Rewriting the rules of influencer marketing

Thought Leadership
Sports Industry recently published this article by Creative Director, Gareth Leeding, looking at the rise of influencer marketing and what brands need to consider when choosing the right people to work with. They’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it below.

Over the past decade, there’s been a dramatic shift in consumer attitudes towards traditional marketing with more and more people subconsciously switching off to brand advertising. In its place we’ve experienced the rise of influencers, as consumers look to independent and trusted sources for entertainment, advice and guidance.

As a result, it’s estimated that the influencer marketing industry is now worth over $2bn worldwide, with around 70 percent of brands now regularly working with influencers to connect and engage their target audiences online. The great irony of this, is that the more consumers turn to these independent thinkers of real and honest advice, the more they are drawing up agreements for vast sums to advertise products to their network of loyal followers. And the biggest influencers can often be promiscuous, working with multiple brands simultaneously or back to back, resulting in content that lacks authenticity.

Engagement rates are even becoming inversely proportional to follower numbers in some cases, with mega-influencers (those with six figure follower numbers) sometimes generating as low as 1.6 percent engagement rates on sponsored posts. At the other end of the scale, brands choosing to work with a more cost-effective micro-influencer (those with less than 10,000 followers) are seeing engagement rates of around four percent for brand-led content.

So why this shift? And what does this mean for brands looking to engage fans online?

The standard of influence
Influence comes from trust. Fans may follow someone, along with their 1.2 million other followers, but if that person posts about their new favourite thing every other week with #ad carefully hidden several full stops and six additional hashtags down, it’s unlikely they will hold much sway with purchasing decisions. Someone with 10,000 followers and a genuinely engaged community who tracks their journey and trusts in what they say, is far more likely to have an impact.

We found this when we worked with adidas Football to create the Tango Squad campaign a few years ago. When we began to unpick who teenage football fans were really listening to, we quickly discovered that it wasn’t just huge social media stars who were having an impact; it was micro-influencers in communities, the football captains in the locker rooms and on the local pitches.

Growing influence not buying it
By gathering these groups of local influencers and forging them into a global network on Facebook Messenger (dark social is where an estimated 70 percent of social shares now take place), we were able to empower them with exclusive content and incredible experiences to shape their own content for their own channels. We created a highly influential group of true brand advocates with an authentic story to tell.

As a result of the content they have been able to share and the journey adidas has taken them on, many of these already locally influential football captains have become sizable sports influencers in their own right – some growing to hundreds of thousands of followers. The difference being, that adidas is part of their social DNA. They’ve grown with the brand behind them and their followers have come to expect high-quality, interesting and engaging stories – backed by one brand – which they can rely on and trust.

The real lesson here for any sports brand looking to engage influencers is not just to look beyond the traditional ‘stars of social media’, but also to really think about how you’re going to engage them. Whether it’s exclusive experiences like designing their own boots or kit, working with them to form their own team or to play with their heroes, or simply giving them the freedom to make their own content for you in their own unique style; the impact of the partnership will ultimately be far greater than simply paying someone to copy, paste and publish.

Focusing on authenticity to produce great influencer marketing isn’t a new concept, but Tango Squad FC shows that it’s possible to rewrite the rule book on how we go about achieving it.