‘Influencer Marketing’, has crossed the threshold of ‘want’ and has become today’s ‘need’ for brands to make a mark and capture the market share. Almost all big brands have recognized the change and have increased their investment many fold in so called influencer marketing. Adweek reports that by 2020, the influencer marketing industry in US will be a $10 billion industry. Even today, with its $2 billion size, the industry has become important enough to attract Federal Trade Commission (USA) attention on many occasions.

Activate by Bloglovin’s research has found that 67 percent of marketers think influencer marketing campaigns helped them reach a more targeted audience, thus leading to more impactful results. Influencer marketing work. Here are a few stats to support the previous statement

  • 84% of consumers say they either completely or somewhat trust recommendations from family, colleagues, and friends about products and services – making these recommendations the highest ranked source for trustworthiness. [Nielsen]
  • 74% of consumers identify word-of-mouth as a key influencer in their purchasing decision. [Ogilvy/Google/TNS]
  • 68% trust online opinions from other consumers, and places online opinions as the third most trusted source of product information. [Nielsen]
  • 91% of people trust online reviews written by other consumers as much as they trust recommendations from personal contacts. [BrightLocal]

Genuine influence either comes from friends and family or from impersonal sources like online reviews. True influence rides on trust, is subtle and leads to higher chances of a successful sale.

In context of the Middle East region, the big question we need to ask ourselves - is the use of ‘paid influencers’ for campaigns truly influencer marketing? Are social media stars of today not similar to movie and music stars who endorsed products for a fee? If this is true, why are brands trying to disguise endorsements as influencer marketing? There is enough body of knowledge to prove that celebrities endorsements work. And endorsements are a proven and accepted way to driving brand metrics – so why shy away. In fact, every time, endorsements are disguised as influencer marketing – two things happen:

  1. Consumer is very smart and question brand credibility : You only make your endorsement more conspicuous as paid deal by deliberately trying to project it as unpaid one. We are in a smart world where not only people but phones too have become smart so, any effort to disguise your endorsement as unpaid one will make it scream loud of the conspiracy. Consumers can tell apart the genuine content from the paid endorsement hence, it is advisable to present the fact for a simple reason that your endorsement will make little or no impact on readers or viewers if they suspect hypocrisy. In the process, even influencer becomes less impactful.
  2. Influencers lose sheen: An influencer captures the heart and attention of others by building trust through genuine content. A great number of followers doesn’t mark the success of an influencer. The readers and the community appreciate influencers for their unbiased, true and selfless content. However, as soon as the influencers’ social feeds start showing brand names once too often, the trust factor suffers. An influencers with large number of followers but low trust factor doesn’t do good either to business or to influencer. Being overt about endorsements helps both the brand and influencer because consumers have accepted the fact that celebrities endorse brands.

Influencer marketing in its true form is very subtle art form that lives on completely or seemingly altruistic recommendations. Consumers know there is nothing altruistic about endorsements. Endorsements on social media are primarily about reach. That is why most commercial influencers are selected and paid on the basis of their reach metrics/ number of followers and not quality of engagement. CPE - Cost Per Engagement - pricing model for influencers is still evolving and not in widespread use, at least in the Middle East region. Thus, let us call a spade, a spade. Think of so called ‘influencers’ as celebrity endorsers and use them to build what they deliver best i.e message reach.