Influencing shopping habits and purchasing decisions is the core of what retail marketing is all about. Over the last few years, there has been more focus on the role of influencers within marketing strategies. Whether that be through unboxing videos, reviews or boosted brand visibility across social platforms; the influencer has reigned supreme across the entire spectrum of businesses within the toys and licensing industry.
Knowing what is in vogue is something influencer marketing is good at.
“You need to keep on top of [trends] to know what’s trending,” says Laura Seaton, founder of BlogOn! and a professional marketing consultant.
As someone who coordinates and coaches businesses and bloggers daily, she has seen a definite change of how marketing and influencer culture works together.
“People are going back to more traditional TV advertising. The focus is moving back to the product, which is a sensible way to go. No one needs to pay thousands and thousands of pounds for a video campaign,” she says.
The cost, and return on investment, are the primary drivers for this change. Influencer marketing budgets are beginning to be on par with more traditional, tried and tested, approaches; and companies are taking notice.
“[Influencers] was where everyone’s marketing budget went last year, and the year before that. Now companies are starting to realise they could go with smaller influencers, and support that with more traditional marketing and PR.”
Flipping the paradigm on its head seems to be the solution to a number of problems currently being considered by the industry. Both the licensing and toys sector have begun focusing more on traditional PR, which is then supplemented by niche influencer marketing, rather than the other way around.
“I’ve been in the industry for 25 years. You’ve got to be sold yourself to be able to sell,” explains Tim Juckes, a specialist consultant with years of experience at Saban Brands. “We have to keep moving. Those that aren’t adaptable and are doing the same thing as before, well there lies madness, doesn’t it?”
The idea of being ‘sold’ is an interesting one and brings a potential issue to bear when it comes to influencers.
“They don’t really care what product they’re getting, so they could work with your competitors the next day. There’s no brand loyalty.”
This, of course, is resolved through the use of Brand Ambassadors, who are typically tied into an exclusivity arrangement over a period of months or even years. But many influencers are hesitant to sign these kinds of deals, shutting off other potential revenue opportunities for them.
There’s another problem.
“People are starting to worry that [some influencers] have bought their followers. Some have 100,000 followers, but only get 1000 interactions,” states Seaton.
Not having an engaged audience is a huge issue, especially when considering buy-in and click-through. It becomes like shouting into a void, with no one being receptive to the message being put out, and the money put into the campaign is effectively wasted. Those that do have an active following run into a different issue.
“The same kids end up watching the same videos, so it isn’t necessarily reaching a new market,” she adds.
The move to a more niche influencer model has been instigated for a number of reasons, not just for ROI purposes.
“Although the major influencers offer huge market access, consumers have become increasingly aware that they are offering a paid service, and many of them have lost editorial credibility. This loss of integrity carries with it a significant loss in the value of the association,” considers Rob Corney, a licensing industry professional and director of Bulldog Licensing.
“Micro-targeting through individuals with a lower reach but, arguably, higher credibility” is definitely a positive shift in the market.
It isn’t all doom and gloom. Influencer marketing has allowed the expansion of key markets over the last few years, such as the collectable market.
The unboxing phenomenon could only have come about through influencer channels and has given brands the opportunity to showcase themselves directly in the hands of their core audience. Licensing and retail absolutely recognise the value of a strong digital programme.
There’s definitely work to be done within the industry to agree a new norm of trust. As the public consumes online content with increasing scepticism, there needs to be further “clarity over advertorial versus editorial content,” agrees Corney. We’ve already begun to see this as platforms, such as YouTube, crack down on paid-for advertising, making ads more transparent.
Influencer marketing doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. If anything, more targeted campaigns will run in tandem with other strategies which should, given time, allow them to have a better conversion.
It seems that trust and credibility are vital factors in consumer spending habits, which shouldn’t be news to anyone, and it’s nurturing that relationship in an active audience that will make the difference.
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