In the ultra-competitive blogosphere, power shifts on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. An entire industry has sprung up around online tastemakers, from talent agencies that specialize in bloggers to networks that connect brands with influencers.
These firms broker deals and provide the often elusive analytics that allow brands to measure the return on their social marketing investments. “Fashion brands are treating influencers the way they used to treat celebrities,” said digital marketing expert Eric Dahan, who co-founded influencer marketplace Instabrand in 2013.
“For many brands today, [bloggers] are more important than celebrities because they’re so much more attainable and relatable. They’re not seen as this corporate entity who’s only endorsing something because they’re being paid to.”
Karen Robinovitz, Digital Brand Architect’s co-founder and chief creative officer, said the tide turned in a big way when the industry began to recognize online content creators as talent in the same category as stylists, models or actors.
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“When we first started, there was a lot of education that needed to happen, a lot of minds to change. Today, the conversations are very different,” she said. “Brands now understand the tremendous value in what bloggers offer. They deliver beautiful content, a trusted voice and a very captive, targeted audience across multiple media channels that brands can tap into.”
As their clout grows, bloggers are not only commanding much higher fees for event appearances and sponsored posts, but the nature of the deals they’re fielding is also changing. Instead of one-off projects, brands are increasingly looking to cultivate longer-term — and in some cases, exclusive — relationships with key influencers who align well with a label’s overall image and vision.
That’s the goal for designer Rebecca Minkoff, who has teamed with top bloggers, including Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine and The New Potato’s Danielle and Laura Kosann. “We’re embarking on more in-depth partnerships, working with a select few bloggers as our primary media partners to help drive e-commerce sales,” Minkoff said.
“These digital influencers have a unique point of view and can engage their fan bases on a much more personal level, representing our brand in a way that relates to their audience.”
Seychelles is taking a similar tack. The California-based footwear brand continues to build deeper relationships with a hand-picked group of bloggers, among them Keiko Lynn, Rach Martino and A Beautiful Mess, who it believes embody the core Seychelles consumer.
“We’ve always been about tying ourselves to bloggers who love and connect with our brand and who share the same style vibe. It makes the marketing more natural and authentic,” said President Sari Ratsula. “It’s not about just chasing the next up-and-coming influencer for the sake of it. It wouldn’t make sense for us to work with someone who only wants to wear Seychelles because she gets paid. We may gain sales, but it’s about a much bigger picture than just selling shoes.”
Indeed, Dahan said one of the most powerful aspects of influencers is their ability to not only build awareness of a brand but also to help position that brand in the eyes and minds of consumers. “Unlike other products, fashion is about an experience. You’re not talking about a utilitarian item, like a power drill. People buy into a fashion brand because it makes them feel a certain way, because it represents a certain lifestyle. Bloggers can help tell that story.”
Still, in a space that’s changing at lightning speed, with new digital platforms springing up every few months, it can be challenging for fashion companies to find the right social marketing strategy. “Brands have to learn to pace themselves and not lose focus amid all the excitement and noise out there,” Dahan noted. “And they need to take time to experiment and test a new platform before it can become a consistent piece of their marketing budget.”
While companies used to take a siloed approach, opting to focus on a single platform, like Facebook or Instagram, they are now blending several platforms in a way that best fits their objectives and brand identity. “We’ve found that the most successful campaigns span multiple channels. The idea is to hit your audience everywhere they are and increase your reach,” said Yuli Ziv, founder and CEO of Style Coalition, a network of nearly 500 influencers.
Right now, there’s a lot of buzz around Snapchat, the appeal of which lies in the rawness and ephemeral nature of its content compared with the heavily filtered and edited content found on Instagram, YouTube and elsewhere. Twitter’s live-streaming app, Periscope, also is capturing attention.
For influencers, the pressure to keep up with all the latest platforms can be overwhelming, but it’s also exactly why brands turn to them. “They know it’s our world — it’s what we eat, sleep and breathe every day. We’re the experts,” said fashion influencer Chriselle Lim of The Chriselle Factor, who found fame on YouTube and has worked with brands that include Rebecca Minkoff and Estée Lauder.
“We’re serving a generation that gets bored easily, so it’s our job to constantly evolve. Do I want to be on every single platform? No. But you don’t want to get left behind.”
Robinovitz said there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. “When it comes to new [channels], you have to figure out if they make sense for your brand, and you have to use them in a way that’s unique and native to you. We encourage our clients to stay true to their individual brand strategy rather than just telling them, ‘Go here because everyone is here.’”
Mara Ferreira, the face behind the M Loves M blog, said the key is finding balance.
“Brands obviously want us to be active on all these channels, but you also have to be careful not to spread yourself so thin that the content starts to suffer,” she said. “For me, Instagram and Pinterest work well because they drive traffic to my blog, which is still where people are coming on a daily basis.”
Of course, it’s the very newness and fluidity of the social marketing space that makes it so exciting and rife with opportunity. “Who knows where we’ll be in five or 10 years with digital media?” Lim said. “There could be something far more exciting on the horizon that we don’t know about yet.”
Whatever the next big thing may be, experts said, the basic foundation of the business won’t change. “At the end of the day, point of view, content and talent never go away. It’s been that way since the beginning of time. There will always be new forms of media through which to present content, but no one is ever going to say, ‘I’m done hearing stories,’” Robinovitz said.
And as consumers increasingly turn away from more traditional advertising, bloggers’ influence in the marketing world will only continue to grow, Ziv said.
“People have huge trust issues with conventional advertising, whether it’s print or TV. They just don’t buy into it anymore,” she explained. “So influencers are a powerful solution to all the problems associated with traditional [avenues]. They deliver the kind of fresh content and personal engagement that is so much more effective than trying to force your message on people through the TV screen.”