The Fifth Wave of Influencer Marketing
Who will emerge as the influencers of the future? Well, perhaps we need to rephrase that to “what” will emerge as the influencers of the future? And how and why will they do so?
Virtual reality assistants are already prevalent as the right-hand assistants to millions of people in the world. They do a lot of background, invisible work for you to accomplish the tasks you set them—all in milliseconds rather than minutes and with more attention to multiple factors than you could ever apply yourself in one or even multiple sittings. But presently, your virtual assistant responds to your directives. That may not be the case in the future, when you might become influenced by your own virtual assistant in a continuous learning loop between the two of you.
Before we describe why artificial intelligence is supremely poised to become our next major influencer as a persona crafted especially between you and the products and services you might be interested in, let’s understand what an influencer is and what the history of influencers has been. Influencers have been described as opinion leaders, testimonial providers, subject experts, and even “third parties in the supply chain.” (“A Brief History of Influencer Marketing,” by Janina Ehrhardt, published October 19, 2017, at https://blog.influencerdb.com/brief-history-of-influencer-marketing)
The first influencer recorded in histories on the subject was King George III of England. He endorsed the pottery of Josiah Wedgwood with the royal stamp of approval—still effective in Wedgwood sales today. With the advent of print advertising (supplanting word-of-mouth), persona influencers were created by marketing teams: The most well-known are Aunt Jemima, the Marlboro Man, and the Santa Claus character re-imagined by Coca-Cola.
These were all pre-internet inventions but played off of the pillars of influencers’ “influence”: a sense of authenticity and accessibility, of people or personas you could relate to and trust because they were independent of the products they endorsed. Marketers trusted that you would associate an influencer’s qualities with your own (you might even emulate them, at least imaginatively).
The advent of “new media”—the internet, social media, video, virtual reality, etc.—has popularized the role of influencers, essentially making it possible for anyone who knows how to use the tools to become an influencer.
Shift from Push to Pull
But the real shift that the new media allowed is one of not only pushing promotions out to customers but of pulling preferences either directly or by inference from customers. As the tools provided by the internet and the latest technology advances in artificial intelligence have shown, the companies that can adapt to changing customer preferences and desires through the wonders of digital analysis of all the data that can now be digitally gathered will win the trust and loyalty of their customers, who now expect speed and personalization in addition to product/service quality.
How does this relate to influencers? It’s only a matter of time before virtual assistants can become what Garter has called “sellers’ agents”—the new influencers. Through the wonders of AI algorithms, they can “learn” what you like and extend that to the universe of available matches in products and services in the marketplace. They may even recommend what they do best: find the “optimal” matches of features and benefits to your preferences. In this way, they can become your own personal influencer—tuned with all of their computing power and analysis to you and your preferences. All of the parameters you need to make a decision can be laid before you with the “optimal” recommendation for purchase.
The interesting aspect of this development is its directness: your virtual assistant represents your stated preferences, and the universe of possibilities is represented to you directly through optimized recommendations through the same device. Additionally, the two-way interchange is in real time in your own home.
For service and product providers, the additional leverage of celebrity and other influencers can still be provided through video and audio, but they’ll have the best influencer of them all in your trusted and valued virtual assistant that you have been developing a relationship with for several years now. Old Spice’s 2010 viral campaign used every one of the new-media platforms to influence its key influencers, who then multiplied its reach geometrically—to 19 million from one campaign. (https://mashable.com/2010/07/15/old-spice-stats/)
The video Old Spice sent out starred the American actor and former football player Isaiah Mustafa as “the Man Your Man Could Smell Like.” The innovation of this campaign was that the company used viewers themselves to attract other viewers.
Still, you might say that this was still a push technique: pushing content out through influencers to customers—still on a mass level. We believe we are witnessing today a fifth wave of influencer marketing, built on pull marketing. It has moved from (1) word of mouth; to (2) print; to (3) television; to (4) internet and social media; to (5) virtual. The fifth wave relies on the ultimate personalization: a device perceived as personal in your own home, where you tell it your preferences every day and where it advises you on the best products/services for your preferences. Some futurists envision your virtual device going further than serving as an influencer. They foresee it becoming a proxy for your interests. Time will tell.