From dresses to frying pans: how influencer marketing proved its value to brands

With sponsored posts starting to outperform paid social, do we need expensive studio production in the age of the ‘Instagram famous’? 

Last month, Missguided and LTK assembled three leading influencers in bustling Oxford Street to discuss the future of creator commerce. Performance Marketing World was there to report on the glamorous world of cross-platform analytics, DIY make-up and frying pans.... 

During a time of lockdowns and social distancing, influencer marketing proved many naysayers wrong. The medium turned out to be an essential and resilient marketing channel, offering an authentic and human brand connection during an isolating time.  Crucially for performance marketers, the channel is also highly measurable. 

Against the grain of high-street collapse, online fashion retailer Missguided doubled its annual sales in 2020, helped by a 92% year-on-year revenue growth on global influencer commerce technology platform LTK. 

Using a network of over 100,000 influencers across 20 social and digital platforms, the retailer was able to highlight dozens of on-brand influencers who had a proven ability to convert for the category, product price point – and who could stand out amongst competitors. 

One year on, among the biggest retailers in the world on London’s newly-revived Oxford Street, LTK and Missguided hosted a panel discussion on the growing role of influencer marketing and the evolving relationship between brand, retailer and creators. 

On the panel were influencers Mollie Campsie, Louisa Hatt and JosieLDN, alongside Vicky James, Head of Brand Marketing at Missguided and Robin Ward, Head of Sales at LTK.

The term influencer marketing means different things to different people, but how do you define it from a personal perspective?

Mollie: “The industry is so new so the definition seems to change all the time! For me an influencer is somebody in a given space, for me it is curved, mid-size and plus-size, who has an authority in that space and has an ability to influence purchasing decisions. And you’re also adding value to your audience, whether that's on Instagram, LTK, TikTok or elsewhere.”

Vicky: “I think of the role as someone that has an influence over a specific community. That might be a celebrity with high reach or that might be a blogger with a few thousand followers in a specific niche. So anyone who can have a kind of ‘power’ over a community would fit the definition.”

“The credibility and trust we have with our followers is highly valuable to brands.” 

Louisa: “One of the biggest things is trust and credibility with the audience. People (hopefully) think we know what we’re talking about! They can really trust what we say and that authenticity and connection with our own online communities and followers is highly valuable to brands.” 

Josie: “The key thing about influencer marketing is that it’s really trackable. My background was in marketing before becoming an influencer full-time. In my previous career we had to account for every pound we spent and sometimes that was really hard to justify.  When I speak to friends about my new job as an influencer, they’d say “when are you going to get a real job?”. I love talking to them about the marketing side of it and would start showing them the return on investment that I'm generating.”

How do you look for analytics signals from followers to shape your content?

Mollie: "Analytics is my guilty pleasure! In the same way some people get a buzz checking out their Instagram notifications in the morning, the first thing I do when I wake up is check my LTK analytics and I can see my graphs going up. I genuinely get a buzz from that! But it's not just always about sales, it’s adding value to people's lives and solving problems for them."

“My biggest seller used to be a dress, now it's a frying pan.”

Josie LDN: “Being able to login analytics really helps me steer my content towards what my followers want, and it means I have expanded my audience and into other verticals. My biggest seller used to be a dress, now it's a frying pan. I think it's the unique offering you provide to brands. There’s only one version of you, and people follow creators because they see similarity with your taste and style. If you buy jeans from an influencer and you like them, maybe you’ll like something else they recommend.”

Do you see yourself as a brand?

Louisa: “I never thought of myself as a brand until a couple of creators started sending me products saying, “this will look really good on you”.  I’ve started working with a number of high-end heritage brands that I never thought I’d be working with in a million years, but I had a style and a follower community that was in sync with what they wanted to represent."

Mollie: "I feel like it's a very potent fusion. I'm kind of a face, personality and voice of the brand. But then I have the actual brands who are supplying the stock. I also think of it from a slightly different angle. In my size range you're solving a problem for a lot of women who didn't really feel represented by smaller size influencers. So it's a bit more emotional from that angle as well. It humanises everything, which is, I think, the core of what creator commerce marketing is."

Vicky: “Creators have started to influence brand’s wider e-commerce strategies and it has certainly become a catalyst in the business for making decisions. Our internal design team have started to look to creators for inspiration. I have people in my team who are influencers themselves. This is a trend you are starting to see across brands- we’re already made up of micro-influencers ourselves!” 

How do you find your relationship with brands has changed? What do you look for in a brand partnership?

Louisa: "I think it has changed over time as brands become more comfortable with giving you control and seeing the conversions you can generate. When I started working with Net-a-Porter, I couldn't believe it when they wanted to work with me again! But we had built up a mutual trust. As I produced more social content for them, they placed more trust in me. They no longer gave me a long brief,  they just basically said “shoot!” and I got on with it."

Vicky: "We’ve begun to develop a lot more long term relationships with creators as we start to build their story. If a person posts just once promoting our products, then they might not get high conversions, but if they do it 4 or 5 times, they're going to see those conversions grow as they build relationships and trust with shoppers."

Mollie: "I love it when a brand gives me creative control as we know what suits our audiences. Brand collaborations that are too prescriptive don’t give me the same kind of joy. My favourite-ever collab was with a footwear brand called Footer. They approached me when I had only 2,000 subscribers on  YouTube, and they allowed me to do whatever I wanted. For that reason, I spent two weeks planning the whole thing and I wanted (and needed) it to go viral. And now it's at 1.3million views... and they don't have to pay me anymore because it's at that level!  I think that type of virality is something new to social media compared to traditional marketing." 

“When a brand gives you that trust and doesn't give you your prescriptive brief, then you know, deep down, that you are being judged on the sales.” 

Josie: "My first big partnership was through LTK with TopShop Girls. I had never really heard of a fashion brand doing something like that before. When a brand gives you that trust and doesn't give you your prescriptive brief, then you know, deep down, that you are being judged on the sales. So you just want to do a good job. If you succeed, you'll get the next three months… and then the next six months after that.  Nobody knows our audiences better than we do. We have a gut instinct as to what kind of content leads to high sales leads to high views, which often feels more like ambassadorships. I think the results are always better.”

It seems like influencer marketing has a focus on sales and performance over branding. Has it always been that way?

Mollie: "I think it depends on where your focus is within your business. For me, it's always been YouTube because I've always seen the most sales coming from YouTube, but it varies from platform to platform. Obviously on places like TikTok and Snapchat you're not thinking about the sales so much as you are about going viral. You have to think of it almost like a pie chart of importance. Yes, business sales are important, but you also need to grow in other ways, such as encouraging the sharing of content amongst friends.

"I think five years ago, people needed to hear a message eight times before they acted on it. Now you need to hear a message of a hundred talks before you act on it. And you have to keep educating people to know how to shop from you. 68% of my sales come through LTK. Every time I get a follower on LTK then they are a ‘shopper’, but on Instagram they are just a ‘follower’ that I need to convert to a ‘shopper’. I say ‘you can buy’ so often! While it can feel repetitive and sales-y, I always need to remember this is often the first time that someone is seeing my post."

"Every time I get a follower on LTK then they are a ‘shopper’, but on Instagram they are just a ‘follower’ that I need to convert to a ‘shopper’."

Vicky: “Influencer marketing is increasingly seen as a conversion channel. We have to make sure that everything we're spending is making money and we can account for not only direct sales but assistive sales and last click sales.  Basically, all parts of the customer's path to purchase. We're seeing sessions driven through LTK at a lower cost-per-session than through other performance marketing channels. Its costs are lower than our paid social, which is great for us.”

What are the opportunities ahead for influencer marketing?

Louisa: "I’m really looking forward to having a one-stop space where I can create, rather than having to jump around from my blog to Instagram to TikTok, and search-ability functions will make creator commerce shopping much simpler. I don't think people have the time and the patience to be darting around different platforms. Having trust in an influencer or creator and then being able to shop for pieces they love can really add value."

“We're seeing sessions driven through LTK at a lower cost per session than through other performance marketing channels, including paid social.”

Josie: "I think in the future people will be precise in choosing who they follow and there will be a greater connect between creators and followers. And brands will become more invested in that connection.We are seeing a more granular level of analytics that’s not just measuring sales, but also the emotional connection."

Mollie: "The recent Instagram blackout reminds us all not to rely too much on one channel. I need to de-risk my future and having a platform like LTK really facilitates that for me.  Influencer marketing is going to be absolutely huge, bigger than it is already. It’s still so young and we’re still making it all up as we go along, but it has absolutely changed my life!”