I have been thinking about influencers. It’s a term that we’ve heard a lot recently in marketing, PR and Branding. There was a movie released earlier this year called The Influencers featuring creative trendsetters in the US. Branding mogul Steve Stoute has also published a book called The Tanning of America that looks at how Hip Hop culture and its most recognizable icons are influencing brands, tastes and culture in America.
But what really is an Influencer? I thought this was a good definition:
“Influencers are the few that lead the many. Alternatively known as early adopters, thought purveyors or trendsetters, they are the creators of the styles and movements that others adopt. Their actions have been harnessed to create affinity between key audiences and brands and products and services. Their culture exists outside the purview of most traditional marketing channels, therefore accessing them in any substantive way has proven almost impossible. They create and shape a unique worldview within their chosen disciplines and in turn speak to their individual networks at a much deeper and richer level. They move forward linearly forging new archetypes within technology, music, art, fashion, film, philanthropy and communication. (via Influencer 10)”
In light of the buzz I could not help but wonder: Who are our influencers in the Caribbean? Does it even work the same way? Have we really examined our culture and values to see what and who resonates with the changing consumer?
Marketers in Trinidad seem to have an awareness that some people hold a level of influence over the consumer but this awareness seems to be limited to hiring spokespersons and attractive/popular local celebrities to appear in print and television advertising with the hope of leveraging their following to bring attention to the brand. It is a hit or miss situation and we don’t always get it right when choosing spokespersons. Often there is no real fit with the brand. For years Digicel and Bmobile played “catch the celebrity” as their principal marketing strategy, pushing near identical products with little real resonance between the celebrity chosen and their product. With Bunji and Machel on one side and Destra and Kes on the other what’s the difference really? How does that differentiate one brand from the other? Digicel has now moved ahead of Bmobile by creating characters and narratives that inject a freshness and sense of fun to their brand but this is relatively recent. Every Carnival we still hear countless jingles set to the tune of popular Soca songs with a few words changed and the product name clumsily dumped in the middle. No thought, no resonance and no sophistication.
Anya’s recent Fan Favourite win in the Project Runway competition revealed something very interesting happening in the Caribbean digital landscape that may be going unnoticed by local and regional brands. For those who were not following the competition, Project Runway’s Fan Favourite winner was determined by the number of times the contestant was voted for or spoken about on Twitter. In order for a vote to be counted, the tweet had to contain each competitors’ unique hashtag. In the last few days before the winner was announced, Anya’s competitor surged ahead and his win seemed certain.
With only two days remaining, a few Trinidadians with a significant online presence began lobbying their networks to vote for Anya. They even got non-users to join to Twitter and those who were not compulsive tweeters to use Hootsuite in order to vote regularly. While Trinidadians had been in support of our contestant from the beginning, the voting momentum just was not there outside of the hardcore tweeters and fans of the show. With alarming speed, people started to heed the call from traditional avenues such as Machel, Bunji, Fay Ann and KestheBand. These Soca stars have been long considered by brands to be clear local influencers but people in large numbers also responded to Carnival bandleaders, website owners, party promoters, bloggers, young creatives, entrepreneurs and ordinary folks with extraordinary personalities and large Twitter followings. In two days, a combination of the curfew, the Divali public holiday and the lobbying of these people made the difference and placed Anya in winners row. While factors such as popularity of the show and of Anya herself had a lot to do with encouraging people to vote, the ability of a few people to galvanize such support in a short space of time says something. Who were these people? What is the size of their network? How did they get people to respond? Did people respond because of their influence or did their reach simply give them the ability to spread the word? Do brands need to start looking further afield than the traditional methods of influencing customer and gaining recognition? Are these our new influencers?
Advertisers need to pay attention to this. Trinidad may be a bit further behind but in the US the golden 16-34 demographic is watching less and less TV and interacting with brands online. Soon we’ll be buying fewer local print newspapers. The consumer is already learning to be more discerning and to trust traditional modes of advertising less. Trotting out Soca stars and using the same strategies is soon enough not going to work. People want to communicate and share, not to be marketed to and we have to recognize and tap into a changing cultural landscape and consumer sensibility in order to create relevance and resonance.
I’d love your comments. Who do you think are the new influencers? Were you influenced by someone else to vote for Anya in the Fan Favourite competition? To whom do you look for changing trends, creative ideas and interesting perspectives on issues? Do you think advertisers are not being sophisticated enough in tapping into our changing cultural landscape?