Marketing used to be simple. You might not remember that, but it was. Basically, you took your print ad, placed in a couple of magazines and on TV. Boom. Local recognition and sales ensued.
Now it has become really fucking difficult. Everyone is literarily a publisher. No one owns anything anymore; everyone is just riding of another ones back. Your customers are hard to find, hard to please and easy on the feet.
But here comes Kanye selling outlandishly expensive shoes and is supposedly going into furniture. And Kylie Kardashian who has like three employees and makes billions. She doesn’t manufacture shit. She has no systems, platforms, accounting – everything is outsourced. She alone sells it on someone else’s platform and reaps all the rewards.
How is that possible?
Well, the standard, off the shelf reply is that influencers have become what young people listen to and they follow them blindly, and buys anything they’re selling.
But if we dig a little deeper – why do they do that?
I’d say two things.
1) They have crafted a narrative around themselves that is appealing and interesting and it allows you to follow them over time. ‘Over time’ is the key here (appealing and interesting to obviously, but for the sake of stylistic argumentation). To stick in peoples mind, that narrative needs to be there, and develop together with their audience for and extended time. This give and take lets the narrator understand what its audience wants and gets exited about.
2) The second profound reason is that these ways of marketing (in the broadest sense of the word) let us react with super high speed on the subtle shifts in the markets preferences. Kylie realized the market for the lip-kit and was able to capitalize on that by being nimble and fast. So, the discovery of a marketable segment of the market was almost opportunistic and by chance, but the way it was monetized was brutal and fierce. And tomorrow it might be gone, replaced by something else. The narrative and audience interaction as a foundation is still there though.
That is almost like saying that the marketing paradigm that we know is dead, or at least broken. Your target group is hard to define, hard to reach but it takes a long-term investment in the ongoing narrative just to be ready when the moment appears. You do not necessarily make extra profits by being vertically integrated, owning production facilities etc. It just makes you slower.
What can we learn from this?
As influencers came into prominence, we saw tremendous results, and in some respects we still do.
Many companies thought they could buy into this by assigning some rando influencer based on the old marketing paradigm of crafted messaging and time-framed campaigns. But, when someone – i.e. predominantly large companies, tries to replicate a thing like this without fully taking into account the parameters that made it work it breaks down.
Influencers have two means of creating value; reach and trust. They are a balancing act. With less reach, you need more trust and salience and vice versa. Trust is hard to come by – it is earned. If you sell your trust to often, it gets diminished. However, even influencers have to eat, therefore they will sell their trust. Over and over again. And so the cycle of shrinking returns start going downwards and you need to sell even more of your trust.
How to then…
The marketing paradigm was by and large focused on crafted messaging, USP:s and compelling copy. This new paradigm is about engagement, building a trustworthy relationships with an audience over time and that means, essentially that everyone is becoming more similar to a publisher than a marketer.
But just because you can publish something doesn’t means that you engage your audiences. We’ve seen this content crash play out over the last couple of years now. There is such an overload of content, and the viewer fatigue is alarming. It has become harder and harder to engage, which means that you need to be better at finding your viewers, and you need better – more niche content.
This is something we can learn from journalists. You need to figure out, what they refer to as a ‘beat’. We might call it topical marketing. A beat is a story that develops over time. Just like the auto industry (and your car) or the financial industry (and the way we handle our money) does. Every industry contains multiple beats, and within them, so many topics that can be delved into, investigated and taken seriously.
If you, as an industry leader can’t do it – who can? If you do it well, you might very well do it better than the actual journalists. What is the benefit and the return of taking on that role in your industry?
<3 / Carl