Luxury brands need to prioritise how influencers contribute to the balance of honouring brand heritage and driving their bottom line, says Glenn Ebert, senior strategist at SapientNitro.
Ad Week recently deemed Selena Gomez the most lucrative influencer for brands to collaborate with on social media. She charges $550,000 for a post on Instagram. “Instamodels” Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid (who recently launched a social-media driven capsule collection with Tommy Hilfiger both via social and in-store) command up to $300k a post.
There is no disputing that influencer marketing across all facets of the fashion industry has proven itself to be more than just a trend. Yet, as the fees influencers charge per post continue to rise, how do brands justify the spend?
The first question for defining an influencer strategy is, how do brands decide on which influencer to collaborate with? The unfortunate truth is many fashion brands are guilty of vetting most influencers from a sense of “gut feeling”; be it from members of a brand’s digital team, the rolodex of creative director, or the little black book of the public relations team. The suggestions can come from anywhere. I once heard of a CMO whose 13-year-old son suggested who to partner with, based on who he thought was “cool”. Either way, qualitative assumption and emotion often outweigh consideration of analytics and impact on the bottom line when developing influencer content and collaborations.
No one likes to quantify his or her friends. However, given the dire times and budget crunches some players in the industry, including the likes of Burberry, HUGO BOSS and Prada, are facing, it’s become a necessary evil. From shallow metrics like reach and engagement with content, to more serious matters of getting the most out of your production shoot spends, influencer marketing can be a smart move for luxury brands if the fit and timing is right. But it can also be a huge liability if executed poorly or without a cohesive creative vision.
Beyond defining benchmarks and measures for success to justify influencer spend, including comparing content engagement against brand performance, cost-per-engagement and the ability to convert to sale, brands also have to be aware of the legal minefield and potential consequences of influencer collaborations.
American ad regulatory agency the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has stepped up its efforts to go after brands and influencers alike who don’t disclose sponsored content more explicitly, recently making examples out of social media powerhouses such as L’Oréal and Aimee Song (of popular fashion blog Song of Style) for not properly disclosing content. While not as blatant in making an example of luxury brands, the UK regulatory agency ASA also recently published more explicit guidelines for YouTube vloggers, outlining the obligation they have to make promoted content and sponsors more plainly clear.
Meanwhile, however, the data doesn’t lie. Many brands are finding content created from influencer collaborations consistently outperforms its in-house content. Furthermore, it’s produced at a fraction of the cost of the once-standard, multimillion-dollar photo-shoots with celebrity photographers, where the outcome is often better suited for print.
Yet, as emerging mass brands like Brandy Melville rely entirely on them, the temptation is strong for luxury brands to become too invested and drunk off influencer campaigns, given the strong response the content receives on social channels. If recent critiques and headlines from the old fashion guard are any indication, luxury brands walk a tightrope of perception collaborating with influencers.
With the exception of newly adorned style saviour Alessandro Michele’s spring/summer 2017 presentation for Gucci, much of what defined the recent Milan Fashion Week was not the clothes, but rather a proclamation from industry bible Vogue against influencer culture.
In their respective recap of the week, various editors voiced their annoyance on influencers and style bloggers soiling any air of prestige in Milan, and how brands such as Versace and others should be praised for not giving into a trend, whilst deeming the influencer and blogger presence at some shows “horrible” and “pathetic”.
While influencer elite BryanBoy and Susie Bubble were almost instantaneous in their rebuttals on their own social media channels, calling it hypocrisy and old school “bullying”, it epitomised just how polarising yet poignant the issue has become within the industry.
Influencer marketing, like fashion, is not a one size fits all approach. As the practice continues to gain momentum and varying levels of acceptance across the industry as a whole, it should be an increased priority for each brand’s creative and social teams to better define how influencers contribute to the balance of honouring brand heritage and driving the bottom line.
As tempting as the bandwagon may be, brands still should be highly selective in whom they seek out to collaborate with. This even more so if the said brands are seeking to maintain (or attempt to attain) “luxury” status: a construct today’s social culture and influencers are helping redefine with every new post and engagement.
Glenn Ebert is senior strategist at SapientNitro. Comment Counts is a series of opinion pieces from experts within the industry. Do you have something to say? Get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.