The Person Behind the Product: The Growing Retail Power of Social Influencers
With more than 3.2 billion social media users worldwide, it's faster and easier than ever to market to consumers. Furthermore, influencers are increasingly using their social media status as a way to start up a retail brand.
Research has found that 49 percent of consumers depend on influencer recommendations before they make a purchase, and four in 10 millennial subscribers said their favorite influencer understands them “better than their friends."
Having already built a shared interest with their followers, if an influencer were to create a product they can tap into a loyal set of potential buyers — who already feel like a VIP club.
The sister duo behind Pixiwoo, Sam and Nic Chapman, transformed the YouTube makeup tutorial and founded one of the most successful makeup brush brands globally, Real Techniques. In addition, YouTubers like Ruth Crilly, known for her channel A Model Recommends, has previously curated beauty boxes named The Best of Beauty in partnership with Feelunique.
Platforms like Instagram and YouTube offer creative image-based posts and shoppable feeds where users can instantly click through to the product on the website. This has spurred influencers to convert their profiles into business accounts and compete with well-established retailers.
Starting a Brand as an Influencer Has its Advantages
Building on their personal connection with an audience, influencers can gather research about a product before it's even made — a people-led product you might call it. By making a follower feel like they’ve contributed to the creation of a product, they're more likely to buy it.
Through things like interactive polls and story Q&As, influencers can gain valuable data that a standard retailer usually isn’t privy to. It's also easier to achieve positive product reviews as influencers have already established trust. They can also utilize their friendships within the influencer community to generate a wider reach.
Kylie Jenner is a prime example of how connections can influence the success of a brand. Over the years, the billionaire has developed her brand, Kylie Cosmetics, helped by collaborations with her siblings, Kim, Khloe and Kourtney Kardashian. The four have a combined social media following of 484 million.
Having a Presence Gives You Power
Your brand is your reputation, and that’s what an influencer can create. They know what their audience loves because it’s largely something they love themselves.
Studies show that 93 percent of retailers believe customers are more likely to spend money with a brand they feel connected to. Matthew Hayes, managing director of brand agency Champions (UK) plc, explains that generating emotion is the core to selling.
“There are six key factors to instilling brand loyalty: exceeding the customer’s needs, building trust, setting trends, sharing values, elevating experiences, and having respect,” Hayes says.
A good example of this is cleaning guru Sophie Hinchcliffe, aka Mrs Hinch, who has built up an army of 2.8 million "Hinchers" who follow her advice on Instagram. She recently signed a partnership deal with major manufacturer Procter & Gamble, giving the brand the authority to stamp its cleaning products with her seal of approval.
While retailers can often come across as too sales-driven, Mrs Hinch is seen by her followers as a friend. She shares tips and advice on cleaning problems and sits down with a cup of tea to update us on her day.
Building a Brand Will Always Have its Risks
That being said, if the execution or product design isn't quite right an influencer may devalue their authority and risk losing a portion of their fan base.
YouTuber Jacyln Hill, founder of Jacyln Hill Cosmetics, received backlash when customers found hair and lumps in her products. The beauty businesswoman was forced to pull the plug on her range of lipsticks.
Also, with legislation from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), consumers are more aware than ever that most product placements are paid for collaborations with retailers and brands. Therefore, audiences perceive influencers as promoters rather than businesspeople and can find it difficult when spotting a difference between a product placement for their own brand and that of a brand they're simply endorsing.
Influencers Are Shaping the Future of Retail, and Brands Must Adapt
This year we’ve seen womenswear brand Never Fully Dressed run a campaign with the "Made in Chelsea" cast. Sophie Habboo, Melissa Tattam and Sophie Hermann promoted the clothing line across their social media channels, while the brand set up a "Made in Chelsea" category on its website, encouraging customers to shop their Instagram feed. The campaign has built an affinity with its target audience of women aged 25 to 35.
Brands need to acknowledge and harness the power that influencers hold. Their relatable personalities and niche fan bases are the key to selling in a consumer-driven world that's saturated with similar products.
Amelia Neate is a senior manager at Influencer Matchmaker, an agency that partners influencers and brands across the globe, handling campaigns for the likes of eBay, Amazon.com and Boohoo.