FieldNotes: When influencer marketing becomes less influential
by Marguerite Coetzee. Waking up one crisp winter’s morning in the small, forested town of Greyton, Western Cape, to the unexpected sound of a voice booming over speakers outside my window, I was not amused. I had been spending the weekend there with the intention of seeking escape. However, my visit happened to coincide with a three-day mountain bike challenge. My great escape was overshadowed by the #GreytEscape.
With banners, signage and branding advertising the event, it was difficult to miss what was happening. Cyclists themselves were adorned and decorated with logos, strutting with pride as they showcased the names known to those in the industry. It made me think of brand equity — the social and financial value of being a recognisable brand — and the role of social influencers in promoting brands.
Greyton is a popular destination among weekend-getaway-seekers and has been described as an ideal place to ‘exercise, relax, and indulge’. While it may offer ‘old-world charm’ with ‘modern conveniences’, there are remnants of a troubled past. The neighbouring town, Heuwelkroon, houses residents that were forced to sell their homes and land in the 1950s, despite having been part of a multiracial community for centuries. This paints quite a different picture from the surviving Victorian houses and quaint cottages, built between 1854 and 1860. The town has a history and heritage while highlighting and enhancing the favourable aspects of its brand that speak to present-day needs and narratives.
Lesson 1: Find new forms of measurement
You have probably come across the term ‘vanity metrics’. It’s the method of measuring a brand’s equity by monitoring registered users, downloads, page views, likes, shares, and other forms of interactions from consumers that don’t necessarily translate into tangible value. The alternative to vanity metrics is actionable metrics. This considers active users, their level of engagement, the cost of acquiring new customers, and the impact on revenue and profit.
If we use the incorrect tools for measuring our success, we may be missing the big picture. Being visible does not always translate into being valuable.
“Wind extinguishes a candle, and energises a fire” —Nassim Nicholas Taleb, essayist.
Lesson 2: Be part of the social conversation
Influencer marketing is often implemented in order to establish credibility, to create conversations, and to encourage favourable purchasing behaviour. It’s the idea that the visibility of a brand, in association with a recognisable for respected person, would generate particular associations, communicate particular messages, and encourage the adoption of or loyalty towards the brand. Depending on the desired outcome, a brand could reach out to any of the following types of influencers (source):
- Activists — those involved in purposeful movements
- Connectors — those with large social networks and a wide range or reach
- Experts — those that are looked up to, trusted and respected for their insightful opinion
- Active minds — those with multiple and diverse interests
- Trendsetters — those who are the early adopters or leavers of a trend and that persuade others to imitate their behaviour
“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make” —Jane Goodall, primatologist.
Lesson 3: Pay attention to the future of marketing
It’s no longer enough for brands to advertise and market to consumers — to try and influence their behaviour or win over their loyalty. It’s time to build trust ecosystems that encourage commitment from both sides, throughout the journey. We see old industries being revamped or replaced in innovative ways, and marketing can do the same.
While influencer marketing may seem appealing today, it’s important to consider what that might look like in the near future. We’re already seeing the youth turning to gaming platforms as their global meeting place, social gathering space, and choice of messaging service. How will your brand respond?
“With a kind of madness growing upon me, I flung myself into futurity” —HG Wells, writer.
Marguerite Coetzee is an anthropologist, artist and futurist who provides research and insight services through Omniology. FieldNotes, the latest series in her regular column on MarkLives, captures experiences from the field, shares the cultural lessons learned, and advises on qualitative tools, methodologies and frameworks when exploring the world of the consumer.