The Possible Influences on the Consumer Buying Decision Process: Our Closest Friends, the Influencers
Now, if we look at this closely, who are our friends? Our Facebook list of contacts? Our Instagram list of followers? Our LinkedIn list of friends? How can we differentiate between ”friends” and ”professional influencers” that are paid to do the job? How many of them are, really, people we actually know?
Apparently the answer is simple: we believe that our personal contacts – friends, relatives, colleagues, friends of friends, and to extend the list, Instagram followers, to be our friends. We know what they eat for breakfast and the names of their kids. We know how they spend their holidays, the content of their closet their shoe size and their weight. We know their favorite color and are witnesses to their most important personal events, like weddings, bearing children or going through painful break-ups. We are fascinated by their lives, and ….secretly we may even wish to trade our lives for theirs. We are their closest friends and their biggest supporters. We even fight with others online, to defend controversial positions or public mistakes, things we tend to forgive easier than we would to our own spouse or children.
And as they become sources of infinite recommendations about products, services, life style, fashion, decorations, food, fitness and love, we trust and respect their opinion. Here they are, the influencers. Changing our buying behavior forever, with a twist of a finger.
This article is about them. Who they are, why they are so important, what drives them, or more simply, WHY.
I would like to start with some literature review, discussing 3 relevant sources:
- Chiara Ferragni / The Blonde Salad/ Case study by Harvard University
- Brittanny Hennessys book Influencer – Building yor Personal Brand in the Age of Social Media
- New York Times¢s recent piece on Digital Influencers, retrievable here
As you read this article, consumers everywhere are on a mission to delete as many emails as they can, as fast as possible and run from cold calling and sales pitches, yet they give their attention to the colored, the fragile, the personal detail of other people¢s real por fabricated lives, mirroring them and slowly transferring to them the power of attention and of the bank account.
One of the world¢s most followed fashion & lifestyle Influencer, Chiara Ferragni, has developed a fashion empire, developing her own shoe line and online store while landing selected endorsements for famous brands, earning her a fortune of over $3o mil in 2019 alone. Raised by a mother who constantly took hundreds of pictures of Chiara and her sisters, she started to pose outside fashion shows and share the images online, first with her friends and small circle from Cremona, Italy, and then, as she moved to Milano and later to Los Angeles, positioned herself as a globe-trotter fashion Influencer. Her partner at the time, Riccardo Pozzoli, dedicated over 6 years to building Chiara Ferragni brand, under the ”The Blonde Salad” name, functioning as a fashion blog and a lifestyle platform and landing famous endorsements by major fashion brands such as Dior, Lancome or Intimissimi. His book telling the story of The Blonde Salad can be found on Amazon
Today, Chiara has over 20 mil followers on Instagram, where she posts at least 6 times/day and enjoys amazing engagement rates while planning to emulate the Kardashians, slowly introducing her family to the endorsement game. Ferragnis famous endorsements, her vision and drive has earned her the title of ”the most powerful fashion Influencer, but she also has her detractors, that address her lack of substance and being ”mainstream”. However, some agree that Ferragni was ”in the right place at the right time, and did a lot of the right things”.
So, what exactly the influencers are and why are they so important? With the Social Media, the world became our backyard and shiny figures of women and men we have never actually met, become our friends, entrusting them with our time and attention, interacting more with them than with our flesh and blood friends or relatives. Word-of-mouth marketing is nothing new, and it is certainly the force behind some of our consumer habits, whether that means buying a product, watching a show or using an app. This is where they draw their power.
But, as Brittanny Hennessys book ”Influencer” points out, in today¢s digital world, ”Influencer” designs a person who has ”social currency”. Whether that means having a lot of followers, really high engagement, the point is: when they speak, the audience listens and, more importantly, buys. In the digital marketplace, the term ”Influencer” has come to epitomize everyone who has a blog, vlog or Instagram profile. Technically, the Influencers have millions of followers. But really, thet are just A-list celebrities, and not at all ”content creators”.
Traditional content creators and Influencers are people who became famous through their offline activities (we are talking actors, models, singers, athletes, business people) and that earned-influence follows them online and on every platform. Think about Oprah or Dr. Oz, to name only two amazing professionals who build their career in the public eye. The list continues with celebs paid to promote alcohol companies even though they don¢t drink, or cars, even if they don¢t drive. Celebrities whose talent and business acumen have made them famous, but they did not position themselves technically as”Influencers ”, not by far.
Then we have the content creators who make videos, take photos and create posts that make people want to trust them and see more. This process involves various marketing tactics to increase the audience size and also keep the audience engaged. It is hard work, meant to create and adapt content for each platform, because what works on YouTube will not work on Instagram. They are the real creators and Influencers, where authenticity is the backbone of the content they create and their audiences look at them for expert advice. Practically, Influencers cand be broken out into two categories, as per Brittanny Hennessys book Influencer: content creators and life casters. Content creators are people who are actively creating blogs, vlogs and Instagram photos out of thin air. Life casters are people who are just living their best life and we follow them because their feed exudes awesomeness.
So, how exactly we are being influenced? The New York Times¢contributor Shira Ovide concludes that Digital Influencers are shaping our habits as we speak, even if we are clueless about it. Influencers are part of a massive industry that drives retail, marketing, entertainment and more. In 2019 alone, companies¢marketing deals with Influencers are projected to have been larger than the advertising sales for the entire newspaper industry in the US alone.
(to be continued in part III)