In 2019, Merriam Webster finally accepted the term ‘influencer’ into its dictionary. But influencer culture had changed the way brands connect with consumers long before that. Major social media stars have long since graduated from the beauty and mum bloggers of the 2010s, to the Instagram megastars of today. 

However, as quickly as influencers rose to superstar status, their sheen has tarnished. Also in 2019, research unveiled that over 95% of consumers did not trust social media influencers. Now, under a quarter of consumers feel that influencers motivate them to buy from a brand. 

A changing trend

This trend of diminishing trust has only accelerated. Once-loyal followers are becoming increasingly savvy to paid content over the authentic glimpses of the ‘real’ lives they crave. 

Similarly, a host of influencers wildly misjudged the mood of their fans during the pandemic – posting pictures from all-expenses paid trips to Dubai, for example. As a result, 85% of young people in the UK unfollowed influencers during the pandemic. 

Further research suggests Gen Z wants greater authenticity from those they follow – a third even said that influencers must speak up about injustice. Increasingly, followers no longer see influencers as real-life leaders to emulate, butout-of-touch, inauthentic #ad machines

Digital man holding a phone with the TikTok logo.

While platforms such as TikTok have borne a new wave of influencers, such as Addison Rae, the rules have changed. Instagram influencers are set on serving up heavily filtered, overly manufactured versions of themselves and their lives. Therefore, Gen Z and Gen Alpha have turned to TikTok, Discord, and Twitch for greater authenticity – raw, unfiltered, and genuinely entertaining content. 

Interactive and creative platforms like TikTok still provide places for brands to connect with their customers, as the storytelling experience demanded by fans is vastly different. The age of the traditional influencer’s marketing power has reached its peak, for many brands this is causing a problem. 

Today, it is not enough for brands to throw money at unimaginative influencer campaigns. Now, emotion drives brand loyalty. This means connecting to customers as individuals, understanding their ‘why’ – not just viewing them as generic purchasers of influencer clickbait. 

Rather than bland content focused on the aspirational life of the influencer, consumers want specific, personalised experiences that reflect their lives, values, and needs. Influencer power has peaked, and personal, authentic experience now reigns.

ROI is long-term loyalty

A brand experience based on personalisation requires a whole new approach. It is far beyond the influencer marketing powered strategies adopted by many brands in the last decade. Return on investment (ROI) on paying enormous sums for influencer posts is waning.

Truthfully, these posts now tell brands nothing about their customers or how to better connect with them. Influencers may boast millions of followers, but they can’t dig down into the granular understanding of who those followers are or how they think; not least provide the insight a brand needs to build a customer journey that delivers long-term loyalty. 

Brands must understand why their customers do what they do and how to use that information to craft narratives and stories. Understanding the ‘why’ helps retailers build narrative experiences that drive behavioural change. This is a more sophisticated approach than the antiquated influencer marketing strategies that have become stale and increasingly sneered. 

Understanding that ‘why’ marries two marketing disciplines. The qualitative approach of customer research and engagement; alongside the quantitative, specific, data-driven approach powered by today’s analytics and martech tools

BLM fists in the air.

If brands can understand human behaviour, they can predict behavioural changes. It can be used it to their advantage to deliver a positive customer experience. 

This is about brands focusing on the right strategies at the right times. Those strategies must be based on emotion, rather than influencers’ marketing power. Creating emotional impact should be based on what people care about. For example, research shows that 76% of millennials and 83% of Gen Zers insist brands should take a stance on social issues. How can a brand react to what their fans care about if they have no insight into these fluctuating priorities? 

It’s more than transactions

Just 14% of consumers say brands ”greatly” know them, remember them, and understand their needs. Honesty, trustworthiness, and authenticity, where consumers are treated as individuals, are incredibly important to a relationship where a brand and consumer feel aligned. Those traditional influencer campaigns can no longer deliver this. At the same time, the centre of the brand-consumer interaction is not the transaction. 

Consumers want relationships with the brands in which they choose to engage, not in a surface-level sense, but on a one-to-one level. Now, brands must invest in the customer journey as a personalised, emotionally driven experience. Whereas, ROI is measured in loyalty. 

This means that brands must continually adjust their strategy based on their customers’ ever-evolving behaviours and expectations. These expectations are myriad. 

Whether consumers’ increasing focus on concerns over social justice, their desire for authenticity or thirst for new platforms fosters creativity. Brands need to be at the vanguard of these shifts. 

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