Using a high-profile individual to elevate a brand or product is no new thing, the first example was the British brand Wedgwood back in 1829 who created a range of pottery featuring Queen Charlotte to market their wares to the upper classes. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, household names formally associating themselves with product became a standard practice for brand marketing. 

The tobacco industry was one of the first to capitalise on it; launching collectable basketball player cards inside their packets. This was quickly followed in the sports industry with the  game-changing examples of Michael Jordan increasing sales of basketballs for Nike by 7000% in 1984, and Tiger Woods increasing golf balls sales for the brand by $50 million during the course of his six year partnership – evidence in favour of the celebrity partnership for any naysayer.  

Looking forward to today and celebrity endorsements are becoming a default tool for brands. This has naturally expanded into influencer-based partnerships, as individuals in the sector have fostered a similar ‘fan base’ with (arguably) a more captive audience as their followers are used to trusting recommendations from them, and being sold to directly. 

However, what is changing is how a person and their influence are utilised, and at what stage they are integrated into a campaign. Previously, a celebrity would have been chosen prior to launch and the brand themselves would be tasked with amplifying the association to their target customers. These days, it’s become a responsibility of the chosen talent to drive the numbers. We’re interested in whether this is fair, and how you can make sure your chosen ambassadors bring in the results you need. 

Celebrity vs. Influencer

One of the most frustrating things we hear is versions of this sentence: “They have X million followers, but we saw very little sales, so therefore Influencer Marketing does not work for us.” Unfortunately, all that tells us is that the brand did very little investigation or homework into their chosen talent. 

At One Roof Social, we see Influencers and celebrities as two very separate segments of the industry. As a brushstroke generalisation, celebrities (people who have grown a following through entertainment or sporting achievements) tend to drive lower sales and higher prestige – and Influencers (people who have grown a following through expertise in a certain sector, e.g. beauty) drive higher sales but won’t perhaps elevate a brand in the same way traditional talent would. 

When brands come to us for consultancy sessions, we use the analogy of Tanya Burr and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley to explain the standard differences. Tanya developed her channels (with 3 million Instagram followers and 3.5 million YouTube followers) over the course of a decade by incrementally gaining followers with her beauty tutorials and candid knowledge of the sector, which developed into wider lifestyle-based content as she moved to London (and, like her following) bought a home, had relationships, bought a pet and achieved other life milestones. Her regular recommendations of product mean her audience is familiar, and trusting, when she makes endorsements. 

Rosie, with an Instagram following three times larger than Tanya, actually has a smaller concentration of followers in the UK. Her background in modelling, acting and a high-profile romantic relationship has earned her mass appeal from both men and women. The classic statement ‘men want to be with her, women want to be her’ could easily be applied. Although she is moving into producing more ‘lifestyle’ content these days, it cannot be argued that the primary reason for her success is based on her genetics. 

Both women have created licensed make up lines, using major retail chains to stock and distribute product. Both lines have similar turnover. However, the reason for their success is probably quite different. Customers will come to Rosie’s line having been visually inspired to purchase, whereas customers would arguably make a purchase decision on Tanya’s line because they trust her recommendations. Essentially, it’s aesthetics versus authority. 

The Importance of Audience Checking

Continuing the Rosie and Tanya comparison, it should also be noted that their social media followings, despite technically both being in the multiple millions, are vastly different. While smaller, Tanya’s is much more impactful for UK-based campaigns and has a larger number of UK, female, purchase-ready potential customers. Rosie’s reach is far more global, so if a brand or product is available worldwide, she’d potentially be a much better choice – however for us, Tanya is the UK leader. It also should be considered that a larger proportion of Rosie’s following is likely to be male – many of whom aren’t in the market for a new lipstick or mascara. 

As a summary; never take the total number of followers as any worthwhile indication of potential of conversion or success. It is critical that you dig deeper and discover who is following an Influencer and whether or not these people will be interested in what you are asking the talent to promote. In addition, consider whether the number of likes on a photo actually has any value for your brand. Are their audiences engaging with the content because it’s a beautiful image, or the talent looks fantastic, or because they want to make a purchase or discover more about your brand? Essentially the stature the talent can overshadow the actual partnership if not carefully directed. 

When done well there is no argument that a considered talent endorsement isn’t a brilliant way to help showcase a product or brand to a target market. The market in the UK has been somewhat tarnished with a plethora of reality stars endorsing weight-loss and teeth whitening products, but you only have to look at recent endeavours by more reputable brands like Marks & Spencer, Cult Beauty and (in the US) Sephora to see that the right partnership can cause an instant sell out. 

What’s next for the High-Profile Endorsement?

Despite the proven track record, it’s super important that you establish relationships in a way that allows the talent’s aesthetic (that is known and valued by their following) to shine through. Firstly, getting them involved as early as possible in development, to make sure the final product is something they truly love, is one of the most crucial factors in creating an authentic partnership. Secondly, understanding that the talent can only ‘lead a horse to water’ and it remains the responsibility of the brand to ‘make customers drink’ shouldn’t be forgotten. Make sure that the purchase experience for the customer is seamless; poor e-Commerce journeys, delivery and stock availability will not only reflect badly on you, but also on the talent. 

Lastly, ensure the partnership isn’t in any way tenuous. Unfortunately, in some cases, brands have got very excited to use talent as a means to introduce their brands to new markets and the striking attempt at diversity, when it doesn’t come from a true ethos of a brand, can be seen straight through by the majority of consumers. First impressions count, so make sure a new customer ‘meets’ you in the way they want, by a means you genuinely support. 

Anna Hart