As a well-documented and proud boomer, I know what I am about to say runs the risk of immediately typecasting me as an #OldGuy, but I just have to say it anyway: I am so over social media influencers. These posers and hipsters (and hipster wannabes) are constantly flooding my feeds with shallow, self-promotional posts in search of likes, follows and swag. Their battles for beautiful backgrounds are as clichéd as their tropes are tired. Do I really need one more pink wall, one more picture of a passport or the wing of another plane in my timeline? Is every pan of paella and every slice of pizza really the one “authentic” example of each?
I think not.
And while — much to my chagrin — influencer marketing is definitely a big business (Business Insider reports that brands will spend $15 billion on influencer marketing next year), I just have to believe that the younger generations are starting to feel much like I do about these high-priced and temporary spokespeople. Most of these so-called influencers long ago traded any hint of authenticity for a new sponsorship, a few more likes or one more fistful of followers. People of every generation can feel it from a mile away when something is forced. We all have a sixth sense for spurious sales pitches, and in this time of marketing overload, we have elevated resisting artificial messaging to an art form.
All of which makes me think we will soon need to find a new way to reach young people. And with almost 80% of consumers across all generations indicating that they prefer to watch videos from brands versus reading blogs from brands, now is definitely the time to evaluate our options for connecting with consumers via video. To be sure, influencers still have a place in our video marketing strategies. But in addition to what I believe will be their soon-to-be-waning influence, top-tier influencers are expensive to book and therefore difficult to scale. Plus, they simply cannot connect with consumers at a local level. And don’t even get me started again on their lack of authenticity.
So, if not influencers, then to whom do we turn to help us create local video connections at scale? To find the answer, we need look no further than our nearest store. Because just inside the front doors of that store we’ll find a group of passionate brand ambassadors, a group of people who truly understand the shoppers who walk through those same front doors every single day, a group of people who make their living selling our products to those shoppers.
You’ve surely guessed by now that I am suggesting we engage our associates in video marketing strategies. And not just any video strategies, but specifically livestreaming video strategies. Livestreams are fast becoming cable-cutting generations’ QVC. A whopping 48% of consumers surveyed indicated that livestream shopping events would make them “somewhat” or “much more likely” to shop for clothes online. Let that sink in a minute: Almost half of all respondents indicated that livestreams influence their purchase decisions. Half.
And who better to connect with local shoppers through livestreams than local associates? Store associates know their products and they know their customers, and as a result, they possess one thing influencers will never have: They have actual authenticity, not exaggerated and subsidized claims of authenticity (“These boots are soooo legit!”). No swag, no stylized selfies. Just real people, talking about their real experiences with real products and real customers.
I’m not the only one who thinks people will soon be ready for more authentic and localized marketing, either. A recent RetailWire discussion of associates in advertisements brought out similar opinions from numerous retail thought leaders:
- Georganne Bender, Principal at KIZER & BENDER Speaking, expressed sentiments very similar to mine: “I know that [influencers] are hired to endorse product and I know that they are there to smile to entice consumers to make a purchase. I don’t buy any of it, nor do I care about what they have to say. Now, store associates in ads? That’s something I can get behind.”
- Bob Amster, Principal at Retail Technology Group concurred: “Using employees in advertisements and in product demonstrations lends an amount of credibility and realism to both. Consumers are people and people relate to people, especially if they believe that the ‘actors’ are genuine.”
- Liza Amlani, Principal and Founder of The Merchant Life, agreed as well: “The pride that an employee would have in being cast in support campaigns is not only authentic, but it brings pride to the employee as a true brand ambassador.”
Clearly, many others think involving associates in marketing can breed both authenticity and trust. And while associate livestreaming is still a relatively new marketing experience, we are starting to see a few streams appear, and a couple of standout experiences have emerged among those early movers.
Italian fashion retailer Motivi, for example, produces regular associate-led livestreams featuring store associates from across the chain. The “set” is well lit and free of distractions, and the lighting and sound are excellent. The associate presenters are engaging, personable and knowledgeable. I would even suggest they look like they are actually having fun. But what really stands out to me is the viewing experience. Once I join a broadcast, I can engage with the presenters via an integrated chat function. I can share my reactions to the merchandise and see how other viewers are reacting. Shopping for pieces I like is just a click away, and the livestream even stays with me while I browse product details.
Of all the associate livestreams I have watched to date, the Motivi experience may in fact be the gold standard.
Great associate livestreams are not limited to large chains, however. Nor are they limited to fashion and beauty categories. Single-store Molbak’s Garden + Home center in Woodinville, Washington, produces monthly livestreams that feature associates presenting gardening advice, do-it-yourself tips and product information. Their streams don’t offer any commerce integration, but for a one-store operation, I am not so sure that matters. Their associates are knowledgeable, (mostly) comfortable on camera and always (here’s that word again) authentic. I’m also pretty sure that Woodinville viewers know exactly where to find the Molbak’s store (or website) if they want to purchase a product featured in their livestreams.
And besides, selling more stuff isn’t really the only objective, is it? Those associates are doing something just as meaningful as selling. They are becoming trusted partners in their viewers’ home gardening adventures, which is exactly what we should be shooting for with associate livestreams. We should be striving to make meaningful connections that educate people, showcase products and, most importantly, earn consumers’ trust. And, coincidentally, once we establish a relationship built on trust, we usually sell more stuff.
While numerous retailers around the globe agree with my premise and have begun producing associate livestreams, it really hasn’t gained much momentum in Europe outside of Italy. Most North American retailers haven’t been very aggressive yet either.
So if we move quickly, we have a chance to gain an advantage and establish consistent livestream connections ahead of our competition. And we’ll have the first chance to create relationships built on trust — which makes me think it may be time to press pause on those influencer-led livestreams and let our associates do the talking.
In the long run, I have a feeling they’ll probably “fake it” far less and sell much more.