Influencer marketing is not as modern a concept as you might think. In ancient Rome, gladiators were often paid to endorse products before they started fighting in the arena. Looking back, it seems like savvy marketers have always known the value of celebrity endorsements.
In modern times, however, influencer marketing doesn’t depend solely on a person’s celebrity status. Social media and other online channels have made it possible for us to create an entirely different breed of influencers.
In this post, we will discuss how influencer marketing has evolved into one of the most central marketing tactics today.
The Start of Modern Influencer Marketing
Over the centuries, famous sports stars, singers, and actors have continued with the practice of publicly endorsing products and brands. In fact, the modern influencer can actually be traced back to the 1920s.
It was then that brands really started getting involved in the emotive side of marketing. One of the first examples of this is Coca-Cola’s branding of Santa Clause.
If you look back at the first pictures of Santa, you will see a slim, elf-like character. His image was tweaked over time, but it was really only when Coke started using Santa in their ads that we became familiar with the rotund, red-coated figure we all know and love today. You could say that Santa Claus is one of the most popular influencers in history. Thanks to Coke, most of us around the world now have a similar idea of what he looks like.
At the time, the term “influencer marketing” hadn’t been coined yet, but it was still applicable. Who wouldn’t want to buy a product endorsed by a jolly man associated with Christmas joy and child-like wonder?
By evoking emotion in the consumer, advertisers began to realize the power of having a relatable character to promote their product. This was the start of influencer marketing as we know it today.
Celebrity Endorsements and Brand Mascots
Over the next few decades, Influencer marketing was based around two core concepts:
- Celebrity endorsements
- Brand Mascots that could replace celebrity endorsements.
Before the internet, there were fewer ways to become a celebrity. Print media had a limited reach, radio advertising was effective but also limited, and TV advertising was extremely expensive.
But, as technology progressed, an increasing number of emerging brands meant more competition. In order to reach consumers, brands had to come up with increasingly creative campaigns.
Celebrities were more and more likely to be used by brands to gain interest in their product. A celebrity endorsement back then was like gold. It amounted to a basic testimonial about the product and company. Consumers put a lot of stock in such endorsements because these celebrities lived a lifestyle that many aspired towards. Seeing someone you admired drinking “the right brand” of beer, would influence you to purchase the same brand in hopes of reaching their glamorous status and lifestyle.
The Modern Influencer
Celebrity endorsements are still used today to promote brands and products. However, access to social media brought transparency into the lives of celebrities, and consumers began to understand that celebrities might not even use the products they endorse.
People started to ignore traditional marketing efforts and instead started looking for value from brands rather than falling for a straight sell. New developments in ad blockers made it even easier for people to avoid traditional marketing channels. And consumers started looking for advice from average people: people just like them with the same interests and values.
This brought on the rise of niche sites and non-traditional influence marketers. These influencers are not technically celebrities, but they do have a significant following. Initially, they would recommend products that they liked and used themselves. As these were sincere recommendations, they were seen as more trustworthy.
Once brands caught on to the fact that influencers were being valued and trusted, they began offering paid promotions with them. Today’s influencer can be anyone: from an industry CEO to a little old grandmother cooking in her kitchen.
Since influencers are average people, they’re recommendations mean more to their audience. Most of them start out sharing brands and products that they personally like and use regularly. These typically start off as unpaid recommendations, in hopes that they will catch a brand’s attention, and begin monetizing their content. This is usually how the influencer-brand promotional relationship starts.
Why Influencer Marketing Has Become a Central Strategy
Companies have found that by using influencer marketing in 2018 they can expect a 520% increase in their ROI. And, for many marketers, using influencers might be the only way to reach their target audience.
Influencers running blogs, social media pages, and Youtube channels meet the need that marketers are seeking. Companies can easily find influencers who are more affordable than celebrities. Not every company has the funds to get an endorsement from Brad Pitt. The grandmother cooking in her kitchen, however, could prove a more cost-effective option.
Things Are Changing
Keep in mind that things are changing fast. Influencer marketing has become big business and a great way to cash in. As a result, we’re moving into an era where influencers are also being viewed with more skepticism.
It’s important to note that influencer marketing is more than just a numbers game. Research suggests that the more followers an influencer has, the less engagement they have with their followers.
In the beginning, when an influencer has a thousand followers, it’s easy to keep up with comments and build relationships. But, as an influencer’s numbers grow, followers may start to lose interest as they stop engaging. This, in turn, means that an influencer recommendation might not carry as much weight as you’d think.
The Age of the Micro-Influencer
We are currently entering the age of the micro-influencer. These are influencers who have between 2,000 and 50,000 followers. Engagement rates in this range are 60% higher than they are for influencers with larger numbers of followers. Today’s influencer doesn’t have to be a celebrity or movie star. What counts is the engagement of a company’s chosen target market