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Influencer marketing saw extraordinary growth in 2016 and shows no signs of slowing. With millions tuning in to their favourite YouTuber or blogger every day, that’s not surprising. However, as more brands continue to adopt...

Influencer marketing saw extraordinary growth in 2016 and shows no signs of slowing. With millions tuning in to their favourite YouTuber or blogger every day, that’s not surprising. However, as more brands continue to adopt influencer marketing and audiences become increasingly aware of sponsored content, what will 2017 hold for the influencer space?


2017 will see spend on digital marketing exceed that of TV for the first time. With the use of influencers increasing, authorities such as the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the UK, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the USA, are paying more attention to brand-sponsored influencer content to make audiences aware that they are being advertised to.

Brands and influencers must follow the regulations. They’ll face stiff penalties if they do not disclose sponsorship with the inclusion of hashtags such as #ad, #sponsored or #sp – not to mention a loss of credibility among their audience.

However, the power of influencers comes from their authentic social connection to their audience, and too much overt advertising may erode this.

This year brands will have to play a delicate balancing act. They’ll have to work with influencers to reach their audience transparently, while maintaining the integrity of the influencer’s social connection with their audience, and preserving all the trust that influencer has built up.


While many people don’t mind being advertised to, they can become fatigued when exposed to too much sponsored content which is not relevant to them, or out of character for the influencer.

There’s nothing wrong with sponsored content – sports figures and celebrities have been endorsing products for nearly a century. But if an influencer is constantly switching, say, from an energy drink one week to a laptop unboxing another week, this strains their credibility. When influencers post conflicting messages, followers are often quick to call them out.

In the coming year, look for more long-term partnerships growing up in the influencer world, as the relationship between influencers and brands matures. Some of the influencers with the largest followings are maturing into established media brands in their own right – a development that only underlines the importance of building long-term relationships based on real, shared values.


Some 60% of brands have used influencer marketing in 2016, and this is set to increase to 75% by the end of 2017. With some online superstars like Zoella featuring multiple brands every month, and influencers like Melanie Murphy sometimes listing dozens of brands in a single post, the market is rapidly approaching saturation.

The cost of working with major influencers has increased as more brands secure their services. Some influencers’ fees tripled in the last year, and there’s no sign of this trend reversing. Developing a focus on the middle-tier influencers, or micro influencers of your industry, will be key.

Smaller influencers, with a more localized or specialized audience, often see significant levels of engagement and tend to be much more accessible than their major counterparts. This accessibility allows brands to explore influencer campaigns without having to stretch budgets to reach the higher-reach influencers.

On the other hand, finding relevant mid-tier influencers or micro-influencers with access to a specific audience is more complicated. Methods will have to get more sophisticated. Top-ten lists and media reports won’t do on their own, and specialized research approaches will be necessary. That’s why 2017 will see an increased use of specialized tools and methods to find the right influencers for a brand.


Through the year, brands will enter an ever more intense competition for consumer attention. There is a profusion of influencers creating content, and more and more brands trying to affect it. That’s why influencer strategy will need to be integrated into brands’ wider marketing mix at the highest level. The use of paid promotion will rise, further extending the lifespan of compelling influencer content. Integrated influencer and content campaigns will become the standard for effective online communications.

Brands should become more savvy by using paid promotion to elevate their content beyond influencer communities. By pairing paid social with co-created influencer content brands will be able to cut through noise and ensure that their content is reaching audiences en masse.  Content formats will have to evolve too, for example using influencers as talent or involving them in in-person or community activities. Online influencers aren’t going to disappear, and brands are learning how deeply they can impact their audience. But so far we’ve only scratched the surface of how they can work together.

Written by Blaine Doherty with Philip Trippenbach Edelman London

Edelman Brussels GM: Trust Me


On the role of women in earning companies trust, and how brands can earn women’s commitment In the run up to the IWEC – International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge conference in Brussels, this article explores the...

On the role of women in earning companies trust, and how brands can earn women’s commitment

In the run up to the IWEC – International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge conference in Brussels, this article explores the opportunity and potential for female leadership in a changing and divided world. Firstly identifying the drivers behind this shift in trust levels, and translating this to the opportunity that such changes pose for business. Secondly, zooming in on a business segment that already applies these elements naturally. And lastly, changing the perspective from female leaders and entrepreneurs to that of the female consumer. Sharing new insights on what drives female consumers to commit to a company’s brand.

Mind the gap

In the 16th edition of our annual trust and credibility survey ‘Edelman Trust Barometer’, we’ve witnessed a marked divide between the informed public and the mass population when it comes to trust in institutions such as governments, media, NGOs and business to do what is right. Whilst trust is rising amongst the elites, the mass population remains skeptical. This largest ever trust gap is driven by income inequality and divergent expectations of the future. We are witnessing the consequences of such an inequality of trust, with politicians preying on fear instead of offering solutions.

Despite the general population’s skepticism, business is seen as having the best chance of bridging the trust gap, whilst still fulfilling its mandate to create value. The general population sees business as the institution best able to keep up with the rapid pace of change – ranking higher than government and even NGOs. Furthermore, the public responds positively to CEOs who aim to combine earning profits with providing societal benefits. This particularly puts women in a strong position as they are often associated with such characteristics of authentic and people minded leadership styles. The results also indicate that the days in which both authority and influence were concentrated in the hands of a small number of opinion shapers is long gone. Today, the influence rests in the hands of the mass population, who rely less on newspapers and magazines and prefer self-affirming online communities. Considering their friends & family and ‘someone like me’ as the most credible source of information, and with one in three employees distrusting the company they work for. Yet employees are increasingly seen by others as a credible spokesperson. Companies should thus cherish their female leaders, spokespeople and regular employees, as they are untapped ambassadors.

In a world of divided trust and dispersed authority, an opportunity presents itself when it comes to leadership. However, as the 2016 findings show, it is not business as usual that will resonate. Leadership must recognise the importance of action, values, engagement and employee advocacy. Or as Richard Edelman, President and CEO of Edelman, puts it “Trust in institutions and their license to operate is no longer automatically granted on the basis of hierarchy or title, rather in today’s world, trust must be earned.” With women still representing significantly less than half of board members in all European markets and sectors, as well as at all but a handful of European companies (1), this earned centric thinking offers an opportunity for more of a level playing field in de facto leadership by women, regardless of where they sit within the organisation.

Leading by example

Whereas the IWEC – International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge conference in Brussels is focused on the challenges of female entrepreneurship, let’s zoom in on a success story here. That of family businesses. A 2015 EY study (2) reiterates that “the largest, longest-lasting family businesses in the world are moving women further and doing so faster than their non-family counterparts.” To be more specific, their survey amongst family businesses shows that these family businesses average about five women in the C-suite and four women being groomed for top leadership positions. 41% report that female family members have grown more interested in joining the business over the past three years. And an amazing 70% of family businesses are considering a woman for their next CEO, and 30% are strongly considering a woman for the top spot. (3) This is in stark contrast with just 5% of Fortune 1000 CEOs being women and another 2015 study of CEOs, Governance and Success, found that women made up 5% of the incoming class of CEOs at the world’s top 2,500 publicly traded companies in 2014. (4) Why are family businesses a frontrunner? They don’t only acknowledge the widely reported benefits for a firm’s profitability and growth of women assuming leadership positions, they actually live and breathe the ‘magic’ formula of having internal senior female role models, long-term thinking, and an inclusive environment in which women thrive. (5)

Looking at the situation closer to home, around a third of Belgian family companies considering to handover the business within the next ten years are choosing a female managing director – compared to 23% ten years ago. According to researcher Arijs, the reason for the increase is twofold. On the one hand, female family members are provided with more opportunities to lead the family business. On the other hand, female family members increasingly see this role as a feasible option, knowing they can lead the firm together with a team. The interviews and survey indicate that female family leaders invest more in the emotional family cohesion, taking into consideration internal relationships when taking business decisions. This leads to more cognitive family cohesion, which manifests itself in more understanding and support of the wider family for the business objectives – eventually leading to stronger ambition of keeping and nurturing the family business. From the longevity perspective, including female leadership potential in the management mix is thus a quick win. At the same time, the potential female successors are advised to demonstrate more leadership ambition and be more confident in their leadership skills. (6)

Earning female consumers’ trust and commitment

Trust matters, for the sale of a product, for recruiting. And, at a time when peers are so influential and everyone goes online to research products and services, it matters for your reputation. Our 2016 EARNED BRAND study (7) examines the consumer-brand relationship across 18 brand categories. It shines a light on an enormous unrealised opportunity for brands to build stronger consumer relationships that can lead to increased sales and protect against challenger disruption. It appears that younger consumers and men tend to have stronger relationships with brands than older consumers and women. Furthermore, the group with the highest brand-relationship scores are Millennial males.

To realise the full potential of the consumer-brand relationship, brands must move consumers from being “Involved” with the brand to being fully “Committed,” the strongest relationship stage. The findings reveal that consumers who are “Committed” to a favorite brand will drive and protect its bottom line by buying first, staying loyal to, advocating for, and defending the brand. These stronger relationships provide significant benefits: 86% will adopt innovation more quickly; 87% will pay a premium price; 87% will recommend the brand through liking and sharing; and 88 % will defend it against critics.
The biggest opportunity for brands to earn deeper relationships with female consumers lies in addressing the three brand behaviors that scored the lowest on the Edelman Brand Relationship Index: acts with purpose, tells a memorable story, and listens openly/responds selectively.

To be continued

The aforementioned overview merely provides an initial introduction into the complexities of earning trust in an environment of increased democratisation of information gathering and decision making, especially in relation to leadership as well as towards the empowered consumer. I look forward to meeting the many ambitious entrepreneurial women from all over the world at the IWEC conference, and to be inspired by their stories and lessons learnt along this important journey.

Written by Esther Busscher, General Manager, Edelman Brussels

(1) Realizing Europe’s Potential: Progress and Challenges, a European Women on Boards (EWoB) study in association with ISS.
(2) Women in leadership. The family business advantage. Special report based on a global survey of the world’s largest family businesses by EY.
(3) Staying power: how do family businesses create lasting success?, EY survey, April 2015.
(4) ‘Exclusive: This is the type of business most likely to promote women leaders’, Fortune, 18 June 2015. Strategy& (formerly Booz & Co.) 2015 Study of CEOs, Governance and Success.
(5) Women in leadership. The family business advantage. Special report based on a global survey of the world’s largest family businesses by EY.
(6) Leiderschap in familiebedrijven: een gender perspectief. Doctoraatsonderzoek Diane Arijs, Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel.
(7) Edelman Earned Brand 2016 study, a global online survey of 13,000 consumers in 13 countries.

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