Influencer marketing 2019

It’s hard to deny that 2018 was a rocky year for influencer marketing.

Fraud and distrust in the sector dominated the headlines, fuelled in June when Unilever CMO Keith Weed announced that the company would be rejecting any influencers paying for fake followers and engagement, and encouraged other companies to follow suit. This shone a light on the issues within the industry – issues that those of us working within it have been fighting for a long time – leading to a snowball effect of other brands pledging to do the same.

Instagram responded by taking measures into its own hands, committing to transparency on its platform by challenging accounts using third party apps. The social network is now taking steps to rebuild the reputation of influencer marketing, something that its most active users have begun to rely on and which is integral to its future success.

ROI has always been a topic of debate when it comes to influencer marketing and this was also true in 2018, which has seen brands and marketers try to figure out how best to measure its impact. Whilst the activity is still mainly used to spread awareness, more advanced insight into its effectiveness will help justify a deeper commitment to it in the future.

All of these things indicate that the sector is starting to find its feet in the marketing mix. The coming year will likely see the sector approach maturity, as more brands begin to use influencers in engaging ways. Here are the three things I expect to see from influencer marketing in 2019:

How brands work with influencers will become more important
Currently, brands are either not using influencers at all (a category that is shrinking), or are doing influencer marketing to tick a box, but not coming up with anything particularly interesting (this is the majority), or, rarely, are really changing the game and working with creators in innovative ways.

2018 was simply about more and more companies dipping their toe in the influencer marketing pool, and learning which creators to work with and which to avoid. 2019 will see brands coming up with ways to activate influencers in new and creative ways.

As brands partner with a wider mix of influencers, and bigger marketing budgets go into the activity, it will become increasingly important to provide creators with a good brief that really extracts the most creative interpretation. The biggest critics of influencer marketing in 2018 were not necessarily sceptical of the method itself, but of the execution. There is an urgent need for a new approach as consumers tire of #ads that feel disingenuous.

Regulation will become less of an issue as Instagram steps up and the industry accepts #ad
Until recently, Instagram did not take any responsibility for regulating accounts inflating their followers and engagement. Now, the platform has been pushed to step up in order to protect the interests of the platform.  

With influencer authenticity under the spotlight in recent months, and brands, agencies and influencers being increasingly monitored by audiences, Instagram has realised that cleaning up the industry will improve the user experience, and thus be good for its own business, ultimately increasing usage, retention and growth. By carefully regulating the platform against the inorganic activity, Instagram can help restore trust in the sector; leading to brands feeling more comfortable about working with creators again.

We are also likely to see #ad gain acceptance as a form of regulation. Consumers are not opposed to sponsored content as long as it is clearly labelled as such and high quality. After an array of brands and influencers received significant backlash in 2018 for not disclosing paid partnerships, I believe the industry has learned its lesson. Any serious partner will know that audiences in 2018 have become pretty discerning about dishonesty, and this will encourage effective regulation without the need for policing.

Influencers will become the brands
Over the past few years we have seen a trend of indie brands becoming more popular than big corporate brands – look at craft breweries, for example. Many influencers have jumped on this bandwagon, building their audiences and using their talents for marketing as a way to become entrepreneurs. In 2019 we will see influencers begin to take over the indie brand space, as more of them launch their own brands. I believe this will eventually usher in a new era of marketing first, product second.

The traditional model has always been to launch a brand, and then promote it. Influencers are flipping this model on its head by building their audiences first and worrying about an idea or a product second. This allows them to shortcut both marketing and retailers and form a direct link to the consumers. When they do so, influencers become more than just the face of the brand, they become the brand itself – a concept which appeals to a younger generation of consumers that care about a brand’s values and which companies they choose to align themselves with.

Influencer marketing as an industry has been surrounded by scepticism, critique and a fair share of challenges to tackle. 2018 was the year it got comfortable, ruffling some feathers in the process. 2019 will be the year it really shows us what it can do.

Written by Solberg Audunsson, CEO of influencer marketing platform Takumi.