Influencer Marketing: A New Name for an Old Game

Everyone is talking about the power of influencer marketing these days, despite the fact that this is not a new phenomenon. What we call “influencer marketing” is celebrity endorsement rebranded to include today’s instant social-media celebrities. Sure, the difference is a little nuanced. But for all intents and purposes, the idea remains the same: find someone whose following looks like the kind of people you want to target, and get them to expose or even endorse your product to their followers.

Endorsers

Traditional endorsers have spent years developing their celebrity status in music, fashion, or film. They’ve toured the world, or worked on big budget movies and television shows, carefully cultivating roles to avoid a mistake that could damage their brand (and possibly end their career). They promote projects on late-night talk shows and walk the red carpet at premieres and award shows, all for the purpose of raising their profile and status. Many of these celebrities have developed large social followings, giving them direct access to millions or even tens of millions of people.

Influencers

“Influencer” seems to be reserved for those who have become famous because of social media: people who document their lives and create entertaining content that garners large numbers of interested, adoring followers. This doesn’t happen by accident. These are savvy people who put a lot of work not only into building their followings, but curating an image that’s relatable and accessible. They develop fresh content on smaller budgets than their superstar counterparts, and take creative chances others dare not.

Research shows consumers trust influencers as much as they trust their friends and neighbors. Brands have taken note, and have begun paying them to endorse or promote products to their followers. Because their follower counts are big, and they are actively engaged, the money is big — in some cases, really big.

So what’s the difference?

Do we need to differentiate? Brands rely on the authority of well-known personalities for exposure. Whether those figures are self-made social media stars or bona fide celebrities, the objective is the same: Gain exposure and give customers a reason to choose your product.

– Brian Sullivan