Influencer marketing has taken the digital marketing world by storm in recent years. In fact, in 2017 Google reported an increase of 325% in searches for the term influencer marketing. The phenomenon has completely transformed the modern digital agency and how and where leading brands choose to market their products. These brands are achieving overwhelming visibility by taking their money away from paid advertising methods such as print and television, and directing their dollars to a new subspecies of the population known as ‘influencers’.
The influencer community has allowed seemingly ordinary individuals with a strong online following be able to command triple digit profits, simply for posting an image of themselves with a particular product on their Instagram or other social media platforms. So, what has made influencer marketing the phenomenon it is today? Read on to explore the psychology behind the success of influencer marketing, and how it successfully shifts the behaviour of the modern consumer.
Consumer Tribes and Social Comparison
All forms of marketing centre on human behaviour, but no form has been as successful in understanding, shifting and moulding human behaviour as influencer marketing. Via social media platforms, consumers are exposed endlessly to brand messages and content that is embedded into the daily life of the influencer. Research shows that many consumers are motivated to form ‘tribes’; simply a group of individuals who connect to each other and are influenced to purchase the same products and services. Leading influencers therefore create their own consumer tribes through their online following and frequent content.
In this form of a consumer tribe, the influencer leads their followers towards purchasing the same products and services as shown on their profile. Their followers or ‘tribe’ are motivated to conform in order to feel part of the influencer’s social community. This is an example of a psychological concept referred to as ‘social proofing’, where an action is considered by an individual to be more acceptable after they see others doing it. Influencer marketing is therefore successful at utilising the psychological process of social comparison in order to boost sales and brand recognition. Consumers are exposed to content that makes them envious, and are influenced into purchasing the same product or service.
Successful marketing has always focused on establishing the credibility of the brand or service provider. Consumers are motivated to purchase products or services from established brands, or from providers who have received favourable reviews online or from their friends and family.
Influencers are successful in driving sales for sponsored products and services, as they command the trust of their followers.
Influencers spend considerable time and effort developing their online content and often have a ‘niche’ of sponsored products, such as makeup, fashion or baby products. The influencer is therefore seen as a credible source of information and recommendation, foregoing the need for the consumer to read or consider multiple online reviews.
Whilst many celebrities are able to influence the consumer habits of their followers, ordinary individuals with strong online followings have been able to command an equal and sometimes greater level of influence. This is believed to be due to the concept of ‘social distance’. Many followers cannot relate to the lifestyles of celebrities, and therefore do not feel that they can achieve the same level of lifestyle that is shown on their social media profiles. However, many consider themselves in the same or comparable social realm as their favourite online content creators.
Social media influencers put considerable work into ensuring that their content is relatable and posted regularly. Their content is aimed at making their followers feel like their close and trusted friends. This closure of social distance is what drives followers to purchase the products and services recommended by the influencer.
Influencer marketing continues to command the marketing community. Understanding the aspects of human psychology that have driven the success of influencer marketing, is essential for any digital marketing agency or brand to harness.