Predictions2020: The Year Ahead for Influencer Marketing

By Karl Mapstone, co-founder and head of Middle East at Vamp

Next year, the global influencer economy is predicted to be worth $8bn. Last year there were 3.7 million brand-sponsored influencer posts on social media. Next year it’s estimated there will be 6.12  million.

But the industry is changing as fast as it’s growing. Barely a week goes by without an Instagram update or influencer marketing development. Which may mean the strategies you have been using, won’t produce the same results for you in 2020. With 65 per cent of brands planning to increase their spending on influencer marketing in 2020, marketers should take notice of the following upcoming trends to ensure they achieve return on their investment.

In the early days of influencer marketing, brands were obsessed with finding collaborators with the biggest following possible. They thought that the wider the reach a campaign got, the better results they were able to achieve. But it didn’t quite work out that way.

Marketers realised it wasn’t about the number of eyes on an influencer post or ad, it was about having the right eyes on that ad. That’s what drove big results. That means choosing an influencer who is relevant to your brand – makeup artists showcasing cosmetics, fitness enthusiasts featuring gym gear, and so on. This helps the partnership feel more natural, more believable. It also gives you a sense that the audience following that influencer will have the same interests and therefore is a receptive audience for your brand.

It’s not just the way influencers are being chosen for briefs that is changing. The work they are being briefed on is evolving too. After seeing the high quality of work influencers were creating for brands  as part of collaborations, many brands are now regarding influencers as an extensive and readily  available content creation resource. They’re actually stealing ad spend away from traditional agencies.

Influencer content is proven to resonate and engage. Plus, more accessible price points for things like cameras and drones mean they can get their hands on professional equipment.

Almost half of marketers want total control over sponsored influencer posts, according to a recent study. It’s understandable. For marketers used to masterminding a brand message and ensuring it is implemented consistently, allowing influencers freedom to represent your brand, without strict guidelines, can feel daunting.

But telling an influencer what to say and how to say it isn’t the answer.  This control has an impact on both the quality of the work and the performance of the campaign. If marketers want their campaigns to succeed, they need to swap creative direction for creator direction.

The beauty of social creators is  they know how to convert, without the hard sell. At their best, collaborations feel like a recommendation from an expert you admire, or a style suggestion from the person you wish you dressed like. At their worst, shoehorned marketing jargon and unnatural references make them instantly recognisable as an ad and you lose the magic of authentic influencer marketing.

Karl Mapstone, Co Founder & Head of Middle East | Vamp speaks on the shifting landscape for Middle East influencers in 2020 at Campaign’s Marcomms360 conference on Predictions2020.

Savvy social users, increasingly feeling as if they have seen it all before, are getting harder to impress and are eager to see something new. Authentic, influencer-led content has a better chance at cutting  through the noise than something that resembles traditional advertising. There is a real appetite for raw authenticity at the moment. We’re seeing it with the surge of unfiltered posts on Instagram and  the body positivity movement – and with the popularity of TikTok with its rough editing and unfiltered and unpolished videos.

Influencers, if given the creative freedom, can tell the story of your brand in their own voice in a way they know their audience will respond to.

Brands need to remember the reason they chose influencers in the first place – new ideas, creative thinking, a captive audience – and not squash this with tight controls that produce cliched marketing.

For a long time, influencer marketing campaigns were judged on the number of likes and comments they were able to create. Engagement was prized as highly as reach and was used to justify influencer  spend.

So, no wonder so many were horrified when earlier this year Instagram decided to kick off its hidden-likes trial in Australia. Suddenly like-counts were no longer public, but tucked away and visible only to the person who posted.

But what they failed to realise is that influencer marketing has moved way beyond engagement metrics. In 2020, likes and comments should be a natural byproduct of a good influencer marketing  campaign, not the sole objective. A campaign should drive customers to action – whether that’s downloading an app, going in-store to get a sample or making a purchase. Those are the metrics marketers should be focused on.

While it is trialling hidden likes, Instagram is working on functions that will prove more valuable for brands. There’s the swipe-up function in Stories and Shoppable tags in the feed and in Stories.

Marketers should demand more. Set clear objectives and use Instagram’s e-commerce functions to achieve them.

Influencer marketing isn’t in for an easy ride. Creators need to keep innovating, and platforms need to keep evolving to maximise these functions and will be held accountable to even higher standards in the future. But if that strengthens the channel’s output and reputation then it can only be a good thing.