The End of Influence? What Celebrity Meltdowns Signal for the Future of Influencer Marketing.

In marketing, partnership can be a tricky thing. Social media influencers are a common part of marketing strategies for retail and hospitality brands and can be a specialized tool appropriate for numerous other industries. The benefits can be tremendous for brands looking to make an impact on audiences and increase profits, and many companies have found success by partnering with major celebrities like Lebron James, Charlize Theron, Taylor Swift, Steph Curry, and Cristiano Ronaldo. The effects of large contracts with stars have given rise to an influencer arms race, with brands vying for those with the biggest reputations and followings to endorse their wares. However, not all influencers have been beneficial to the brands they represent.

As the rise of influencers continued unabated, some brands may have gotten too comfortable with partnerships and failed to best evaluate who they were attaching their logo to. Most recently, the very public meltdowns of both Kanye West and Kyrie Irving have prompted the biggest sportswear and clothing brands in the world to revisit the terms of their partnerships with major celebrity influencers and presented a catalyst for PR professionals and marketers to reevaluate the influencers they currently collaborate with.

The recent debacles may have a cooling effect on what has otherwise been a vibrant and growing market, but that doesn’t mean brands should step away. “There is a real opportunity for us to rethink how we use influencers in our industry,” noted Laura Emanuel, Managing Director of Red Thread PR. “Often, when clients think of influencers, they think of big celebrities, but there are different types of influencers that can be engaged. It’s more important to understand what we want an influencer to do for the brand.”

Now more than ever, PR and marketing strategies must include strong evaluation processes for influencers, whether they are celebrities, macro or micro influencers. One crucial step is assessing not only possible future content but examining past behavior and content as well. This is not to say past incidents should immediately exclude some influencers from consideration, but rather that marketers who look at mistakes — as well as the actions that follow them — will have a more holistic view of the potential outcomes of the partnership before an agreement is reached or a contract is signed.

Another essential part of that evaluation process is determining how the influencer’s own reach and audience will enhance and overlap with the partnering brand’s. Many brands that have seen success utilizing influencers have done so by forging partnerships that show an understanding of the audience’s values. This can be more easily done by partnering with individuals or groups who may have a smaller following but a better, more nuanced appeal to a particular segment or industry’s customer base. “Agencies have a chance to prove they have a deep understanding of clients’ industries,” said Emanuel. “A robust evaluation process allows us to recommend the most effective influencers that will move the needle more organically.”

Brands that can effectively evaluate and utilize influencers are likely to see continued success, not only increasing their reach, but further cementing their values and, by extension, their longevity.

Our Brand Longevity Research found that relevance was the second-most crucial factor to a brand’s continued success, only behind profitability. As brands navigate new trends in marketing, they must also adapt their strategies for their messages to achieve long-term resonance with their audience.

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