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Brands turn to influencers to reach the youth market

by Lynette Dicey
These partnerships are a way for brands to promote their products or services in an authentic way.

The influencer marketing industry has grown significantly in recent years, increasing its value from $1.7bn in 2016 to $16.4bn by 2022, according to Influencer Marketing Hub. That growth is not expected to slow any time soon.

Its growth has been fuelled by a younger generation of consumers who are increasingly turning to social media before making a purchasing decision. In response, brands are partnering with influencers to help them build stronger relationships with their target audiences. These partnerships are a way for brands to promote their products or services in a more authentic way compared with traditional advertising, while creating a sense of community and shared experience that resonates with the brand’s audience.

In South Africa, influencers are resonating with consumers, particularly the youth market. Comedy podcaster MacG was voted the Coolest Online Influencer at the 2023 Sunday Times GenNext Awards, held recently in Joburg. The Sunday Times GenNext?survey is considered the leading barometer of what young South Africans find on-trend and inspirational, and delivers insights that are valued by brand management, advertising and marketing professionals.??

Brand trust is especially important to Gen Z consumers, says Pieter Groenewald, CEO of influencer marketing group Nfinity. Not only is it an integral part of building a customer base, he says Gen Z consumers are more likely to trust influencers who they perceive as genuine and relatable compared with traditional brand advertising, which is often seen as more polished and less authentic.

He adds that many younger consumers view influencers as peers or friends rather than celebrities or corporate entities. That means that when an influencer recommends a product or service, it can feel like a friend’s recommendation, making it more trustworthy in their eyes. Their deep understanding of their niche or industry can make their recommendations more credible with younger consumers in particular, who are more likely to trust influencers who have expertise in a particular area and who align with their interests and values.

Pointing out that younger consumers have grown up in an era of digital media - and social media communities - Groenewald says they are often more sceptical of traditional advertising techniques, viewing brand advertisements as manipulative or insincere, which can erode trust.

“Influencers who represent a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints may be more trusted by younger consumers compared with traditional advertising, which can lack diversity,” he says.

Groenewald is a big proponent of nano-influencers, defined as somebody with a following of up to 1?,000 users. “Nano-influencers effectively offer ... word-of-mouth marketing, something that most marketers have always believed to be the strongest form of marketing, but which historically lacks a mechanism to execute. We’ve seen a huge growth in the number of nano-influencers since the pandemic.”

One of the benefits of using nano-influencers, he says, is affordability - they charge significantly less for their collaborations than influencers with huge followings; this allows for an always-on approach by brands which tends to deliver the best results.

He predicts that influencers will become a more prominent sales channel for brands, especially in an ecommerce world, and that a greater number of larger influencers and content creators will launch their own brands, using their influence for personal commercial benefit.

“For far too long, influencer marketing has been seen as a public relations tactic. In reality, it has developed into a fully-fledged media channel,” he says.

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