Online reviews, blogs and social networks have given everyone with access to the internet a chance to be heard. An easy outlet to connect with people, share experiences and spread ideas. The subsequent rise of bloggers and influencers quickly gained attention from savvy brands, keen to tap into their engaged audiences. The result has been a real shift in the traditional top-down advertising model, with more voices in the marketplace and a sense of levelling the playing field. A change that has been particularly felt in the fashion world.
The popularity of street style photography, documented by blogs like The Sartorialist was a strong precursor of the fashion consumer’s appetite for individual style. While some brands remained resistant, others quickly noticed the value of UGC, whether that was through sponsored blog posts or social hashtags like ASOS’ #Asseenonme.
Each season, Instagram influencers are becoming a more significant part of fashion marketing. 78 percent of brands implemented influencer marketing campaigns last year, according to a survey of 600 fashion industry professionals by Launchmetrics. Up from 65 percent the previous year. The way customers seek products is changing. Whereas in the past, brand messages were broadcast to consumers undiluted and direct, customers are increasingly resisting this and want to be in control of the interaction. Brands are simultaneously discovering they can reach their audiences through influencers at a fraction of the cost of an advert of a glossy magazine which, while may hold prestige, is likely to have dwindling sales.
The latest magazine from the esteemed Business of Fashion, recognises this impact with its ‘Age of the Influencer’ issue. In the editor’s letter, Irman Amed explains fashion companies who long relied on traditional media to transmit their message have experienced a “rude awakening”. He continues, “They must now live in conversation with the world. At best, brands can now only hope to influence the conversations that people are having about them — and to do so, they are enlisting a growing army of professional influencers who have become a new staple of digital marketing around the world.”
Influencers (with the right audience, aesthetic and tone of voice) are now deemed just as worthy recipients of a designer bag - or portion of marketing budget - as magazine editors. More than just worthy, necessary. There are fewer entry barriers here. It’s becoming easier for anyone with a flair for content creation, styling, community management and a smartphone to become an ambassador alongside editors and celebrities - and make it a viable career.
With this shift toward influencers, a two-way dialogue is established. If you consider an ad in a glossy magazine vs a product placement on an influencer’s feed, there is much more potential for the individual to share their personal experience of the product and for their followers to interact. Brands are no longer doing all of the talking.
Even catwalk shows, once a carefully constructed showcase for the fashion press, are now inundated with influencers, live streaming the event as it happens for their followers at home on the couch. They can write and publish their verdict as quickly as Suzy Menkes can and, even if it is on Twitter rather than Vogue, these varied voices can still have an impact. When Marc Jacobs sent white models with dreadlocks down the runway, a conversation around cultural appropriation was ignited.
As influencers are granted a ticket to the exclusive world of fashion, and take their followers along for the ride, audiences are assuming a less passive role in fashion. They are challenging the traditional hierarchy and marketers know they must adapt to survive.
While there have always been influential fashion figures and muses, there has never an opportunity to communicate with audiences so directly. Nor has there been the potential for these individuals to impact buying habits so immediately.
As Instagram makes it easier for consumers to take the leap from inspiration to purchase, with the introduction of shoppable tags and more recently with ‘book’ and ‘get tickets’ buttons for businesses, the platform’s power is only set to increase and influencers will unleash their potential to sell rather than purely inspire. With social media amplifying the thoughts of everyday people and influencers, more voices are being heard and their choices scrutinised, bringing a greater sense of democracy to the fashion industry.
Aaron Brooks is the Co-Founder of influencer marketing platform Vamp