If you’ve ever been on Facebook, you’ve probably gotten a targeted ad for something you Googled (or maybe had a vague dream about) not too long ago. Marketing is rapidly becoming extremely personalized, and the fashion industry is changing with it. Brands are realizing that customers no longer want to sit in bed scrolling through the Nordstrom website for hours, only to add one jacket to their wishlist before going back to Netflix. We aren’t just numbers on their revenue reports; we’re people. But why has there been this shift in marketing?
I would argue that the way fashion and beauty brands now market to consumers is shaped largely by the rise of influencers. With the enormously wide usage of YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, more and more people are gaining thousands to millions of followers for the content they release on those platforms. Consumers want to see products described by people who are like them, not expensive marketing campaigns that almost never tell you the whole truth and whose concern is whether or not you decide to buy, not so much your well-being. The question is, aside from partially embodying the image of “regular people”, what have influencers done to influence how we shop?
Maintaining a Personal Brand
The thing about clothing brands and retailers is that they are first and foremost revenue generators, whereas influencers are first and foremost people. It’s much easier to find someone whose style we want to emulate than to find one brand that sells everything we could possibly need or even to handpick pieces from a big department store like Macy’s. People rarely buy exclusively from one clothing brand, and they want to be able to source their style from multiple places. While clothing brands don’t advertise each other because it would hurt their individual sales, an influencer might recommend multiple different purchasing options for the same type of clothes. When you watch a video on which brand sells the best mom jeans, you can quickly use their advice to pick your favorite because the content has already been curated for you. That way, you don’t have to spend ages scrolling through the Nordstrom website to find something that you might’ve found much quicker had you clicked on a link from a YouTube video.
A fashion influencer’s personal brand isn’t limited to how they dress; it also includes their values. YouTuber Cynthia (@inspiroue) is a strong proponent of helping the environment by buying clothes secondhand and from sustainable/ethical brands. Others advertise for small businesses that have trouble reaching a large platform and whose talent is constantly being clouded by labor-exploiting fast fashion brands like Romwe. These kinds of values help viewers get to know the influencers and what they stand for on a personal level, which builds credibility and trust.
Knowing Their Audience
Aside from wanting to see consistency and a value system, consumers want to know that the influencer they’re watching actually has their best interests in mind. It’s more convincing when it’s one person rather than a company; though influencers with smaller followings still get paid for promoting content, most of the time it’s not enough for it to be their full-time job. The incentive to continue producing content, sponsored or not, is based mainly on benefiting the audience.
A caveat of this audience-focused approach is that influencers are subject to their viewers’ frequent scrutiny. If they deviate from their supposed positive values, endorse problematic brands, or otherwise make poor choices, audience members are very vocal. It takes very little effort to leave a comment on a YouTuber’s video than to go through the hassle of communicating with retailers whose customer service departments are slower at responding than Nevada is at counting votes. Bestdressed collaborated with Amazon for an office lookbook video and was harshly criticized in the comments on her social media accounts for deviating from her regular support of thrifting and sustainable fashion in pursuit of a sponsorship. The video was later taken down and Ashley returned to her regular individual thrifting content. It seems that because influencers’ reputations determine their success, they cannot afford to be problematic in the way employees who hide behind the company can.
Connecting Retailers and Buyers
Influencers also do a great deal of work for retailers and clothing brands by serving as a middle man. Many brands feature influencers reviewing their products in commercials or send them free merchandise so that they will mention it in their posts. When consumers see someone they trust endorsing something, they are more likely to buy.
Take Curology, for example. Curology is a skincare company that makes custom-made skincare products based on a responses to a questionnaire. They have featured more social media gurus reviewing their products than I can count; I’ll admit that the more I see it, the more tempted I am to try it, and I’m sure the same goes for many others. The fact is, when people whose platforms depend on their specialization in fashion and beauty recommend products to you, they’re inclined to be truthful—because if it doesn’t work as promised, the backlash will circle around to both them and the partnering company. For these influencers, with great following comes great responsibility.
The wide prevalence of social media influencers has been and will continue to be a driving force of fashion marketing and consumption, especially in a time when most of us are cooped up at home and susceptible to whatever we see on our endless Instagram explore page. It’s also a testament to how simple the process is to become a content creator, to start spreading advice and ideas.
But in the end, whether or not you click “Add to Cart” in return for a coveted molecule of retail therapy serotonin is really up to you—not the influencer.
Cover image courtesy of Youtube