How can retailers harness the ever-increasing power of the influencer?
At London Fashion Week last September, there was a discernible shift in front row faces. Scattered among the editors and A-listers was a new kind of celebrity. From Topshop Unique to Burberry and JW Anderson, the “frow” was increasingly dominated by social media stars whose followers number in the millions.
In January, Dolce & Gabbana took this further: its Milan autumn 17 menswear show was walked not by models but influencers.
Meanwhile, fashion brands from Missguided to John Lewis and Amazon have harnessed the huge followings of bloggers, instagrammers and vloggers by collaborating on campaigns and collections. Fashion is obsessed with influencers.
But the way brands work with influencers is becoming increasingly sophisticated, moving away from straightforward product placement into more collaborative relationships – and this raises challenges for brands.
Chiara at the Amazon Fashion studio
Influencers are demanding an increased control over the narrative they share with their followers. This makes for a relationship more complex than just a paid advert, and bloggers themselves are now part of the marketing conversation, acting as their own-one-person creative agency. As the traditional structural lines start to blur, some within the industry believe new guidelines and regulations are needed to support positive growth and increase clarity in this burgeoning sector.
“The influencer landscape right now potentially lacks a lot of professionalism,” says Amber Atherton, founder of Brand Fan Girl, a marketing agency focused on connecting brands to the real-life influencers. “There are no real formalities. As a brand, if you’re reaching out to influencers directly you’re basing it a lot on trust. These are individuals – it’s not a professional agency.”
Jim chapman at dolce
In response to this, organisations such as Facebook and Instagram – the home of the influencer – are beginning to take steps towards greater regulation.
Influencer marketing agency Whalar is officially accredited by Facebook and Instagram – a fact Neil Waller, co-founder and CEO, believes signals a shift towards professionalism in the sector: “It is a recognition by Facebook and Instagram that a credible body was needed in this industry to bring some structure and stability,” he says. “By adding process and contracts, brands get to sign-off on something before it’s posted.
“It’s a signal to the market that this influencer activity and the creativity is now at a level where it can be taken seriously by big brands. The reason they can now put more into it is because it’s more credible and structured.”
One area this may be particularly useful is the hazy issue of disclosure, as more structured relationships place greater responsibility on brands when it comes to ensuring the influencers they work with are disclosing when content is sponsored.
“Ultimately responsibility lies with the brand,” says Waller. “It’s the brand who is paying, the brand who is contracting the influencer and the brand should set that as a requirement. Brands dealing directly with influencers can be a bit hit or miss. That’s why agents exist, it brings some structure.”
The right collaboration should be something an influencer is proud of
Neil Waller, Whalar
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) regulates advertising and marketing content according to the code set out by the Committee for Advertising Practice. Section 2.4 of the code states: “Marketers and publishers must make clear that advertorials are marketing communications – for example, by heading them ‘advertisement feature’.” This means all brand-influencer collaborations on any social media platform must be clearly labelled as such.
“We strongly recommend using the label ‘Ad’, which we often see people do in the form of a hashtag,” says a spokeswoman for the ASA. “We have advised against the use of ‘Sp’ or ‘#sp’, and other references to sponsorship, because although this label gets across that there’s been payment, it doesn’t go far enough in communicating that the advertiser has editorial control of the content and not the influencer.”
If social media or any other content does not comply with these guidelines, the ASA can order its removal. In 2012, Nike fell foul of the guidelines with a series of promotional tweets from England footballers including Wayne Rooney, one of which read: “My resolution – to start the year as a champion, and finish it as a champion … #makeitcount” followed by a website. The ASA ruled that this and other tweets did not make it clear enough that it was an ad, and had to be deleted.
However, other types of promotional activity, such as gifting, are not covered by the code, so some brands set their own standards for levels of disclosure when it comes to influencers.
“We of course follow disclosure regulations, but actually our barometer is more around what we think our customers would expect of us, which is usually a higher bar,” says Rachel Bremer, global communications director at Asos. “We wouldn’t ever want our customers to think we were trying to be disingenuous, so tend to err on the side of openness and transparency.”
Audiences aren’t put off by the fact that it’s sponsored – as long as it is relevant, enjoyable and engaging
For example, in the Asos Insider programme, which is a group of 25 bloggers, each of whom creates their own content, using Asos clothing, and posts it to a dedicated Instagram account. Each account, explicitly references Asos in the handle (for example @ASOS_ Debbie and @ASOS_lotte) essentially labelling the bloggers as employees.
For Bremer, the success of the programme is down to its collaborative nature: “In general we don’t want to be overly prescriptive and focus more on finding people who naturally gravitate towards our brand values and aesthetic,” she explains. “It can be higher risk but it’s also where you tend to see the most honest, authentic results and that’s what really moves the needle over the long term.”
Scarlett London’s work with Jody Bell
Creating this authentic content is key to influencer marketing success, with collaborative relationships mutually beneficial to brands and influencers.
Blogger Scarlett London, who has more than 12,000 followers on her blog and more than 22,000 on Instagram, finds that brand collaborations have advantages for both her and her followers: “A lot of the time sponsored content can even be better than natural content, because a blogger has more time to dedicate to creating something really amazing and inspiring.
“Audiences aren’t put off by the fact that it’s sponsored. As long as it is relevant, enjoyable and engaging – which most posts are – then it is just content.”
As influencers seek to grow and maintain their audiences with authentic content, collaborations such as this, where the blogger, tweeter or Instagrammer has control over the narrative, are increasingly prevalent. Data from Fashion Monitor shows that 67% of influencers rate authenticity as critical to building influence.
Waller explains: “The simple fact is, if an influencer has any desire not to disclaim it, then you have to ask what it is about the collaboration that they want to keep secretive.
“If it’s a collaboration that’s producing great quality content and that the influencer has a good affinity with, there should be no reason not to disclaim it. The right collaboration should be something an influencer is proud of.”
As agencies and brands develop ever more sophisticated, data-driven and targeted relationships with influencers and the best work is ever more collaborative, this rapidly shifting industry shows no sign of slowing down, and the power of the influencer could be only just beginning. The challenge for retailers will be how to keep on top of the wave.
- Meet fashion blogger Wendy H Gilmour (thankfifi.com) at the Drapers Digital Festival on 25 April. She will share tips on creating a successful collaboration and positive impact with the genuine endorsement from micro-influencers. Seats are limited, so book your festival ticket online now.
Four golden rules for working with influencers, from Victoria Luck, managing director, Buzzoole UK
1 Find the right influencer
It’s not a numbers game: large followings don’t necessarily create the most impact. Look for influencers who have a clear passion point and respect in a specific sector.
2 Explain the rules of engagement
Influencers need to know what they’re being paid for. Explain the kind of content you’re expecting, on which platforms, and agree reasonable timeframes.
3 They’re experts in reaching their audiences – you’re not
Don’t be controlling. Give influencers creative freedom – allow them to add their personal touch and speak in their own tone of voice.
4 Get familiar with the CAP guidelines
The Committees of Advertising Practice’s rules (CAP) are clear. Indicate sponsored posts by marking them “Ad” or using #ad. But as long as disclosure is unambiguous, you can do so in a way that matches an influencer’s style.
Buzzoole allows social media users to optimise their online presence
The Influencer View
- 74% rate Instagram as the most influential social media platform
- 79% think brands need to do more research on influencers before working with them
- 93% believe influencers should be controlling the narrative
- 41% would charge over £10,000 for a one-year contract with a brand
(Source: Fashion Monitor’s The Voice of the Influencer report)