Meet the new influencers. They are the social media stars, the taste-makers, the judge and the jury. Here, we look at how luxury brands are increasingly leveraging them for millennial appeal.
Last week, Luxury Society published a revealing insight into the future of advertising, tackling the options and challenges faced by luxury brands as they move into the digital era.
However, while new formats of traditional advertising are shifting marketing mixes on a global scale, another emerging trend is rapidly sweeping the industry with no signs of slowing down.
Enter the new influencers. Once celebrities, ‘It Girls’ and socialites, it is now key opinion leaders (KOLs) or experts in their field, and of course – the ever-increasing band of bloggers, who have taken over as the unequivocal voice of the next generation.
Armed with social media savvy, sharp opinions, purchasing power and swathes of followers on social media channels, these players are quickly changing the game and pushing brands and marketers to rethink the way they communicate their messages to consumers.
“ Marketers are facing a major shift and change in practice ”
This “major shift” is something Daniel Saynt, CEO & Chief Creative Officer at Socialyte – The Influencer Casting Agency, can attest to, as head of the world’s largest influencer casting agency providing curated talents and qualified stats for over 10,000 creators.
His firm works with media partners such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, Nylon, Glamour, Allure, and Refinery29, amongst others, to cast and create influencer campaigns and encompasses a talent pool ranging from international fashion, beauty, mens and lifestyle influencers, photographers, to Instagram stars, Viners, Youtube celebrities, SnapChat personalities, Young Hollywood, DJs, musicians, dancers, wellness gurus, travelers, fitness advisors, video gamers, stylists, videographers, creative directors and designers.
Most interesting, however, is Socialyte’s 99.9% success rate – displayed proudly on its website for any patron to gawk at. So sure is it of the influencer pull for brands that Socialyte ensures that all campaigns reach predicted results guaranteeing the success of every influencer program they develop and oversee.
But Saynt modestly explains his business’s bravado as symptomatic of a basic changing of the tides which has been a long-time coming.
“Marketers are facing a major shift and change in practice,” he confirms simply.
“This new generation of consumers no longer trust traditional advertising or even traditional celebrities. They’ve lost faith in marketing campaigns which over glamorize, over promise, or seem like they are coming from someone who doesn’t feel authentic, another paid endorser trying to get them to spend, another perfectly photoshopped advertisement featuring impossible to achieve beauty standards on young, thin pixies.
“Digital influencers, which include Youtube celebrities, lifestyle bloggers, and Instagram stars as well as a growing number of creators across popular social networks are real people who are democratically selected by this fickle group of money spenders. With the growing presence of social media taking a hold of the attention of the largest group of spenders since the baby boomers, it’s really only a matter of time before we begin to see influencer marketing take a hold as the largest spend for brands looking to reach this coveted group of shoppers.”
“ 33% of millennials surveyed said they rely mostly on blogs before they make a purchase ”
For luxury brands in particular, these influencers also present a unique opportunity to embellish their brand image and simultaneously cut through the social media noise with curated and engaging content or imagery – essentially “fuelling the luxury dream” which is critical for their continued survival, as brand strategist Jean-Noël Kapferer once noted.
“The internet is a chance for luxury, because in order to maintain the dream value of the brand, you have to permanently refuel that dream. Refuelling the dream means creating content, content, content.”
Furthermore, it’s these influencers who hold the keys to persuading and accelerating the path to purchase for an ever-increasing and crucial set of consumers – the millennials.
As Forbes magazine reported earlier this year, only 1% of millennials surveyed said that a compelling advertisement would make them trust a brand more, and 33% rely mostly on blogs before they make a purchase, compared to fewer than 3% for TV news, magazines and books.
“Older generations rely more on traditional media, whereas millennials look to social media for an authentic look at what’s going on in the world, especially content written by their peers whom they trust.”
Jeff Fromm, President of FutureCast, a marketing consultancy that specialises in millennial trends and a contributing writer at Forbes.com agrees with the trend, and adds that brands which can successfully leverage influencers are more likely to positively connect with millennials and their path to purchase.
“Millennials are the largest consumers of branded and original content. Not only are they more likely to post their own content, but they are also more likely to be influenced by what they see other posting online,” he says.
“Through our research we found that millennials are more likely to trust what their peers are saying through user-generated content than branded content. Great brands have adapted to this mindset and started encouraging more user participation as a form of marketing rather than traditional techniques.”
For luxury brands, whose products are highly priced, and therefore represent a more significant investment and more scrutiny before purchase, leveraging leaders which will influence savvy millennials is arguably increasingly crucial.
Faced with these facts, several luxury brands have already followed suit and have been steadily testing the waters by joining forces with influencers across the globe to boost their brands and engage the millennial set.
The last few years alone have seen a raft of luxury brands launching initiatives – spanning sponsored content, collaborations and marketing campaigns – to leverage influencers, with fashion, beauty and jewellery labels leading the way.
“ Moving to target the millennial set this year, beauty giant Clinique tapped a trio of young bloggers for its latest campaign ”
In a bid to stretch its social media reach in 2013, Italian fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna linked with street style blogger Scott Schuman to shoot looks from its spring 2014 couture collection as part of the brand’s latest store opening.
More than just a brand endorsement, the initiative, promoted on Schuman’s popular style blog The Sartorialist also served to introduce the menswear brand to his fashion-savvy followers who may have been previously unaware of the menswear label.
In March 2014, Swarovski joined forced with four international fashion bloggers in a bid to grow its global appeal.
The interactive partnership #SwarovskiLook initiative included tutorialized videos produced by the fashion bloggers, user-generated content on Instagram and a contest which spanned over four weeks, with one week assigned to be curated by each individual blogger.
That same year, British department store Harrods teamed with eight fashion taste makers for a photo shoot in London as part of its first Digital Fashion Summit.
As part of the tie-up, each blogger created top five lists of their must-have spring items from Harrods, culminating in a photo shoot in London as part of its first Digital Fashion Summit.
“ Some retailers are also now leveraging influencers to guide their consumers directly to the check-out ”
French beauty brand Guerlain also recently partnered with seven influencers from Style Coalition, a network that connects brands with influencers and bloggers to create branded content.
The partnership saw each taste-maker showcase different beauty products, allowing the brand to promote its various cosmetic offerings and appeal to consumers connecting with these influencers with different ages, ethnicities and skin tones.
In June this year, German fashion label Hugo Boss also launched its latest eyewear collection via its #MasterTheLight initiative with the help of bloggers Bryan Yambao of Bryanboy, Rumi Neely of Fashion Toast and Mariano di Vaio of MDV Style.
Moving to target the millennial set this year, beauty giant Clinique has also tapped a trio of young bloggers, including Australian taste-maker Aussie Margaret Zhang along with Tavi Gevinson and Hannah Bronfman, for its latest campaign – #FaceForward – to promote its classic 3-Step Skin Care System.
Jessie Bush, founder of fashion blog ‘We The People Style’
But far from just creating branded content, boosting brand endorsement and scaling their social media channels, some retailers are also now leveraging influencers to guide their consumers directly to the check-out via affiliate links.
Aided by sites like RewardStyle and ShopStyle, affiliate links can used on blogs to link directly to products that the blogger is wearing or buying in photos and posts.
Some retailers have even taken matters into their own hands.
Department store Harrods provided a perfect example of this when it partnered with Jessie Bush of ‘We The People Style’.
Showcasing pieces from various collections available at the British retailer, the popular blogger reviewed the season’s latest trends, with Harrods adding links to the items in each of the photographs on her blog to persuade fans to purchase with ease.
“ People relate to ‘their influencer’ more than they have ever done with any media outlet, media channel or similar ”
Alluding to the emotional connection consumers feel with their chosen influencer, Daniel Kjellsson, Co-founder of creative talent agency Sydney Stockholm and Editor-at-Large of FELLT, a monthly magazine about the creative economy, says the success from this kind of formula is proven, and relatively simple.
“In general, people relate to ‘their influencer’ more than they have ever done with any media outlet, media channel or similar. The initial impulse being: ‘If he or she looks awesome in that dress, I can too.’ It’s also a way of including a brand into a selected lifestyle and making the consumer not only want a certain piece, but to play a part in the entire brand sphere,” he explains.
But while the trend to leverage influencers is undoubtably growing, Kjellsson, adds it wasn’t always this way – and luxury brands in particular have been slower to move – although understandably so.
“At first it was the shift from traditional to digital, and that move too was a respected one. Some luxury brands did not trust the digital environment overall – and certainly not some individual blogger. All of us had been so used to the print environment in which content felt ‘controlled’ and ‘verified’. The internet was just too instant at first and it just wasn’t ready.”
“Today, however, technical abilities totally support a high-quality online presence. As eyeballs moved online so did influence. We saw the first luxury brands properly experiment with digital influencers soon after 2008, yet the evolution was more on a region-per-region basis, rather than a global one. And it is still young in certain markets.”
The FELLT platform
Part of the reason for the slower unfurling of influencer leveraging in the case of luxury brands, is also that choosing the right influencer and the right way to collaborate with them, is crucial – for fear of wreaking more brand damage than benefit.
As Kjellsson explains, it can be a minefield, as brands have the choice of “everything from banner ads and affiliate links to sponsored content, proper campaigns and similar”; but he says “it’s a two-way conversation” and there are certain questions luxury brands have to ask themselves before launch.
“Ask yourselves: What do we want done, what is our ambition? And what does the influencer want to create, what is natural and organic to him/her? Unless those two align it’s the wrong thing to do anyway.”
“At Sydney Stockholm we look at our responsibility as to put brands in the centre of culture. The benefit of working with influencers is just that, you create culture yourself. You make the brand relevant to more fellow humans. Then again: there are lots of ways of doing that. Not everything is placing a give-away bag on some Instagram personality. It can be done more professionally than that.”
Saynt agrees and says that for brands looking to work with influencers, the structure of the deal always varies based of what they are trying to get out of campaigns.
“If a brands looking for sales, we suggest talents which are known to drive response. If they are looking to enhance their image, we align them with talents who may be front row fixtures or street style stars who we know will elevate the brands. If they are looking for compelling content, we’ll commission talents which create social ready images that the brand can repurpose for their profiles, he says.
“That marriage between the right influencer for the campaign is what drives the sale. It’s more than just throwing money at the space. Brands really need to be strategic in how they choose talents to align with their message and what deliverables they should expect to best reach the social consumer.”
Kjellsson adds that there are also some basic guidelines that luxury brands can follow to ensure they choose the right influencer and the right kind of collaboration through which to push their message.
“The traditional way, one that still works great, is to work with the influencers you already follow yourself (the ones that align with your brand, obviously). If you have an existing relationship with from a content consumer perspective, the due diligence is already done and you can vouch for content quality and overall personal brand,” he says.
“The more modern way is through agencies like Sydney Stockholm. Since we have so much data we can immediately guide you and your brand to thousands of relevant influencers, and even down to regions – and local influencers – surrounding certain stores. We see total influence, the value of that influence (an influencer with 500k followers can be more relevant and valuable to you than someone with five million followers), readership engagement on various types of content and so forth. All the data needed to make a professional investment decision. We can also tell you what people are not yet known digital influencers but are creating fantastic content, are growing exponentially – and will be stars soon.”
On the note of rising stars, one market – where “courting online influencers or key opinion leaders (KOLs) has long been an effective, albeit expensive, strategy” – is now experiencing an interesting shift in the influencer sphere, as Jing Daily reports.
Moving away from popular Weibo or WeChat personalities, in China, it’s “Micro-influencers” which are expected to be the next big thing.
Rather than boasting millions of mass fans through their channels, these micro-influencers have carved an exclusive niche for themselves via their writing skills, editorial viewpoint, or knowledge of a certain subject, and are followed by “a relatively small, but devoted and—perhaps more importantly—authentic audience”.
“ ‘Micro-influencers’ are hiding in plain sight and underused by brands ”
According to Jing Daily, these taste-makers are cut from a different cloth, but still hold much sway amongst their tribes, and, more importantly – could be the answer for brands lacking exorbitant marketing budgets, or aiming to test the waters in China.
“Micro-influencers,” who carve out small but devoted audiences by remaining focused on one area of emphasis, are hiding in plain sight, underused by brands who have spent far too much time and money chasing self-proclaimed KOLs,” the paper reports.
However, whatever the final choice of influencer for luxury brands, Kjellsson says one thing is certain – these new leaders are the way of the future to tap into the rising generation of affluents and a tool luxury brands can not afford to not to leverage.
“People like people. It’s really as easy as that. How you chose to work with that, is up to you. But imagine a brand with no visible staff or designer, no models, no store staff, no influencers, nothing. That’s a dead brand because there is nothing to relate to.”
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