No. 301: Influencers and Transactional Authenticity

Just when we believed that we reached peak influencer, we are surprised yet again. We’ve favorably covered the “first family of influence”, in the past. And quantifiably, there isn’t a media conglomerate that comes close to the influence of the Jenner / Kardashian family. This week, one of them reached a new level by “bravely” discussing acne – the presentation and build up left a fractured audience in the wake of the brand partnership announcement when it was revealed to be a paid deal.

A day before the reveal, Kris Jenner, the model and entrepreneur’s mother, teased the reveal of her “deeply personal” issue on Twitter. Tabloid speculation run its course. The roll out was optimized for social media but many were left asking: is this really what’s become of influencer-driven advertising? Vox Media covered the advertising “bait and switch” in depth here

2PM Contributor and Founder of Doris Sleep: Tracey Wallace

Proactiv’s recent partnership with Kendall Jenner was a test of authenticity. It also may have been a watershed moment for influencer culture. Yes, it’s the most recent example of the status being used to present a vulnerable issue. In this case, adolescent acne. But authenticity is a currency all its own and volume of audience doesn’t always equal magnitude of impact.The controversy around Proactiv’s newest advertising campaign is an early sign that consumers may be beginning to discount command of advertising’s most influential family. Consumer skepticism is the antidote to influencer culture and it seems to be growing.

The focus on influencer authenticity comes as brands have begun to use more “real people” over models and entertainers. Brands are beginning to highlight people just like us but without the modelesque lighting, the photoshopping, or the narrative embellishment. Just scroll through the feeds of Andie Swimwear, Flamingo, or Chubbies for quality examples of this type of visual marketing.

These brands are succeeding because of, not in spite of, their focus on authenticity.

  • Andie Swimwear: Swimsuits made by women, for women.
  • Flamingo: We make body care, starting with hair.
  • Chubbies: The Weekend Has Arrived.

For influencers, the understanding of how partnerships like Proactiv and Kendall Jenner’s come to life diminishes empathy and therefore trust in an ad’s authenticity. This is especially the case in the era of Netflix and YouTube, where star power (influencer marketing) is used to efficiently monetize audiences. Consumers want authenticity.

The successes of influencer marketing is saturating the market. From celebrity influencers to micro influencers, consumers are being inundated by influence. Some influencers are faking brand deals to gain credibility:

Transitioning from an average Instagram or YouTube user to a professional ‘influencer’—that is, someone who leverages a social-media following to influence others and make money—is not easy,” writes Taylor Lorenz for The Atlantic. “After archiving old photos, redefining your aesthetic, and growing your follower base to at least the quadruple digits, you’ll want to approach brands. But the hardest deal to land is your first, several influencers say; companies want to see your promotional abilities and past campaign work. So many have adopted a new strategy: Fake it until you make it.

There are sincere and authentic influencers who are not embellishing their lifestyles or influence. Often enough, these are the media personalities who are slowest to launch merchandise or product lines. Figures like Youtube’s Casey Neistat or pro surfing legend Kelly Slater are having to contend with a very cumbersome question:

How do you build an authentic advertising or commerce model? And how do you do it without ostracizing long time fans and newcomers?

As 2PM has previously covered, there are businesses that focus specifically on partnering with influencers and digital publishers to create, market, sell, and distribute merchandise. We’ve compiled a list of notable commerce partners:

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There is such a demand for appealing to influencers and influential moments that an entire industry has address demand.

Taking a page from the eCommerce playbook

As DTC analysts David Perell and Nik Sharma have often cited, the most resilient brands are audiences. And for influencers to maintain their audience, there must be an evolution from the existing structure of often-gimmicky merchandising and advertising via third-party transactors. And to a method that achieves an authentic experience bolsters user experience and belonging.

The technology seems to be mature enough to address this new standard. Headless Commerce services are offered by BigCommerce, Shopify, Adobe, and ElasticPath. These services are helping to define the possibilities of fully-integrated, content-driven commerce.

Alecia, an early headless commerce pioneer, has taken a first step in this direction with their proprietary video platform. From 2PM Member Brief – Headless Commerce:

Alecia is a company that films and streams original content, letting you shop what you see. The app and the site offer a seamless content and commerce presentation for the viewer. As the product appears on the screen, it is offered (in limited quantities) along the right side of the broadcast. If you’re logged in, purchasing is essentially a two click process. Consumers aren’t clicking to an eCommerce site or an external cart. Instead, the shopping cart is a component of a headless operation, an API call to the cloud-based shopping platform that is external to the featured content.

To date, no such solution exists for influencers on major platforms like YouTube, a place where it could have the most value. way content and commerce in media has begun to alter our understanding of which publications have the most loyal audiences. From 2PM No. 280:

The digital landscape is changing beneath our feet. For publishers to continue building organic readership, they must become brands. Operating as a source of content is no longer enough. To do that, efforts can no longer be siloed, the traditional factions of legacy-styled newsrooms must fall.

It’s no longer just about eyeballs and what influencers can charge for their collection of them. Optimizing for transactional engagement could have a positive effect on the influence ecosystem. In order to earn actual transactions, consumers – more often than not – must sense sincerity, community, and loyalty. By improving bottom-of-funnel operations, influencers can address the needs of community members (potential consumers) without disrupting their experiences.

Ready for increased interactivity?

Millennial audiences are ready for built-in video interactions as evidenced by Netflix’s recent success with Bandersnatch, the “choose-your-own-adventure” augmented film powered by remote or mousepad. These types of media experiences shorten the length between watching and interacting.

But Bandersnatch is more than just a blurring of games and TV. Such interactive adventures could easily become a new revenue source, too, through super-powered product placement and eCommerce. With interactivity comes a new slew of data, and the ability to layer in products, product information and ways to buy. You can bet Amazon is figuring out how to ties its billions of dollars worth of programming into its vast e-commerce operation. And just maybe so are Disney, Apple, Warner Media and Walmart.

David Bloom for Forbes

One company that went unmentioned in Bloom’s rundown was Google. Google has the most to benefit from engineering a headless commerce solution for YouTube. Consumers and creators would both benefit from an experience that allows consumers purchase from the screen without an external redirection.There is one thing that YouTube has built into its platform that Netflix, Disney, Warner Media and Walmart do not: intuitive user control.

Expect to see a continued shift towards interactive formats; while headless commerce opportunities are further down the line – consumers are already being molded to welcome them. But the media engine of this age is the widely beloved influencer. We’re suggesting that we should reconsider how they’re influence is measured. No, influencers shifting to a headless commerce operation won’t immediately prevent media moments like the Proactive “bait and switch.”

Moving influencers away from optimizing for media impressions, social mention volume, and traditional publicity could alter things if and when creators see what can be accomplished when commerce transactions are closer to the starting line. Commerce relationships develop an authenticity that advertising doesn’t quite need. As interactive video technology continues along its adoption cycle, influencer-creatives would stand to gain a lot from building stronger relationships with their audiences.

By moving transactions closer to the top of the top of the funnel, fans and potential consumers won’t be left wondering: what’s the gimmick? Headless commerce can present that solution in a subtle but effective way by leaving the opportunity to transact to the viewer. Consumers demand authenticity from their influencers. This, especially as the lines between genuine interest and earned media continues to blur. 

Read your No. 301 curation here.

Report by Tracey Wallace and Web Smith | About 2PM

Tracey is a 2PM Executive Member and Contributor, the founder of Doris Sleep, and the Editor-in-Chief at BigCommerce. 

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