The umbrella term ‘influencer’ tends to be used to define the huge spectrum of digital-first talent from the likes of celebrities, content creators and gamers to micro influencers, vloggers and bloggers, without even considering the sort of content they post, on which platform and who their community is. Speak to most ‘influencers’ and they don’t define themselves as that either. Although we shouldn’t be ashamed of the word as the term is still relevant, and will be, as people get used to what they are, it is not quite fit-for-purpose any more.
To get some more insight into the shifting perceptions of influencer marketing and what the term influencer means today, we sat down with Oliver Lewis, the founder and managing director of The Fifth.
How it all began
Launched in March 2019, The Fifth is a full-service influencer marketing agency that was born out of an aspiration to identify and build relationships with new and emerging storytellers. What captured the traditional media business was how content creators and audiences are changing, and how engagement and loyalty have shifted away from traditional media environments towards actual people. It’s these people that have the incredible and authentic ability to showcase their story and talents online. Audiences are responding with huge loyalty, and engagement is following.
It all started as News UK – the owner of The Sun and Sunday Times newspapers – was interested in how the dynamic landscape of storytelling and influence is being affected by this emerging talent. “Influencer marketing is an exciting and fast-growing marketing vehicle, and so then advertising becomes a huge opportunity for that emerging market,” explained Lewis.
He notes that change is afoot as the whole market is chasing professionalism and transparency. Any market that matures quickly will have certain tactics that don’t fulfill traditional marketing roots, he said. The Fifth prides itself on finding the right talent, building relationships and championing talent, which gives the company a real advantage in finding the right talent for brands.
“Influencer marketing is shifting away from transient scaled campaigns to more considered longer-term partnerships. Therefore, real storytelling, real narratives and building advocacy (with a smaller amount of talent over a longer period of time) must lead the way,” said Lewis.
Solving the key challenges around measurement is an issue that faces the industry. Truly validating true reach vs. follower reach is a really important change in the landscape. So far, a lot of influencer marketing has been measured on total follower reach, which is a vanity metric.
“Followers can be a victim of fraud, so if you’re trading on a false metric like that and using it as a benchmark for influence, we are moving in the wrong direction,” Lewis said.
Determining true influence
So, how do we determine true influence? Lewis believes it is about understanding the depth of the relationship and engagement they have with their audience.
“In order to demonstrate that, you need to have a distinctive format and talent you are showcasing. As we move away from follower reach, by just defining influencers as micro, macro, and celebrity, we are missing the whole origins of their influence,” he explained.
Scale can be applied to any marketing vehicle – especially when it is connected to a big global media business likes News UK – so to define talent just by their reach felt like the wrong term, as most influencers have built their own brands and businesses.
“The Fifth wanted to instead define talent by what you can expect from them – what their talent is, the format, and how you would expect them to tell the story of your brand,” said Lewis.
The Fifth’s nine faces of influence
This is where the nine faces of influence come in – although they are not ruling out adding more as they build their understanding of the space. The faces of The Fifth are: The Artist; The Collective; The Expert; The Cosmopolitan; The Humourist; The Enthusiast; The Journalist; The Host; and The Tastemaker. The nine faces you see on the website are ambassadors that are supporting The Fifth’s way of thinking and are representatives.
“The nine faces of influence were created to try and help brand partners establish a clearer idea of who they are working with. Whilst micro and macro still exist, it is time to move away from them because they are defining an old world,” explained Lewis.
Lewis hopes these ‘faces’ will change some of the misconceptions about influencer marketing by showing brands that there isn’t just a one-size-fits-all approach and help them realise the professional storytelling ability of these highly talented individuals.
“It should help professionalise the industry as brands begin to realise it is a considered, serious marketing vehicle. All they are doing is looking to work with people who are telling their story in a particular way, which is ultimately all that marketing should be. In amongst the negative press, this should give people some reassurance that if you break the word influencer down, it is a very credible space,” he continued.
Apparently, the ‘faces’ have resonated with The Fifth’s talent and brand partners. Lewis told us that most storytellers have an idea of which ‘face’ they fit into. Some of the most exciting talent fit into multiple categories that Lewis and his team call ‘Slashers’. “For example, they can be a great artist and poet but also a great fitness instructor,” he said.
This is just the start, though. As the industry matures, it will become more of an integrated part of marketing plans.“Influencer marketing doesn’t need to live in silo, PR and social anymore. The content created can be an anchor point for an entire omnichannel, cross-channel marketing vehicles, which means influencer marketing moves into broader channels such as radio,” Lewis explained.
In order for that to happen, the industry needs to be benchmarked and measured. “That is the challenge; we need to measure it across the whole funnel from brand to performance,” said Lewis. If that can happen, it stands itself in a good place to start taking a much larger share of marketing budgets.
The Fifth is looking to develop strong brand relationships, tell incredible, authentic stories and continue to build emerging talent. It will carry out industry research later this year as part of its bid to professionalise the industry as a whole and will work with other agencies to share positive stories about influencer marketing.