And it’s here to stay

rise_visual_influencer_marketingWhether you swear by it or think it is just a passing fad, you’ve definitely heard of influencer marketing. And no doubt you’ve been exposed to it multiple times per day– either professionally or just scrolling through your Instagram feed. While the social media incarnation may be vogue, visual influencer marketing is nothing new. These marketing tactics have been with us since the beginning of the industry, marketers are just learning to execute these programs on the channels where audiences live. First, it was radio, newspaper and magazine print, and then the long standing reign of the TV ad, now we’re dealing with a digital and user-generated social world. Thus the rise of the social media influencer: the newest archetype of the visual marketing paradigm.

The Value of Visuals

From hieroglyphics to emojis, humans have always communicated with visuals.The reality is that people have historically needed images as a form of communication that builds social intimacy. This is especially true in our modern world, where much of our communication takes place exclusively in virtual ‘communities’ that have replaced face-to-face communication (Ayres, 2016). Without images, we would have lots of trouble sharing thoughts and feelings with one another. The goal of marketing is to strike an emotional chord, to gain the attention, emotion and ultimately the trust of your audience. Visuals are valuable to marketers because of the speed at which they elicit a human response. There are a million examples of how the image has been employed to marketers over the years: billboards, posters, mailers, newspaper ads and glossy photo shoots. In fact, it’s hokey and quaint (even bizarre) to think of a day when the marketing message was not accompanied by a high-impact visual.

Visuals are a must and marketers put their efforts where the audience lives. Marketers polled by Lewis research said their top reasons for producing visual content were because it is more engaging (67%), social media requires it (50%), it evokes emotion (46%), and it matches well with consumers’ reduced attention spans (45%). And marketers are putting their budgets where their mouths are. In another poll, 66% of marketers intended to spend more on visual content this year than they did last year.

The Influencer Effect

As we mentioned before, influencer marketing is just a new suit on an age-old marketing tactic. Influencer marketing can be thought of as a more scalable, sustainable form of word of mouth marketing. In the real world, we rely on recommendations from our friends and this plays out similarly on social networks. Marketers are leveraging influencers to build “brand trust and loyalty […] since word-of-mouth acquisition not only reduces cost of acquisition but has a 37 percent higher retention rate” (Spencer, 2015). This opportunity gives brands a moment to build connections with targeted consumers through the people they look to for recommendations.

Traditional advertising just doesn’t cut it anymore and marketers are left scrambling to find new methods to reach the ever-elusive millennial. Many people use ad blocking software, very few watch TV in real time, and the effects are showing. In a recent study, less than 14% of respondents even remembered the last ad they saw. But they are using social networks and they are following influential content creators. So marketers are flocking to those content creators to get their brands in front of the eyes of their target audiences. In a survey of marketers, “93% of respondents considered their engagement with influencers as an effective strategy to draw attention to their brand” (Morin, 2015).

Marketers trust influencers because influencers are trusted by followers. This isn’t new. The days of athletes on Wheaties boxes and spokesmen in TV commercials may be ending, but the visual influencer is alive and well in the social sphere. Harnessing the power of their peer recommendation and their ability to create impactful images can help your brand gain awareness and affinity from the audiences you covet.

Ayres, Andrea. (2016). “Emoji Love: The Science Behind Emoticons.” Crew. Date accessed 12 February 2016

Campbell, Arthur. (2013). “Word-of-Mouth Communication and Percolation in Social Networks.” The American Economic Review, Vol. 103, No. 6, pp. 2466-2498.

Galeotti, Andrea and Sanjeev Goyal. (2009). “Influencing the Influencers: A Theory of Strategic Diffusion.” The RAND Journal of Economics, Vol. 40, No. 3, pp. 509-532.

Fenster, Sabrina. (2015). “How to work with social media influencers.” The Shelf, 23 September 2015. Date accessed 19 February 2016

Morin, Raymond. (2015). “12 Emerging Trends for Social Media Influencer Marketing.” Maximize Social Business, 15 November 2015. Date accessed 19 February 2016

Spencer, Michael. (2015). “Rise of Influencer Marketing in 2015.” LinkedIn, Dec 28, 2015. Date accessed 19 February 2016

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