The Sharp Sword Of Super Influencers

It’s no surprise that more and more people are discovering D2C brands, and a new report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau finds that 48% of all U.S. consumers have purchased a disruptor brand. Nor is it unexpected that, as a rule, they tend to be younger (84% are 54 and under) or richer (more likely to have a household income of $75,000 or more.)

What surprised me in the report, though, is that one in three are what the IAB calls “Super Influencers,” actively working on brand-centric content to increase their own influence. Nor are they posting casually: Their brand badges are “active mechanisms for public, cross-channel communication and self-promotion.”

That insight will be increasingly important to D2C companies as they look to increase their use of earned versus paid media.

“Earned media and public relations coverage is more influential for D2C brands,” says Satya Menon, managing partner, ROI Practice, Kantar. “It comes from peers, not TV.”

That’s important since younger consumers are more likely to be persuaded by earned media, which is also more or less the only game in town. “Millennials typically block advertising, so earned media is the only reasonable way of reaching them,” Menon adds.

She says it’s especially important in D2C categories “where there is so much choice, a lot of information, and product quality is either uncertain, subjective or expensive, like clothing from Stitch Fix or an Airbnb property.”

But with the swelling ranks of D2C companies -- really, how many healthy snacks or organic dog food can one blogger review? -- it’s harder to create that buzz. And people are growing increasingly skeptical of influencers on social media and the blurring of the paid-versus-earned media line.

Menon says celebrities don’t have anything to worry about yet, though. Whether it’s Lady Gaga’s jewelry or Meghan Markle’s handbag,  “their clout overrides skepticism.”

But while relying on earned media is the only certain way to build awareness, these influencers are also sharpening their knives. “Consumer-created content is a double-edged sword, and brands run the risk that if the product is not very good, consumers are more likely to talk about that. They’d rather write about negative experiences than positive, and that negative word-of-mouth is more damaging.”

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