Whatever influencers are selling, we’re not buying it.

Influencer marketing promised to answer our biggest problems, but it’s failing.

Trying to fund enough content to cover your product line across so many channels is hard. It’s even harder when there’s so much noise in consumer social feeds. We know that branded content that’s hugely effective in cutting through — is often the most expensive and time-consuming to roll out.

To help cover the gaps, influencer marketing came to the rescue. An opportunity to leverage creative talent and influence net-new audiences with “authentic” content they could trust in so many relevant spaces. Over 75% of markers took the bait — but where are we now?

Macro influencers have become just as expensive as celebrity endorsement, production less effective than agency content and syndication as costly as media.

The strategic priority has failed. Why?

The issues are two-fold. And they both boil down to trust.

The relationship aspect of the industry is perhaps it’s most juvenile, everyone is new to the negotiation — creators fear they’re in a bubble and are hungry to cash in. Many platforms, designed to streamline influencer procurement, fail to set expectations around costs, greater transparency is still needed in order to create reward scenarios that work for everyone.

Transparency is also lacking when we hear about issues such as influencer fraud.

“The market gets undermined if people don’t trust the amount of followers someone has … I think trust is such an important part in brand and marketing. A brand without trust is just a product, the difference between the two is trust. We want to be able to work in trusted environments and that includes influencers.” — Keith Weed, Unilever CMO

Over the last year, several studies have identified that millions of marketing dollars have been lost to the practice of influencer fraud.

Some agencies and platforms within the agency world are taking a stand, but they forget to reflect on their poor management of influencers that allowed those dollars to be lost, laying the blame directly at the door of the influencer — in creating tools, we can only assume they’ll soon be blaming them.

The more pressing matter of trust is between brand and consumer.

As marketers our role is to get to the human truth behind a brand. To ensure we are reflecting the cultural triggers our consumers expect from us and wish to align to.

When inviting influencers to express a brand they become part of the equation, consumers are now psychologically nudged into qualifying the both the triggers of a personality and a brand — and then cross examining the believability of the partnership.

Social analytics firm Sharable suggest that only 37% of consumers trust influencers as a credible source and only 15% say they truly influence their purchase intention.

Audiences are savvy and their qualifications are changing, it hasn’t taken particularly long for influencer activity (especially at a macro level) to become instantly recognisable and dismissed in the feed.

In a recent study of its readership, Highsnobriety point out that younger demographics are no longer looking to brands for aspiration (image) but instead for inspiration (values).

89% of their readers say they can tell when the people behind a brand are part of the culture they seek to represent — or are just co-opting it. And 87% are willing to spend more on a brand that supports the causes in which they believe.

So what can be done?

There is an immediate need for brands to consolidate their influencer activity to form longer partnerships with more relevant ambassadors and withdraw from the notion of using the process as an extension to media.

As brands seek out their human truth and draw out elements of common purpose with which to inspire their audiences, they too should focus on leveraging influencers to help articulate their brand ambition and purpose through stories over product. It’s a softer metric approach in ROI terms but a must for brand building.

Addressing the issues of scaling content is tougher, brands should focus on how to leverage participation from ever savvier and more creative audiences through participatory activity and in leveraging consumer led UGC at scale.

Peer to peer endorsements retain authenticity with consumers 3 times more likely to say they trust customer content over that of influencers.

The challenge now is in discovering creative talent from inside our audiences, our customers and our advocates and motivate them to collaborate at scale — in taking this strategic approach, your audience and fans are creating affordable, creative and authentic content that will scalably drive growth and help you get closer to the heart of your brand.

If we’ve piqued your interest and you want to have a chat about rethinking UGC strategy and campaign, feel free to get in touch;

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