Influencers Influencers: An Endangered Species?
Are influencers still influential? Even if we don’t care about the answer, perhaps we should be worried about the question
“The role of influencer has become a job in itself.” Thiébaut Bentz of Maurice Lacroix doesn’t beat about the bush. He’s sufficiently familiar with the approach to have decided that it’s not for him. “Although this business model was profitable in the past, I’m not convinced it has much of a future. Today’s consumers are looking for authenticity. ‘Sponsored posts’ don’t provide that.” Maurice Lacroix has chosen to rely upon ‘friends’ who are close to the brand, and for whom product placement occurs naturally and organically. They are under contract, but their input is mainly confined to participation in events and meetups. In short: Less text, less virtual – more emotion, more real life.
Lifestyle © Simon Nogueira
An evergreen strategy
The days of this business model may be numbered, and yet, as a commercial strategy, it’s like the phoenix that continually rises from the ashes. Whether you call them ambassadors, sponsors, friends, muses or influencers, the contractual model hasn’t changed much. It’s about using the celebrity of one party to promote another. Hans Wildorf (Rolex) did it back in 1927, by strapping an Oyster to the wrist of a swimmer making a bid to cross the English Channel.
The era of the publicity stunt was followed by the era of advertising (on the wrist, on the court, on the hull or wings), and more recently, the post. Blogs came first, followed by Facebook, then Instagram. The list is as long as the list of new apps destined to end up on the home screen of our smartphones – and consequently in our pockets, in our minds, on our sofas, in our cars and even in our beds. But have we reached saturation?
Quality over quantity
“The influencer market has become more mature,” says Marine Lemonnier of 289 Consulting. “Today, the real influencers are opinion leaders. They bring together the qualities of expertise and sincerity, which better meet customers’ expectations. There’s less focus on volume and more on value.”
Marine Lemonnier © GPHG
This approach is a good fit for watchmaking clients. The ‘lifestyle post’, for which influencers would be paid thousands of dollars for guaranteed engagement, has had its day. The aim now is to share emotion or information, and preferably both. Time idly spent scrolling through glossy photos and handing out likes no longer meets watch lovers’ demand for authenticity. The end client must leave the ‘influencer zone’ with a net benefit, whether it’s emotional or educational. They want genuine added value.
Finding the right balance
“The ideal strategy is to combine different variables,” points out Jorge Guerreiro, who runs an influencer marketing course, and who was one of the very first online influencers when he started out over 10 years ago. “A high-volume influencer helps to increase the brand’s reach. A more specialised, niche influencer improves the brand image and, ideally, sales. Similarly, it’s always good to combine different domains to expand your audience: watches + cars, or boats + nature, for example. Cross-niching can bring together audiences that have strongly similar profiles.”
Jorge Guerreiro, chargé de cours en marketing d’influence © Jorge Guerreiro
In the end, influencers face the same challenges as every other profession; they have to adapt to survive. But they have to do it extremely quickly, if they are to keep up with the frantic pace of evolving apps and watch sales. Switching from being 100% focused on volume and clicks to an approach focused on expertise and quality is something of a digital high-wire act. “That’s why some celebrities have two profiles: one for their job, and another for themselves, which is often more intimate and authentic,” Jorge Guerreiro explains. They need to switch from being an influencer to being a prescriber.
So, what is a prescriber? Literally, someone who “writes in front”, from the Latin pre scribere. Write in front, be an expert, address a qualified audience. From influencer to prescriber. And from prescriber to… What’s the next step? Journalist?