The rise and rise of fashion and beauty influencers

Avery Woodward

The world is changing, driven by the rise of online technologies, social media and, to an extent we have, perhaps, yet to assess, the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on how we live and work.

What is clear, though, is that the way consumers make decisions about the brands they trust and will buy from has already transformed.

Even as far back as 2015, a survey by Nielsen (Global Survey of Trust in Advertising, which polled 30,000 people in 60 countries) revealed that personal recommendation remains the most trusted form of advertising or communication. In the UK, 81% reported at least some level of trust in it, whilst 60% said it was the only form of communication they trusted.

What’s more, the gap between personal recommendation and other forms of marketing communication is widening, with only 23% of British consumers (27% in the US) believing that their purchasing choices are driven by brand advertising.

What does this mean for influencer marketing in the fashion and beauty industries?

The idea of ‘influencers’ is nothing new to many industries, particularly fashion and beauty, who have been aligning themselves with models, actors and other celebrities for decades.

Who can forget Wonderbra’s 1994 ‘Hello Boys’ campaign starring supermodel Eva Herzigová, which almost overnight transformed the brand from Gossard Ultrabra’s dowdier little sister into a global phenomenon, or the enduring impact of Marilyn Monroe purring that the only thing she wore to bed was Chanel No5?

But in today’s social media-obsessed world, influencers have a new level of power when it comes to forming the opinions or buying decisions of a brand’s target audience. Today, consumers look to their favoured ‘personalities’ for trusted opinions, and many of these people have massive followings across social media platforms including YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest and, increasingly, Tik Tok and Clubhouse.

“Fashion and beauty influencers have dominated influencer marketing for some time and with so much focus online, brands have collaborated more with these highly influential people. Brands like ASOS, Boohoo have put influencers at the heart of their marketing strategy. Platforms like Rewardstyle, a luxury and beauty platform, have seen considerable global growth with over $1bn dollar’s worth of revenue for retailers using influencers.” Gordon Glenister, Author, Influencer Marketing Strategy

Why do influencers have so much power?

With consumers having developed and expressed a strong preference for brands that they recognise as ‘authentic’, I believe that this influencer phenomenon is driven by their need to feel more in control of their choices. So rather than taking the voice of the BRAND on trust, they rely more on the advocacy of PEOPLE whose opinion they trust, and this is what creates and builds engagement with a brand.

Who are these influencers?

At the top end of influencer marketing, there are A-list bloggers who can sell out a product in a single day from a single post.

But who are these people, and are the top tier the only ones worth engaging with?

In short, they are content creators. Crucially, though, unlike the celebrity brand collaborators of old, whose message and image was often dictated by the brands they advocated, today’s influencers are independent and very much in control of what they say, create and publish. They may be actively collaborating with a brand, and being paid to do so, but their power lies in their own opinions, and in the social media following that trusts them.

Whilst there are some influencers who began as celebrities for another reason (as an actor, say), increasingly those in the top tiers have worked it the other way around, become big brand names in their own right, and their celebrity stems from their influencer status.

It’s tempting for people responsible for building markets in the fashion and beauty industries to think that they need to be connected with these top-tier names. But to successfully use influencer marketing it’s important to recognise that there are many different scales of influencer. This really can be a niche marketing approach.

Remember that it’s the ‘fit’ and authenticity that matters, so for your target audience, a major name may not be as powerful as someone who clearly identifies with a certain set of brand values, like sustainability or buying local.

An influencer is anyone with the power to impact the consumer opinion. Authenticity and credibility are key to this power.

Let me give you an example. Here’s Elvis and Kresse, a UK brand which creates luxury accessories from reclaimed materials. Beginning with creating luggage and handbags from reclaimed fire hoses (yes, really!) in 2005, they now also work in partnership with major fashion houses to use leather offcuts and slightly flawed pieces, rescuing hundreds of tonnes of material from landfill. Crucially, they also donate substantially to charities.

So you might look at a major influencer in luxury fashion, with a massive social media following, who can sell out a leather handbag in a matter of hours. But if your brand is all about sustainability, how authentic will their message be? Celebrity is not necessarily a guarantee of success. Credibility is king, and brands must choose their influencers wisely, as well as the other way around.

How are fashion brands using influencers?

A 2015 survey by Fashion and Beauty Monitor looked at how brands are choosing to use influencers as part of their marketing strategy.

As you might expect, content promotion and distribution, and product launches were the two biggest areas where influencers were key, with events and webinar production coming a relatively distant third.

It would be interesting to consider how the pandemic-related changes in our lifestyles, and the growth of online events, has changed that dynamic. How many fashion brands are turning more to influencers for ‘live’ online content?

When it comes to internal communications and crisis management, brands reported that they use influencers less in those areas. This should not come as a surprise. For most influencers, their credibility and power are built on maintaining independence and control over their own content – communicating a brand-driven message, or being associated with a brand’s negative press is unlikely to appeal. And from the brand management perspective, in-house control of their message is likely to be less risky in troubled times.

We need to remember, too, that influencer marketing can be a slow burn. The right circumstances can certainly result in a product selling out overnight .(Although she would not be classed as an influencer in the commercial sense, the Duchess of Cambridge’s selling power is in no doubt. From that Reiss engagement dress worn for her formal engagement photos, to virtually every designer she chooses to showcase, she has the power to make a brand). However in most cases, influencer marketing is a long-term strategy, requiring relationships and connections to be built over a period of time, possibly years.

The rise of Tik Tok as an influencer

Finally, let’s look at a recent development in influencer marketing in fashion, which we will follow with interest: how certain platforms are, themselves, jumping on the influencer bandwagon.

In September 2020, Tik Tok, beloved of many influencers and playground of the (mostly) under-35s, launched its own Tik Tok Fashion Month. It featured major brand runway shows including Saint Laurent and Louise Vuitton, plus, crucially, content from Tik Tok content creators themselves.

Now Fashion Monitor has announced the partnership of IMG fashion, a global leader in fashion, events and media, as official editorial partner for Tik Tok Fashion month 2021. IMG manages some of the world’s biggest sporting and fashion icons, recognising the power this platform has to connect brands with customers – a power built largely through the content created by the influencers who inhabit it.

The future for influencer marketing in fashion and beauty

Influencer marketing, whilst constantly evolving, and, in a sense, ‘growing up’ since the early days when many influencers were content to be paid in product or exposure, is here to stay.

The fashion and beauty sector aligns itself particularly well with this form of marketing.

The key to making it work lies, as with most marketing, in understanding your audience, before choosing people to work with who authentically fit with what they value about your brand. More and more influencers expect to be paid, and paid well, for their promotion of your brand, so choosing the right ones, and investing wisely is the bedrock of success. For smaller brands, looking beyond the big names, and working with people who are still building their profile may be the way to look at building a mutually fruitful long-term relationship.

Gordon Glenister is the author of a new book, Influencer Marketing Strategy. Learn:

  • how to build an influencer strategy
  • what makes a great influencer
  • about the rise of Clubhouse and Tik Tok
  • about future digital trends for connecting with a digital customer

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