Influencer marketing has been working its way into the marketing practices of major corporations for years. Everyone from Coca-Cola and Nike to Mike Bloomberg’s meme squad has been dipping their toes in the waters of influencer advertising – and to great success. Household brands including Apple, Facebook, and Anheuser-Busch have turned to Viral Nation over the past half-decade to test the practice, and it’s seemingly only just beginning.

New studies indicate that it’s not just the marquee brands mentioned above that are capitalizing on the surge in influencer relevancy. In fact, 40% of the marketers surveyed reported that they had run 6 or more influencer campaigns in 2019. Additionally, 57% went on to say that they planned to increase their influencer spending, and 23% said influencer marketing now accounts for more than a quarter of their total digital marketing spend.

And this isn’t money that is only flowing into the bank accounts of the Kardashians. Online creators of all shapes and (audience) sizes are cashing in on the practice. The survey also showed that 77% of marketers expressed a desire to work with micro-influencers in 2020. Even nano-influencers (creators with fewer than 5,000 followers) are generating interest, with 26% of respondents saying they wanted to work with them.


How Influencers Have Changed Modern Marketing

As influencer marketing has continued its meteoric rise in recent years, modern marketing has changed accordingly. So in 2021, marketers need to create strategic advertising campaigns that are designed to not only condition consumers to feel positively toward the brand, but that also appeal to their specific values. One of the best ways to do this is by partnering with one or more influencers to support the brand.

Studies indicated that 39% of marketers planned to increase their influencer marketing budget in 2020. And while 2020 didn’t go as planned for just about anyone, influencer marketing is still positioned to become a $10 billion industry. Influencer marketing is changing almost as fast as it is growing, and it’s changing modern marketing simultaneously. These trends are reconfiguring the very basis of what influencer marketing is.

Back in 2006, SprintNextel (now owned by T-Mobile) created a TV marketing campaign with actor Ron Livingston designed to condition consumers to purchase a SprintNextel phone plan. Fast forward to 2018 and this same company is investing heavily into influencers of all audience sizes, including average people who have a huge social media following, in addition to celebrities. It’s a great lens into how influencer marketing has changed over the past decade-plus.

woman holding up a purse and filming influencer content


Influencer Marketing: Then & Now

According to researchers, the human body replaces itself with a new set of cells every 7 to 10 years, and some of our most important parts are revamped even more rapidly. This practice also holds true with most any industry, particularly if they have resided on digital during that period of time. Looking closely at influencer marketing then and now, there are a few trends that have helped shape the hypergrowth of the industry.

Widespread Resistance To Advertising aka Banner Blindness

The future of marketing forever shifted once Facebook continued to further expand into pop culture. As the company continued to grow and assert its overarching dominance in the advertising world, publishers stepped up their own game by implementing better tracking pixels and retargeting capabilities. And it was at this moment that the privacy “war” was lost forever, and consumers began to be bombarded with seemingly endless streams of advertising messages.

In what became nothing less than a defense mechanism, people developed a propensity to ignore digital advertising. This came in many forms, from installing ad-blocking software to the onset of banner ad blindness. Banners are still the dominant platform of digital advertising, but over the past decade, influencer marketing has grown into one of the few viable alternatives to those pesky banner ads.

An Increasing Reliance On Peer-to-Peer Reviews

As the effectiveness of banner ads has declined, companies like Google, Amazon, Yelp, and countless others have realized the power of peer-to-peer reviews. Whether it be the restaurants we eat at or the products we purchase, people want to hear about the experiences of others with things they have not yet tried themselves. Additionally, an individual who has a bad experience will go out of their way to document their negative experience in an effort to help others steer clear.

yelp review page

It’s been a growing trend over the past decade, and one that is now a habit for many people. If you really think about it, when was the last time you bought a product on a site like Amazon and didn’t check the reviews? When a friend or family member recommends a restaurant to you, chances are you’re checking out the establishment’s Yelp reviews before you make a reservation. And this practice isn’t limited to dining establishments. Nearly every industry has its own designated review site, and the modern-day consumer has been conditioned to check reviews before making a purchase decision. This has only further laid the groundwork for the growing impact that vocal influencers can have on any industry.

The Massive Growth of Facebook

Perhaps you were one of the early adopters of social media, having jumped on the bandwagon of Facebook and Twitter during their inception back in 2008. But even if that’s true, the impact of social media during that time paled in comparison to today’s standards. Facebook first launched back in 2004, and it was only opened to the public in 2006 with a modest 12 million users. In 2008, Facebook had grown its userbase to 145 million. As of Q3 in 2020, Facebook now boasts more than 1.57 billion monthly active users.

Facebook’s audience growth can be attributed to far more than simply reaching more people on a different platform. It marked the first time in digital marketing history where every user on a social platform had completed an in-depth personal profile about themselves. This meant marketers no longer had to rely on “relevance” as their primary targeting option, doing away with old assumptions like “I believe you’re a sports fan because you read content on ESPN.”

It’s not a bold statement to say that Facebook fundamentally changed the game of digital advertising – it’s the undeniable truth. As a result of each of its users filling out both demographic (age, gender, location) and psychographic (hobbies, favorite music, movies) profiles, it gave both marketers and influencers increased transparency into exactly who they could reach with their content.

For influencers, it helped build their audiences to numbers many didn’t think possible. For marketers, this helped them reach their ideal customers in the right place at the right time—substantially decreasing the need for “spray and pray” campaigns. Neither marketers nor online creators had to guess who their audience was any longer. Facebook almost singlehandedly ushered in an era (and a platform) of deep analytics that went way beyond what had previously been available to influencers via free tools like Google Analytics. Many influencers used these tools to grow their audience and better understand what their audience liked and engaged in, providing a real-time feedback loop that empowered continuous improvement.

The Rise of Influence From Non-Celebrities

If we look back a decade, the word “influence” was synonymous with power and celebrity. Most marketers would only consider a celebrity endorsement strategy that revolved around a “traditional” celebrity. But along came social media and changed all that.

How did this change occur, you ask? With the advent of social media, marketers had the ability to watch and see what happened after a celebrity would post or tweet about a brand. And to the surprise of many, via reporting and analytics, marketers began to see that popularity didn’t directly correlate to engagement on social media. Essentially, just because a celebrity had millions of followers didn’t necessarily mean that they generated high levels of engagement on their brand endorsements for a product or service.

On the flip side, non-celebrities were delivering much higher levels of engagement for a fraction of the cost. As it turned out, influencer marketing was actually more effective when driven by non-celebrity influencers. These online creators worked hard to deliver value to their audience despite not being as popular as “traditional” celebrities. In turn, they built trust and equity with their followers, which made their product endorsements much more powerful as their audience found them to be more trustworthy and relatable.


Influencer Marketing Is No Longer A Fad

If it isn’t already obvious, influencer marketing is by no means a fad or a blip on the radar. Big business and big budgets have been entering the space for years, and this exponential rise is not slowing down anytime soon. It is a marketing channel that is not without its challenges (disclosure and ethics and influencer fraud remain issues within the space), and it can have a higher calling beyond just selling products and services. But its effect on the marketing world as we know has been profound, and it continues to be a major pillar in the ecosystem of digital marketing.

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