In the bygone days of the pre-internet era, consumers were forced to rely almost exclusively on their friends for product recommendations. A simple, “Where did you get those jeans?”, drove brand discovery, and a “Have you tried this cream?”, often prompted purchases. Magazines and celebrity style were influential, of course, but nothing in this realm would compare to the boom that was brought about by influencers and their ability to sway the purchasing decisions of their followers, for the most part, by way of endorsement of the offerings of third-party brands and retailers.
The lifecycle of the influencer has experienced many evolutions, the most significant likely being the transition from blog-based content to the throes of social media, where billions of individuals regularly spend time. Instagram alone, most influencers’ platform of choice, boasts a roster of more than 1 billion active users waiting to be engaged with.
YouTube, another popular host site, is “even bigger than Gmail, and nearly as big as Facebook, with over 1.8 billion monthly logged-in users,” according to Business Insider. It is this ease of access to these platforms that has prompted influencers to make the most of consumers’ attention.
Thanks to the massive proliferation of this industry that is no more than a decade-old, influencer marketing is US $ 1.7 billion strong with no signs of slowing down, as per retail tech insight blog Edited.
When receiving such unparalleled attention and unwavering faith, there is only one thing influencers and brands can do – launch eponymous labels and collaborations. After all, that is how celebrities of the world have monetised their reach in the years leading up to social media. Right from the pioneering Kardashians, Instagram stars like Camila Coelho and Danielle Bernstein to the newest TikTokers on the market Dixie and Charlie D’amelio, influencer-owned brands are the ‘it’ thing in the market, selling out within minutes of launching and propelling these new entrepreneurs to multi-millionaire status.
But why are they so popular? There are hundreds of established names in fashion who have been trying to achieve the cult-status these influencer brands so easily enjoy.
We know the role influencer marketing has played in the popularity of most young brands but is the new culture of influencer brands doing more harm than good to business? These all-important questions may nag many clothing magnates but the answers might be simpler than they think.
The grip of influencers
If a brand has forgone the employing of influencers to expand reach, they have been living under a rock for sure. There are instances where the aura of exclusivity bars the use of a common face, but other than that, influencers are quickly becoming the easiest route to earning your bread and butter, more so in the current times, where engagement on social media platforms has increased manifold.
The answer to what makes consumers so gullible to the recommendations of influencers is – authenticity. Influencers are real people: believable, credible, relatable and genuine; whereas brands are rightly or wrongly perceived as having an ulterior motive — ‘always out to sell you something’. Influencers add real value to their followers’ lives, be it through entertainment, art, or insight into a different world.
To showcase how consumers perceive brands, the 2019 Edelman Trust Report ascertained that just one-in-three respondents said they trust most of the brands they buy and use. Yet, 81 per cent of them also recognise brand trust to be a major consideration for brand purchase. In this environment, implicit trust from your audience is priceless. Approximately 70 per cent of teens trust influencers more than traditional celebrities and 49 per cent of consumers depend on influencer recommendations for their purchasing decisions, leading to the conclusion that followers often trust the brands influencers seem to trust.
Marketers aren’t ignorant to this, of course! They caught onto this trend a long time ago, and the result has been the spiralling, and at times ethically ambiguous, world of influencer marketing.
Not unlike marketers, influencers have woken up to this superpower of sorts as well. Merchandising has become the norm and incredibly easy to push. Once upon a time, there were all sorts of hoops to jump through to set up this kind of model, and plenty of potential headaches. You’d have to source products, arrange minimum order quantities, hold stock and maybe even get involved in order fulfilment yourself.
Even Fortune 500 businesses were more than happy to outsource their merchandising operations to avoid the hassle it involved.
With print on demand services like Prodigi, influencers and agencies are able to set up a merchandising operation in a matter of minutes. Orders are processed and fulfilled without any involvement from the influencer, who only needs to take care of the design and marketing.
In many cases, this pays off much more handsomely than pushing someone else’s products — and it goes without saying that it’s infinitely more credible and authentic. You are, after all, pushing your very own products.
It wouldn’t be an understatement to say the Kardashian clan started the influencer culture and how. Their eponymous reality show catapulted them into a fame rather unknown to most back then, ultimately making them the business moguls they are today. With each Kardashian and Jenner sister running multiple companies, it is safe to say they have been very well received.
A shapewear line called Skims by Kim Kardashian, jean brand Good American by Khloe Kardashian and Kendall + Kylie by the Jenner sisters are only a few of the fashion labels these ladies have put their names to so far. With many others in the work as well as beauty and skin/healthcare lines, there seems to be no end to their domination.
Taking another route, Aimee Song’s success story started with a blog. Song of Style is a blog that embodies fashion, self-care, beauty, travels and everything that millennials care for. The wildly popular blog was her path towards the fashion brand that carries the same name as the blog. She continues to be a fashion ambassador for well-known brands like Chloé, Giorgio Armani Beauty, Dior and Revolve. Working with A-list brands combined with her own fashion brand secured her a place on Forbes 30 under 30 list back in 2016.
Rumi Dowson or as some may know her as Rumi Neely (her maiden name) is one of the frontrunners when it comes to fashion influencers who jumped into design. The blog that jump-started her career was Fashion Toast. Her label Are You Ami was launched in 2014.The ‘casual luxury’ brand sells clothing that is solely designed by Rumi and manufactured in Los Angeles. Combining quality clothing with a stylish look proved to be the winning combination since the brand is highly popular for 7 years now.
Another name is that of Chiara Ferragni. Her beginnings were humble as she started with a modest website called The Blonde Salad. What had begun as a simple blog led up to her own brand Chiara Ferragni Collection.
This is a list that is ever growing as more micro influencers find the spotlight to shine. The world over, new influencer brands are emerging at speeds hard to keep up with, but thanks to the increasing purchasing capacity of followers, there is place for everybody. However, the only battle that remains is the one between big brands and influencer-owned ones.
Fashion critics aren’t the biggest fans of influencers’ fashion careers but the millions of dollars that these ladies make say that they are wrong. Their fashion brands present the style that they showcase on their blog and social media; the style that brought them the attention of people in the first place.
What’s in it for brands?
Big brands can sometimes be seen as the origin of many of these influencers. The fame and success is not mutually exclusive as the authenticity a name like Versace might lend to an influencer is also how the brand increases its reach. But with big bucks coming in, are brands going to be cut out of profits as influencers dedicate a significant portion of their time to promoting their own labels?
While the answer might be debatable, it surely isn’t as bleak as it may seem. Collaborations have become a big part of brands. Launching limited collections and having influencers hype them up has worked wonders. Take Kanye West for example; the Yeezy collection is one of the most profitable for adidas.
There are many brands that have jumped on the opportunity to capitalise on this trend. Chiara Ferragni Collection has collaborated with Champion Europe for a clothing line, while also announcing collaboration with Oreo in a Covid-19-related campaign.
On the other hand, Hollister Co., a division of Abercrombie and Fitch Co., is co-creating an apparel brand with social media personalities Charli and Dixie D’Amelio. The line called Social Tourist will debut exclusively in Hollister stores soon and is described by the retailer as a ‘trend-forward’ brand that has been ‘imagined and inspired by Charli and Dixie’s experiences’.
The launch of Social Tourist marks the beginning of an exclusive, multi-year apparel agreement between Abercrombie and Fitch Co. and the D’Amelio sisters, who collectively have 250 million followers, as part of the retailer’s strategy to connect to its global teen customer.
The buck doesn’t stop here; apart from collaborations, many MBOs have stepped up to partner with influencers to be able to sell the latter’s merchandise exclusively. This gives both parties the avenue to work on their own terms and the results have been marvellous.
On a single day last September, Arielle Charnas, reportedly, managed to drum up US $ 4 million in sales for Nordstrom, and in the process, caused the retailer’s e-commerce site to crash thanks to a rush in traffic. The shopping frenzy can be credited to the debut drop of the super-influencer’s Something Navy collection with the retailer.
Similarly, leveraging the strength of her 8.9 million followers on Instagram, Camila Coelho launched The Camila Coelho Collection in 2019. Coelho found an exclusive retail partner in Revolve, with whom she’s been working for about four years. The partnership will remain exclusive through 2021.
This deal is also testament of Revolve’s rise to become one of the major fashion retailers in the country since its early days in 2003, which is in large part due to its pioneering influencer marketing strategy. It has a substantial Instagram following of 3 million and hires everyone from Kendall Jenner and her 112 million followers to smaller micro-influencers in the thousands to promote their brand.