From social media megastars to micro-influencers, Drapers explores how retailers and brands can best work with the next generation of celebrities
Recognised as stars among their dedicated followings, bloggers, vloggers, YouTubers and Instagrammers are an integral part of today’s fashion industry. These one-person powerhouses have become the mainstay of social media platforms and wield considerable sway over consumers’ shopping choices. Large chunks of retailers’ marketing budgets are being earmarked for influencers as they look to partner with the Instagram elite on everything from one-off social media posts to glossy global advertising campaigns and their own product ranges.
Not long ago, retailers had a limited pool of big-name influencers to choose from. The market is still young, but it is maturing, and fashion businesses now have the option of partnering with an ever-increasing supply of influencers at every level of the industry.
This new plethora of choices makes working with the right influencer, who is in turn able to connect with the right customer, even more crucial. The need for targeted marketing and a demand for “authenticity” is giving rise to new influencer models to connect with consumers, rather than simply working with a social media star with millions of followers.
Fashion businesses are keen to see a concrete return on what is often a hefty investment. The question of who can ensure the best outcome – big players with follower counts that stretch into the millions, or smaller names with a more intimate relationship with their audience – is a pressing one.
There is no doubt that a well-judged collaboration between retailers and influencers can have a drastic impact on sales. A green midi-dress from contemporary womenswear brand Kitri promptly sold out earlier this year and amassed an 800-strong waiting list after it was worn in a sponsored post by New York-based blogger Charlotte Groeneveld, who has 352,000 Instagram followers.
“Having an influencer pictured in one of our items can make a product go from selling five in one week to selling hundreds in a day,” confirms Shae Thompson, PR manager at fast fashion etailer MissPap. The brand has a collaboration line with former The Only Way Is Essex star Ferne McCann, who has 2.1 million followers on Instagram.
How an influencer wears the clothes in pictures is very important. It has to be worn right
Shae Thompson, MissPap
“Influencers essentially bridge the gap of communication between us and the customer,” says Thompson. “We think about a range of things when looking for an influencer to work with. It’s very important to find an influencer that followers feel they can relate to. Of course, the engagement they have on social media is important, but we also think carefully about picture quality. How an influencer wears the clothes in pictures is very important. It has to be worn right, and then engagement, their following and their location all come into play.”
Small but mighty
There is an increasing buzz around micro-influencers, often defined as those with up to 100,000 social media followers. These smaller fish often have niche but highly engaged audiences, and come with a lower price tag than big social media stars. This makes them an attractive proposition for brands and retailers.
“What brands want from influencers does vary, but I think they are increasingly looking for the right fit, rather than concentrating just on the numbers,” argues Wendy Gilmour, who runs fashion, lifestyle and travel blog Thank Fifi, and has worked with retailers such as Gap, Reiss, TK Maxx and Mint Velvet. “I don’t have huge numbers [Gilmour has 22,000 Instagram followers] but brands come to me because I fit their target audience – I’m a little bit older than most bloggers, in my mid-thirties, and I focus on creating high-quality image content. I’m also based in Scotland and am finding that brands are dropping their London-centric mindset and are embracing smaller, regional bloggers as part of their strategy to capture new audiences.”
Neil Waller, co-founder of influencer marketing agency Whalar, has worked with retailers and brands such as Farfetch and Adidas. He dislikes the term “micro-influencer” but agrees that brands are looking to create more personalised, targeted influencer marketing campaigns.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations where ‘micro-influencer’ has been used to mean different things, so I think the label isn’t clear,” he explains. “Big celebrities [in influencer campaigns] are still a value proposition and a huge opportunity, but we are also seeing brands working with these micro-tastemakers. It is about localising a creative message, whether that’s geographically, or within a particular community, and finding influencers who can interpret that message.”
Sophie Webb, press co-ordinator at young fashion label Lazy Oaf, adds: “We do look at the size of the audience and how engaged that audience is, although I would say the size of their reach is often less important to us.
“Being a credible and on-brand ambassador for Lazy Oaf is the most important thing, regardless of their reach. We’ll often choose influencers who have a small but strongly engaged audience, are from a new territory we’re trying to target, or just artists, musicians or creatives who we love, think are cool and want to see wearing the brand.”
In the search for authenticity, brands are making use of a peer-to-peer model that spreads their message via communities of genuine customers, rather than the vast followings of social media stars. Brand of the moment Glossier adopted this methodology when it launched into the UK earlier this year. The US cosmetics company uses customer-generated content on its social media channels and gives shoppers a 10% off link on checkout to share with friends.
Real advocates of a brand are more authentic
Saif Al-Saraf, Zyper
Saif Al-Saraf is head of growth at technology start-up Zyper, which connects brands with the top 1% of their online “fans”, defined as those who regularly interact positively with them via social media. He argues that businesses are increasingly looking to spread the word through communities of followers, rather than via influencers, in a bid to be authentic.
“A large-scale influencer could be sponsored by 100 different brands throughout the year, which eats away at their engagement and believability,” he explains. “We also hear from brands who have worked with an influencer but are left scratching their heads after that influencer works with a competitor shortly after. Real advocates of a brand are more authentic. The people we work with can have anywhere between 500 and 5,000 followers. What matters more is their level of engagement.”
Whatever level of influencer they choose to work with, whether global name or local micro-influencer, retailers must crunch the data carefully for optimum results, concludes Harry Hugo, co-founder of influencer marketing agency The Goat Agency, which was worked with New Look and resale site Depop.
“Some smaller influencers may have a more engaged following and larger influencers will have a higher reach but the thing we find the most important to consider is whether the influencer can convert customers. This is a deeper level of data than vanity metrics, such as the number of followers, likes or comment on a post.
“Instead, it looks at conversions and click-through rates, and depends on many different factors, from the time a photo is posted to the caption and type of content. It takes a trained eye and previous data to really know which influencers have the most power.”
It is no longer sufficient to simply work with the influencers who have the largest follower count. The persuasive power of social media stars needs to be properly harnessed, taking into consideration how their profile and follower engagement intersect with what the brand is trying to achieve.