"Don't throw it out," your grandmother might have said, accurately, "this old thing will be back in fashion again in no time."   But could she have foreseen quite how brands would catapult back to prime time in 2018?  The trends have indeed returned, just as she predicted.  But what she wont have predicted is that the very concept of the "trend" has been rewritten.

Influencers are the new salespeople

Iconic British brand Dr Martens was led back to the limelight not because of a multi-million pound TV and print marketing  campaign, but because their products were were adopted by social media "influencers" and catapulted into the mobile devices of millions of young, influential shoppers.    As it turns out, the 2018 consumer is far more likely to make a purchase based on a recommendation from somebody they follow on social media, than when they are targeted exclusively by the traditional barrage of print and web-based advertising campaigns.   

For this reason it has become a legitimate career path to position yourself as a professional social media influencer.  Such types make money from creating the image of a desirable lifestyle on platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest (and to a lesser extent, Facebook).  They often provide insights into their lives and take steps to develop a digital connection with their followers that garners trust in their recommendations.  

When you look at the earning potential, it is easy to see why.  One influential marketing blog estimates that a single post by an influencer with 500,000 to one million followers can cost between $5,000 and $10,000 USD.   That is per post, and you can post an infinite number of posts in a single day.  Forbes estimates that the Kardashians can earn more than $200,000 per tweet, given their 17 million followers.  Their real influence is demonstrated aptly by the fact that when Kylie Jenner tweeted that she'd dumped Snapchat, the stock in the platform lost $1.3B (yes, billion!) dollars in value. 

At the more modest end, a rough rule of thumb, they say, is it will cost an advertiser $10 per 1,000 followers.  However, an influencer who can demonstrate they enjoy above-average engagement on their posts can command a higher price.  This is why influencers put out a nigh-constant stream of nagging reqeusts for interactivity from their followers.  "Let me know in the comments what you think about this topic" they might say, or "tag a friend in the comments for a follow-back".  

But this is far from a one-way relationship.  Properly targeted influencers can be a more cost effective marketing strategy than traditional avenues.  Unlike the traditional billboard, using influencers allows brands to zero-in on their intended customer and to target adverts with razor-sharp precision.   It also often gives them more up-to-date data about the way their intended customers are responding to different types of marketing approaches, allowing quick fine-tuning of campaigns.  For these reasons we are seeing the growth of companies which base their entire marketing strategy on social media influencers alone.  

Marketing regulation is catching up, slowly

So important is the influence wielded by these ..err..influencers.. that in September this year the ASA published further guidelines titled An Influencer's Gudie To Making Clear That Ads Are Ads.  The title betrays that historically members of the public have not always been made aware that the "recommendation" from somebody they trust online, was in fact a paid advertisement.   To ensure that the public can more easily discern a #Ad from an unpaid endorsement, the ASA has increased the scope of its definition of an ad, amongst other steps to clarify what's expected of influencers, as well as online marketing more generally.   My colleague, Grace Ang-Lygate, who has a rather influential puppy, wrote about this topic in her aptly-titled article, Better be careful your dog doesn't breach the Consumer Rights Act

The ASA has also taken steps to remove posts which fail to comply with the guidelines, but their sanctions regime is typically limited to the bad press of having an ad removed.  It is difficult to see how this can be a persuasive deterrent when weighed against the potential rewards. 

So can an influencer revive your brand?

If you find yourself in a Dr Martens position - with a historic brand that has fallen out of favour with the masses, influencers may be a great way to give it a new lease of life with a different target market.   Navigating the new wild west of online influencer marketing presents its own challenges (like making sure those chosen are appropriate ambassadors that promote the correct messages about your brand).  However, a whole crop of specialist consultancies have also emerged to guide the uninitiated towards an effective digital strategy.  

As ever, if you are planning an investment in marketing to revive your old plan, don't forget to also evaluate the strength of your brand protection position first.  If you gain traction with consumers, copycats will inevitably follow.  When they do, it will be quicker to stop them and to capitalise on your investment if you pre-plan.  

Old brands are often neglected to save costs, but some simple steps can be taken to support a new marketing push.  Examples include:

  • Making sure your website is engaging, modern and easy to find on search engines by your new customers.  
  • Ensuring you have an appropriate official social media presence so you can avoid "trolls" and set the tone for your official online engagement.
  • Ensuring that you have easy-to-enforce trade mark protection in place in the right parts of the world which you can use to deter copycats. 
  • Thinking about how you will find and engage with those copycats, and fast.

The quicker you can identify and stop copycat activities, the quicker you nip their profit-sapping activities in the bud.  So don't forget to consider the little steps which will position you to maximise the impact of your Dr Martens influencer moment.