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Opinion

The Transformation of Influencer Marketing As We Know It

If we have learned one thing about influencer marketing, it’s that change and transformation are certainties – and they happen quickly. Within just a few years, TikTok has exploded, nanos vs. micros vs. macros has become a thing and AI influencers have burst onto the scene. If you’re in the space, directly or tangentially, you need to be ready for the next thing just to keep up.

Looking ahead there are some definitive trends to keep an eye on – from the changing dynamics of the brand/influencer relationship to the broadening of what influencers can (and want to) do, to the role of agencies in all of this. Here are three things to keep in mind as we look to 2022 from the perspective of an influencer and content measurement specialist. 


  1. Brands and influencers looking (closer) before they leap

    The earliest days of influencer marketing were dotted with transactional and often fleeting relationships between influencers and brands. The brand paid X, the influencer did Y, and if the two didn’t align on values, vision and voice, it wasn’t always a stumbling block. Fast forward to present day and “the fit” between influencer and brand partner is now paramount in the partnership decision. While both sides are naturally eager for a positive, ongoing partnership, fit is now equally about mitigating risk. More judicious decisions are being made around fit because the risk of ill-formed partnerships is higher and significantly more is at stake. 

    As influencer content attracts more eyeballs, missteps and misalignment become highly visible. Influencer fails happen quickly, and the sad truth is they garner far more attention than a well-executed program. Remember how quickly word spread when Scott Disick promoted Boo Tea by clearly copying and pasting the complete caption he was handfed (along with instructions)? It also didn’t take long for Ronaldo to be raked over the international coals for promoting a Japanese facial fitness tool he clearly did not use. 

    Everyone has their antennas up, and disingenuous campaigns – those that don’t reflect the brands/creators’ known ideals, or ones that are simply tone deaf – threaten the business of both parties. And yes, the brands aren’t the only ones with something to lose anymore. Countless influencers have built thriving businesses and simply will not put a payday in front of a bad partnership. 

    In the coming year, we’ll begin to see even more influencers being vetted like company spokespeople, and even more brands vetted based on an influencer’s passion for their products and what they stand for. To ensure fit, both parties will continue to do the obligatory upfront legwork and research. However, brands will also go a step further and use brand lift studies or other measurement tools to understand how consumers are reacting to the campaigns when they’re in-market. If the influencer isn’t resonating or, even worse, the perception is negative, the campaign can be pulled and the relationship can be re-evaluated before things go too far down a damaging path.

    Even if self-preservation is a main motivator behind this increased due diligence, in the end, everyone benefits. Influencers and brands will work together more seamlessly and passionately, and audiences will be treated to campaigns that are more authentic and tell a unified story. 
  1. Influencers give us more of what matters

    This is not to say that fashion, travel, and beauty products aren’t important. However, influencer marketing is no longer just an express lane to shopping carts and hotel visits. We’ve seen a wide variety of industries, products, and services begin to embrace influencers, but no impact has been greater or more important than its role in cause and issue-related marketing.

    Influencers using their gifts to affect change is a trend that continues to grow, and recent examples are plentiful. With the goal of helping young people to quit vaping, The Truth Initiative partnered with three TikTok influencers and e-cigarette users who invited young people—including their millions of followers —to join them and “quit together.”  The non-profit Red Nose Day, known for encouraging people to wear bright red noses to support needy American children, continues to thrive with partners such as NBC, Walgreens and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

    Much of their continued success around awareness building and fundraising is thanks to influencer marketing. Even The White House leaned on influencers this year as they enlisted 50 Twitch Streamers, TikTokers, and YouTubers to promote vaccines and fight back against the rising tide of vaccine information. 

    Influencers are making a marked difference for the causes they rally behind. And when we take a step back, it all makes perfect sense. Bringing awareness to an issue, changing hearts and minds, and motivating action are charges best left to individuals who we trust, possibly admire, or relate to in some way. When it comes to cause marketing, the messenger is just as – if not important than – the message itself. 
  1. Agencies shoulder more burden of proof

    PR firms, traditional ad agencies, digital firms and specialty influencer shops – they all play a role in the influencer marketing landscape and brands lean on them, sometimes all of them, to manage and activate campaigns. But, as the investment in influencer marketing continues to grow, so too do the stakes for marketers. Influencer marketing is set to become a $15 billion industry in 2022. With that type of money pouring in, expectations on agency partners surpass just smooth activations and healthy engagement rates. 

    As with any maturing marketing vehicle tied to real dollars, brands want to know exactly what their initiative did, not how many people it reached. More and more of that pressure and burden of proof is falling squarely on agency partners. The result, pressure induced as it may be, is that agencies are finding innovative ways to report on what matters, not just what’s easy to curate.

    The ones that want a bigger slice of the influencer marketing pie are increasingly making measurement a priority and are building in custom reporting plans from the outset. And, they’re utilising everything in the toolbox to do so – from sales and brand lift studies to trackable links. Brands are outgrowing influencer metrics 1.0. The corresponding trend is that the agencies are tasked with bringing them 2.0. Agencies unable to measure up to these new standards will be skipped over in favor of those that do.