Fashion Marketing: Influencers

(By Dr Ruth MarciniakMSc Fashion & Lifestyle Marketing Programme Leader)

Influencers are those people who have influence over existing and potential customers and, by way of influencing others, marketing efforts are oriented around them.

Whilst an influencer may be highly interested or work within fashion, it is rare that an influencer focusses solely on this one product category.  Indeed why would an influencer limit themselves?  Rather, influencers live their lives as content via various social media platforms. Content is in terms of both products and experiences.

Lifestyle is holistic, and an individual’s fashion style can be applied to their environment, wellbeing and all other manner of things. Unlike traditional marketing in which a celebrity endorses a fashion brand e.g. Kenzo’s La Collection Momento Spring/Summer 2018 campaign endorsed by Britney Spears, influencers make lateral shifts, showing how a fashion item is integrated into their lifestyle, for example, how they wear their fashion to work, to a bar, a music venue, to the gym, in the kitchen, thereby blurring the boundaries between fashion, beauty, personal interests, home and food.

Recently appointed artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear, Ghanaian-American fashion designer Virgil Abloh and CEO of Milan based fashion label, Off White, is an outstanding example of an influencer.  He has degrees in engineering and architecture, designs furniture, is a DJ, is a creative consultant to Kanye West, has collaborated on collections with Moncler, Levi’s, VLONE, and Nike, is designing hotel in Asia, working on his museum gallery show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago 2019 and is planning to publish books. In an interview in Esquire magazine in January 2017, he described himself as a ‘conduit’ wherein he sources inspiration from his friends, an inner circle, where ideas and influence are exchanged. In the interview, referring to his inner circle, he states “I sort of plug them in, and then I vicariously get what I need, which is inspiration, and, then, what they get out of it is a voice.”

However, not all influencers may be as talented or well-connected as Virgil Abloh.  The Independent UK newspaper reported in October 2017 that people were renting private planes to take their Instagram photos, for example, of them popping champagne, reading or “sleeping”.

Instagram followers need not know that their influencers cannot afford a private jet, but this calls into question authenticity of marketing influencers. Whilst fashion brands see the potential to create engaged content with influencers, the idea of an influencer creating a lifestyle, which they do not live is incongruous as the idea of influencer marketing is about creating authentic content and the very reason why influencer marketing works. For effective influencer marketing, rather than scripting how influencers should look, what they say or where they are, to continue to maintain and grow their following, fashion brands should trust the influencer in order for them to be credible.

As they already know what resonates with their audience, influencers will have the ability to create the content themselves – the number of likes or comments a post receives is a simple measure of resonation. The success of which can be explained by reception theory or audience reception, advocated by cultural theorist Stuart Hall, wherein a communications message is not simply passively accepted by the audience. Rather, the reader or viewer interprets a message based on her or his individual cultural background and lifestyle and life experiences. Followers will respond based on their interpretation.

Sound interesting? Check out our brand new MSc Fashion and Lifestyle Marketing programme, the theory and practice of fashion brands’ use of influencers and lifestyle marketing is the kind of thing you will cover on this programme.

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