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December 31, 2020


Why Does Influencer Marketing Work?

Gen Z loves influencers. Social media is rife with them. Some of us might be a bit bewildered, but Marketers need to get on board if we want to reach Gen Z.

Before we do that, we need to understand what’s actually at the heart of influencer marketing—why it works. And the reason it works? It’s actually quite simple when you get right down to it. Influencer marketing operates on three core principles that speak to Gen Z’s values.

Principle 1: Trust

This is the biggest factor in influencer marketing. People listen to influencers and seek out their opinions because they trust them.

That might seem hard to believe. After all, influencers are often random people on social media who have lots of followers.

Yet there are a few reasons that alone translates into trust. First, if someone has a big following, we think, “Wow, they must be popular.” More than that, though, we might think, “Hey, 2 million people love this person/, so they must have good content.”

I mean, 2 million people can’t all be wrong, right?

Some of our friends or family might follow the influencer. Maybe they were the ones who got us to follow! “Hey, check out this video! I love this chick’s stuff, she’s so funny!” And you know? She is entertaining. Next thing you know, we’re also subscribed.

How exactly does this become trust? It’s a familiar face! When we follow someone, see their content, we’re building a relationship with them. We may feel like we know them. And, more than that, we begin to trust them.

When we trust someone, then their opinions and advice becomes more influential. We’re more likely to accept recommendations from friends and family members, because we trust them. We put more stock in their opinion over, say, some random stranger on the Internet or an ad.

So we trust our siblings or our BFFs more than we trust a customer review on Amazon. Influencers exist at the intersection of “random stranger” and “person I trust.” They start out as random strangers. When we follow them and engage with their content, we build a relationship. They’re not friends, they’re not acquaintances—but we feel like we know them anyway.

The trust factor is not unique to Gen Z. Everyone wants to be able to turn somewhere for trusted advice. Gen Z and Millennials are more likely to look to social media, but everyone looks for recommendations.

Principle 2: Authenticity

The next principle that makes influencer marketing so effective is authenticity. One of the reasons Gen Z puts so much stock in influencers is that they see them as being real or authentic. These are real people talking about their everyday experiences, sharing their adventures.

They’re “normal people” who then gain a following and become celebrities, in a sense. That’s a bit different than, say, someone who is already a star. Yes, people follow celebs on Twitter or Instagram. People may also put a lot of stock in a celebrity endorsement.

But they also may not, because people are wary about celebrity endorsement deals. We’ve all heard about the celeb who acts as the face of a brand, but they never actually wear that brand or use that shampoo. (Do any of us believe that Dan Levy frequents McDonald’s?)

Influencer marketing is different from the traditional celebrity endorsement deal. We see celeb endorsements as being slick, manufactured—and often untrue. Does Sidney Crosby use that Reebok-manufactured hockey stick, the one with his name on it? Eh, maybe not! Does Katy Perry wear Covergirl mascara? Probably not!

Influencers, by contrast, are “normal people” who are sharing their genuine experiences. When they review a product and give it a glowing endorsement, we expect that they’re telling us the truth. If they didn’t like it, they’d be honest and tell us that.

This ties back to trust—we have to trust that influencers are “being real” or being honest with us. But we have faith that they’re being authentic with us.

And that’s because most influencers build their “brands” around authenticity. We know that certain things are staged or that videos and photo ops are edited. But we also have this perception that we’re getting the “real” so-and-so or the truth of their experience. It’s authentic, it’s real—not an actor shilling for a brand they would turn their nose up at.

Principle 3: Perceived Match

The final factor in successful influencer marketing is that there has to be a perceived matchbetween the brand and the influencer. Think about an influencer who peddles advice about being thrifty. Partnering with luxury brands like Louis Vuitton or Hermes won’t work for either party.

Why? It’s a mismatch! The brand is marketing to the wrong people here. The influencer’s audience “tunes in” to get advice on being thrifty. Yes, these luxury retailers may be offering a good deal. Chances are these thrifty folks aren’t interested in buying goods that are worth thousands—not even if there’s a “good deal."

Worse, the influencer partnering with one of these brands would be seen as a “betrayal” of the audience. They may think the influencer has “sold out” or “forgotten their roots.” In turn, the audience’s trust in the influencer is shaken.

So, the influencer is likely to lose followers or be criticized, and the brand’s not going to make many sales. That’s why influencer marketing must have a perceived match to work.

The classic example of mismatch is family-friendly Disney and Swedish YouTuber PewDiePie. The partnership quickly fell apart. Disney’s fans weren’t impressed with the partnership. PewDiePie took plenty of criticism over some of his less savoury comments.

Influencer marketing works well when there’s a match. Gymshark’s marketing works when they team up with fitness athletes who are a little bit quirky. It’s not “mainstream.” It started out as a brand for people who were into a particular kind of fitness and couldn’t find the clothes they wanted.

A beauty blogger teaming up with a beauty brand makes perfect sense. But it could still end up being a mismatch. Someone who promotes all natural and eco-friendly products may not want to team up with brands that test on animals. Their audience would likely perceive that as a mismatch.

To use influencer marketing successfully, we have to know who to team up with. And to do that, we have to know the core of our brands.

So, like always—remember to start with the why!


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I am a business person who has excelled in driving a competitive edge through marketing, strategy, innovation, building irresistible brands and unlocking the genius that exists. I am writing is inspire or create new consideration. If you have ideas or questions that you would like me to put a pen too, I would be delighted.

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