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Opinion

What the Word “Influencer” Means Today

With people still confused about what the term influencer means today, Dom Smales looks at the different talent and the role each can play.

In an age where anyone can call themselves an “influencer”, the marketing industry is, understandably, in a state of flux. As the volume of content creators has spiraled and the industry has evolved at pace, a ton of methodologies have circulated on the most effective way to select and partner with creators to reach and interact with audiences online. Whilst this has been in an effort to gain control over what is, in my opinion, the most innovative and exciting industry in a generation, it’s only muddied the waters even more. 

The industry needs clarity; in an effort to do that, it’s important to take a step back. About a decade ago, a generation of talent organically found their voice and a loyal audience on digital platforms – YouTube, in the main – dramatically changing the media landscape. Whilst their followings were impressive, it wasn’t the numbers that struck me, it was the passion, knowledge, creativity, and relatability that they were bringing to their audience; an audience they had an incredibly strong relationship with.

Adapting your strategies

In recent years, the industry has let this unique ability take a back seat and instead, has been driven by data to determine talent; seemingly, followers and engagement rates are the holy grail. But that mentality is dangerous and creates real issues around brand safety. Without an added layer of expert human insight, marketeers are subject to deception from creators who use the “influencer” label to drive their success, who may have fake followings and engagement, who lack authenticity and a genuine relationship with their audience. That’s why data should not be used to dictate talent selection, it should be used to inform it.

This focus on data has driven another industry-wide problem; the commoditisation of content, where talent and the content they produce is viewed as a media product first and foremost. Not only does this lens lead to a lack of creative and authentic partnerships, but it has also driven a race to the bottom and a reliance on content creators at a micro-level. This creates a problem around quality and effectiveness. Choosing which talent to partner with must not be about the cheapest option, it must be a strategic choice at every level, from macro right through to nano. 

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to talent-led marketing strategies as it is heavily dependent on each brand’s business objectives, their values and the audience they are trying to reach. Whether its building awareness, initiating behaviour change or driving product sales, different levels and types of talent drive different results and impact so it’s important to adapt strategies accordingly.

A place for all talent 

We strongly believe that there is a place for all talent across different spheres and at every level but there has been much debate about the effectiveness of each. The Business of Fashion recently released a graphic of a digital marketing funnel which showed how different tiers of talent can best deliver on certain marketing objectives. At the top of the funnel, it claimed that macro talent drive awareness and at the bottom of the funnel that nano talent drive conversion. But throughout the 2,000 brand partnerships we do every year, with talent both on- and off- the Gleam Futures roster, we have witnessed quite the opposite.

With a high level of potency, mid-tier to macro talent are perfect as long-term brand ambassadors. Having put a huge amount of time, energy and commitment into building their career, they will have established a unique aesthetic to their content, a strong set of values and real credibility. This allows the brand to find various points of alignment with their own values and messaging. Above all, this level of talent has a loyal audience with whom they have a strong relationship with, and which can be leveraged to drive action such as product sales, sign-ups, and event attendance.

At the other end of the scale, a select group of nano and micro talent are the ideal partners for an always-on brand conversation which drives awareness at the grassroots level. With niche interests and knowledge, they have the ability to prolong brand recall for above-the-line advertising and foster brand loyalty, particularly when their content is amplified with media spend to reach more of the target audience. The real power, however, comes from a talent-led marketing strategy which is a perfect blend of all types of talent – what that blend looks like comes back to the objectives. Whichever the blend, across all the levels the brand must focus on investing in and engaging with quality voices with proven track records. 

Quality always wins 

Choosing the right talent to partner with is crucial to the success of any talent-led marketing campaign. The word “talent” should be used for one crucial reason. That’s because identifying the “talent” – those creators who have an expertise to share, produce high-quality content, have a purpose in what they do, and maintain a deep connection and dialogue with their trusting community – amongst the short list of creators who meet the data requirements – is key to an effective campaign. This is something that should be applied across all levels of talent, no matter whether they are macro, mid-tier, micro or nano. Quality will always win and brands should test and learn with all levels of talent to discover which blend works best for them.

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