From hyper celebrities like Kim Kardashian endorsing haircare vitamins (and announcing it to an eye-watering 111 million followers on Instagram), to a host of micro-influencers taking on creative briefs from influencer marketing platforms like Tribe, our social channels are saturated with brands looking to sell us something. Maude Churchill talks with ENDLESSLOVESHOW founder Kazim Rashid and asks: Have we reached peak influencer?

Welcome to the age of the individual. Where customers expect their individual needs to be met by personal, customized experiences. From the ways they shop in store, to how they navigate the internet, bespoke is best. That’s why in this day and age it’s no surprise that marketing began to look towards influential individuals for advertising, instead of targeting the masses as a whole. As a form of advertising, influencer marketing can be incredibly powerful, comparably inexpensive and much more efficient at reaching the desired audience. Or so it would seem.

Traditionally, influencers require three main factors to ensure their influence: reach, credibility and salesmanship. So far, so good. On paper it all reads like a How To Sell the Most Product cheat sheet. In reality, however, there have been plenty of cases of brands failing at influencer marketing – miserably. At best, they’ve become a laughing stock. At worst, both brand and influencer have done irreparable damage to their reputations. Who can forget Iggy Pop flogging Swift Cover’s car insurance? The 2009 television advert was quickly banned after complaints that it was misleading since Swift Cover actually excluded people working in the music industry from its insurance policies.

Since then, the realm of influencer marketing has exploded into a market that has become the de facto option for advertisers and marketers alike. It’s evolved to accommodate every niche demographic imaginable. From vegans like Rainbow Plant Life touting hard-to-find dragon fruit via her smoothie bowls, to woke social and political activist Chaka Bars pushing the latest in organic beauty products, there’s an influencer out there for everyone. But a bubble this big is soon bound to burst.

Risky business

Influencer marketing is a false economy. As a form of advertising it grew exponentially because it’s been possible to apply tracking to a space that before was hard to quantify. The problem is, those metrics only go so far. Sure, you can track engagements, you can track likes. You can use this information to sell in what you’re doing internally, but it doesn’t necessarily convert to sales. That’s not something that can be as easily tracked. What’s more, the long term reputation of the brand could be at stake.

“The brand is being lazy because it’s just going after metrics, and the marketer is being lazy because they’re applying solutions so that they can be tracked with metrics. It’s a lazy exchange.”

“Ultimately I think it’s really lazy, on both sides,” says Kazim Rashid, a music manager, creative director at Mixcloud, and founder of creative consultancy ENDLESSLOVESHOW – an individual who has experienced things from both sides of the influencer coin. “The brand is being lazy because it’s just going after metrics so they can sell the dream upwards internally in the agency, and the marketer is being lazy because they’re often applying solutions simply because they believe them to be trackable with metrics. It’s a lazy exchange.” Influencer marketing is so overdone that consumers are already clocking on to it, and it’s leaving a bad taste in the mouth.

But can it ever be done well? It would seem the age old adage of slow and steady wins the race is applicable here, because genuine influence doesn’t come through immediate viral traction. Much to a brand’s chagrin. “The problem with today’s climate of influencer marketing is that everybody wants super quick validation and cause and effect. They want to pay an influencer, they want to record loads of positive metrics, and they want to see that a product is influencing a market place. But I just don’t think it works like that,” explains Rashid.

Genuine influence – which can still be done with the help of influencers – happens slowly and over time. People need to see that something really connects and they need to see the effects of it within their peer group. “If you seed something to one person and they have a trillion fans and all of their fans see it, yes you might get some compelling metrics to sell upwards to your bosses, but I think actually the audience base won’t necessarily feel that excited by it.” Rashid is certain that peer-to-peer endorsement is the way forward, and a foolproof way to foster a loyal fan base – who will provide the foundations of a brand or product.

Playing the long game

With all influencer projects it’s key that the brand is investing long term in the talent, and not just using them as a selling point for the product. One company Rashid worked with where he felt the brand was considering the long terms benefits was Nike. In the lead up to the release of its Vapormax sneaker, the brand launched a content series titled ‘How To Challenge The Creative Status Quo’, which featured British cultural tastemakers Liv Little (founder of gal-dem magazine), and musicians Evian Christ and GAIKA – the latter of whom Rashid manages.

While the content was hosted on publications like Highsnobiety, offline Nike partnered with GAIKA to create a one-off capsule collection which was friends and family only. While this investment might not see a real ROI or provide metrics to send back to HQ, it helped foster a relationship with an artist who has huge influence among his peers and beyond.

“Nike created an entire model around influencer marketing that other brands are trying to copy today, and I don’t know if they’re doing it as well,” says Rashid. “It’s a slow and steady approach, this idea of creating a 12-24-month marketing plan and really sticking by it.”

Seeding products is nothing new, but when the brand is clever about exactly when they seed, it makes a huge difference. Giving product to the right people nice and early – when no-one else can get it – makes them feel privileged. They endorse it and recommend it to their peers and it causes a ripple effect, a critical mass of awareness. Rashid reaffirms this theory: “By that point you’ve created a genuine cause and effect, a really genuine advocacy and endorsement. By the time the product hits the shelves everyone loves it. That’s how the journey should go.”

Keeping it real

Another brand that’s shown exactly how to make the most of influencer marketing is Glossier. The online-first beauty brand finessed the marketing model in a way that speaks directly to their consumer base. Their September 2017 ad campaign featured five women with real bodies, real attitudes and real jobs – not looks – to aspire to. It included basketball player and Olympic Gold medallist Swin Cash Canal, clinical research coordinator Mekdes Mersha, Outdoor Voices founder Tyler Haney, creative director Lara Pia Arrobio, and model Paloma Elsesser. It emboldened the young women that make up their target market to aim beyond the superficiality that most beauty campaigns fixate on.

Glossier has become a pioneer in BFF marketing. Its approach is chatty, inclusive and intimate, predicated on the notion that a brand is your friend, thinks you’re special and is designing products especially for you. They react to the requests of their fan base, launching new products when the demand is there. They seed items – not to influencers with huge followings – but to their most loyal customers. People who are already posting the products on social media do so because they actually want to talk about them, not because they’re getting paid to.

“I really believe in the power of social media as advertising – I think that’s what it should be used for. It has real power in helping brands get their product in front of people.”

“You create a really solid foundation with this approach. A solid network of people who love the brand and feel appreciated and valued by it. With foundations like that you’ll almost always succeed,” says Rashid. Glossier has achieved advocates without manufacturing authenticity. And despite a litany of contrived influencer content out there, social media still plays a crucial role within the influencer marketing space. It allows you to amplify a message quickly and effectively.

“I really believe in the power of social media as advertising – I think that’s what it should be used for. It has a real power in helping brands get their product in front of people, all over the world,” explains Rashid.But does visibility equate to influence? “No, but it can be a part of the journey of influence,” he continues.

Consumers are individuals. This is something that can often be forgotten in advertising. Influencer marketing, however, allows brands to tap into the variables of consumers. As long as it’s done right, there’s an influencer for everybody. But it can’t be relied on as a fail-safe way to make quick sales. As Nike and Glossier demonstrate, investing long term in your consumers is the best way to ensure that fans stay loyal. A quick gain will most likely disappear just as fast. It’s still early days, but as brands get smarter they’ll be able to cultivate it in a positive way. Don’t be the ones forced to miss out and have to catch the next wave.

For more on Kazim Rashid, visit ENDLESSLOVESHOW

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