Sunday, December 17, 2023

Influencer Marketing in 2024

In the fine tradition of a yearly post on the future of our industry, here are a few thoughts about influencer marketing and the road ahead.

2023 was a disruptor for our industry, with Artificial Intelligence (AI) being at the forefront and influencer marketing still a pivotal force in teasing consumer behavior and brand perception. 


As we near 2024, digital marketing is set for yet another overhaul, fueled by technological advances, changing consumer preferences, and a drive for authenticity and the personal touch. Brands want to show they’re connected to an ever-increasingly skeptical customer base in an honest and approachable way. 

Only last week, I was propositioned by a company proposing advertising on my (sweary and somewhat profane) personal fan podcast, Dirty WHoers. “We’d love to send you samples and for you to create your own advert for us, in your style,” seriously? And they are offering serious money. Admittedly, we do get plenty of downloads by a very targeted and passionate audience, but if brands are considering promoting themselves through a medium like that and think an 18-rated Doctor Who podcast is the place to do it, the floodgates are wide open. 


Influencers are becoming central to brand strategies, moving way beyond the after-thought add-ons to other campaigns. I believe brands, especially B2C brands, are going to have to think more innovatively, promoting ‘a creator economy’ that needs to go beyond conventional collaboration models if they want to foster trust and get in front of their prospects.


The Rise of Micro and Nano Influencers 


The influencer marketing scene, traditionally dominated by macro-influencers with hefty follower numbers, is gradually recognizing the value of micro and nano influencers. 

These smaller-scale and specialist content creators, known for their highly engaged and loyal (nah, obsessive) followers, offer brands a more genuine connection and trust, which can be elusive with the larger influencers. They're also a lot cheaper than going for the traditional big fish. Going niche means solid targeting, and while it may be long-tail, that’s a good use of marketing spend.


AI-Powered Influencer Discovery and Matching 


AI is revolutionizing influencer marketing strategies. In the coming year, advanced AI tools for influencer discovery and matching will undoubtedly become more commonplace—trawling a wealth of data to match brands with influencers who share their values and ethos, with the aim of finding 'more meaningful' partnerships. I’ve not played with AI influencer analysis tools much, but there are a few good examples here, and the likes of podcasting platforms are already promoting them as a possible source of revenue.


New and Developing Mediums


The trend is shifting from static content to interactive and immersive experiences. Live streams through Twitch, interactive polls, and augmented reality (AR) content are becoming more popular, meaning influencers can create more engaging and dynamic content in a whole new space. Brands that embrace these formats can forge deeper consumer connections and stand out from the crowd at the same time without necessarily having to become experts on these new mediums themselves. Why would Karcher, for example, develop their own VR game about pressure-washing fire engines when there are streamers who already have a dedicated audience—yeah, that’s a thing.

Back in my days working in virtual worlds (notably Second Life), we created a campaign to carbon offset an avatar's virtual life and the spaces they owned by planting real word trees for the green news aggregation site (alas now defunct) Big Green Switch. We sponsored well-known SL creators to create virtual trees, environmentally aware household objects, and assorted giveaways. This led to the brand winning The New Statesman Campaign for Change Awards and a plethora of positive PR, and the assets from which continue to be shared in-world to this day.

The Rise of Virtual Influencers 


While somewhat alien to a lot of marketers, virtual influencers and computer-generated entities are carving an interesting place for themselves in influencer marketing. Names like Lu do MagaluLil Miquela, and Imma may be unknown to us Gen Xers, but for the right audience, they are household names. Admittedly used by the single brand Mattel and riding the coattails of her recent movie success, Barbie, however, should be no stranger to any of us.


Yes, it’s admittedly a wee bit bizarre, but they offer a unique and fresh approach to brand promotions, and as technology evolves, they will become more integrated into marketing strategies and shouldn’t be ignored. Aligning with a virtual influencer is, after all, still an indirect PR stunt in itself and well worthy of consideration, and one the marketing team has a degree of creative control over. 


Long-Term Partnerships for One-Time Campaigns 


The trend is noticeably moving from one-off campaigns to long-term influencer relationships. Sustained partnerships allow for non-intrusive and authentic storytelling and better brand integration, making for a consistent brand narrative over time, plus longevity of spend. 

Remember the YouTuber ‘Where the Hell is Matt?’? He was sponsored over a decade ago (long-term and subtly) by Stride Gum (Cadbury Adams USA), which still features to this day, proudly on his videos, now with 100s of millions of views.

Sustainable and Socially Conscious


Most businesses will create a Sustainability Report, something I particularly enjoy doing, but you can leverage a whole different audience with the right collaborations. 


More generally, as consumers grow more aware of their environmental and social impact, brands aligned with influencers who share the same concerns and ethics can boost their brand image and appeal to socially conscious consumers by tagging along with the right content producers. 


Adidas is doing good work in this area by stepping up as a surprising sustainability leader in fashion. They're visibly shifting their focus to create cool, eco-friendly stuff, like shoes made from ocean plastic. Teaming up with Parley for the Oceans, they've come up with sneakers made completely from recycled materials. They're also using their online clout with influencer campaigns to get the word out, which isn’t just great for their image; it's moving the goalposts by showing everyone how fashion doesn't have to be 'fast fashion' has the potential to be both trendy and good for the planet.


Ephemeral and Short-Form Content Dominance 


Ephemeral content, care of platforms like Snapchat and Instagram Stories, is still a growing trend. In 2024, influencers are expected to continue leveraging these fleeting formats to further instill a sense of urgency and exclusivity in their content, and effectively capturing their audience's attention. This content strategy, which emphasizes momentary engagement, appeals to the audience's fear of missing out (FOMO) and can drive more immediate responses. “Buy this awesome thing now, or lose out.”


General video content continues to evolve, with platforms like TikTok obviously leading the way and cross-posting being the norm. The rapid growth of TikTok highlights our audience's leaning towards short, engaging, easy-to-consume storytelling. Influencers are harnessing this trend, creating content that is not only visually appealing but also capable of conveying messages quickly and effectively—all be it with a lot of dancing. This ongoing shift is a reflection of changing consumer behaviors and offers an undeniable opportunity for the way the right brands and influencers can connect with our audiences.

It may not be for everyone, but even my work in cybersecurity is offering opportunities, with influencer opportunities growing in every field.


More of the Same


The 'creator economy' of 2024 is set to be marked by technology, authenticity, and social consciousness. If nothing else, it’s going to pay my podcast hosting fees and give me some pocket money—with very little effort on my behalf. Only a decade ago, I had to resort to spammy banner advertising to do this.

As marketers, we need to stay agile and innovative, open to new ideas, and understand the dynamic influencer-follower relationship to be an effective part of the ever-changing influencer marketing opportunities.


For brands, diving into this space opens up a world of possibilities, from reaching wider audiences to adding a personal touch to our marketing. Partnering with influencers can bring our brand story to life in the most relatable way. So, here's to making those connections.