing (HypeAuditor, 2020). It’s no surprise then what influencers are charging, but a lot of brands are doing themselves a disservice by sticking with one-off campaigns over longer-term affiliate models. Influencers have briefs coming at them from all angles and competing brands. Exclusivity periods are almost non-existent or three months at a maximum. Implementing an affiliate program is not only likely to promote influencer accountability, it will naturally self-select the ones that are most willing to put skin in the game. Importantly, it would cement relationships between influencers and brands, allowing both to focus on long-term profitability over short-term gain.

  • Proving business results through shoppable content/social commerce

Influencer marketing isn’t the “wild west” it once was. At Wavemaker, we now guarantee influencer outcomes in the same way we would any other media channel – it’s not about total follower count (oh dear), but guaranteed reach and engagement with a specific audience. This approach de-risks our clients’ investment and consistently delivers 5% to 7% higher ad recall than benchmarks and (conservatively) two-to-three times average display CTR (internal Wavemaker data, 2022). 

However, when it comes to social commerce, marketers are still lazily relying on handle tags, link clicks and discount codes to drive purchase – all of which leave significant room for drop-off. 

The biggest opportunities we are driving across our brands and categories are:

  • Shoppable Ads testing Influencer vs Branded Content conversion (shameless punt, our work for Colgate recently won the AIMCO Best Use of Data Award for this).

  • Shoppable Livestreams measuring sales uplift in real-time (a staple in China, but rarely done here).

  • Amplifying influencer content on retailer handles which are more likely to have a social shop set up and where customers are more likely to buy. Watch this space! 

I could go on, but have now taken up 4-5 minutes of your valuable reading time. So have I convinced you? I hope so.

As I said, I was on your side of the fence once upon a time, but can now confidently say from experience that this side is much more fun – and effective. 


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