Next weekend, I am speaking at the BConnected Conference in Toronto on The Future of Influencer Marketing. Prepping for this session made me realize that I had really pretty much abandoned my blogs, including this one, even though I have been creating a lot of new content about influencer marketing, branded content and performance measurement.
So I thought I’d start by sharing the article versions of the BConnected session, starting with this piece, The evolution of consumer-to-consumer marketing (Part 1 of 4).
Influencer marketing is a top trend in 2017. So much so that according to industry research shop eMarketer, nearly half of US marketers intend to increase their influencer marketing budgets in 2017.
But, as the song goes, “How did we get here?”
Let’s take a look at the evolution of consumer marketing — from the earliest village square to the mass markets of 20th century advertising back to an albeit much larger consumer-driven marketplace, in which customers have quite possibly the strongest voice in the marketing mix.
Consumers have been sharing their opinions with each other for as long as we have had marketplaces. Whether Ancient Greece, Medieval Europe or Imperial China, the opinion of your neighbor likely mattered, and some, by virtue of birth or achievement, assumed the mantle of tastemakers and had wider influencer beyond their own personal sphere.
Modern advertising, largely a product of the industrial revolution and the rise of mass communication, grew out of the effort to scale endorsement when personal contact was no longer feasible. But endorsement never went out of style. Harnessing the recommendation of “someone like me” has long been the holy grail of modern advertising. Celebrities became stand-ins for the tastemakers, and in consumer product advertising, actors are cast as proxies for real people so those real people — the target audience — identify with the endorsment. The copywriter who wrote “mmm mmm good” was not a cherubic small child nor her mother, and while Mikey may have liked it , he certainly didn’t write the line.
The computer age breathed new life into consumer-to-consumer marketing, from the very earliest of days, when forums on Prodigy, AOL, CompuServe, and Usenet newsgroups gave consumers a place to share experiences and recommend products and services to each other, in private non-commercial spaces. And then the early 90s brought a commercialized World Wide Web and the birth of digital advertising.
Digital changed literally everything. No longer did we have to guess at reach or exposure. Or wait for circulation audits. Impressions, clicks, page views, bounce rate, everything there to be counted. It also lowered the barrier to entry. Anyone could be a web publisher with a minimal investment in tech and a smattering of HTML. With the rise of review sites like Yelp and others, every consumer could be a consumer reporter.
By the turn of the century, the stage was set for a significant shift in the role of the consumer endorsement in modern marketing — the blogger. Over the same period that the “citizen journalist” was turning traditional news media on its head, this consumer marketer rose to prominence — a consumer who understood her role as both customer and conduit to other consumers through her blog, and later with the advent of Twitter and Facebook, her social channels.
Circa 2005-2006, the very earliest stages, we called it “blogger relations,” and often used a public relations-based model of unpaid outreach, but for many reasons beyond the scope of this post, it morphed very quickly into a compensated model, and a more inclusive nomenclature — influencer marketing.
Today, blogs are still a central component in most influencer strategies, but social platforms also play a prominent role, especially Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Regardless of distribution platform, video is increasingly important as brands see proof that influencer videos get more traction than brand-produced ones. For example, according to Internet video firm Pixability, 86 percent of the most-viewed beauty videos on YouTube were made by influencers, compared to 14 percent by beauty brands themselves.
Regardless of where she publishes, the social influencer acts as customer, publisher and consumer marketer, and has become a necessary part of the marketing strategy, whether a brand is actively engaging or not.
Part 2 covers the changing shape of influence and Part 3, ROI and measurement. Part 4 concludes the series with my updated advice to influencers who want to work with brands.