The size of the global influencer marketing market has more than doubled since 2019, to $16.4 billion in 2022, according to Statista. Despite this rapid growth rate, there are indications of a major credibility gap when it comes to influencers’ actual effectiveness.
A recent consumer survey conducted by Wakefield Research for The Desire Company revealed some startling trends:
Retail TouchPoints (RTP): What’s the significance of the fact that so many consumers doubt influencers even use the products they’re recommending?
Eric Sheinkop: The fact that 87% of people said this says to me that people are aware of the extent of this problem. The effects are massive for the retail industry at large, especially when you consider that $761 billion in merchandise will be returned this year [approximately 16.6% of all U.S. retail sales, according to the National Retail Federation]. A lot of those returned products end up in landfills, so this is horrible for consumers, retailers and the planet — and it’s all coming from people misguiding consumers.
The problem isn’t just with influencers. While online reviews are one of the most popular ways for consumers to make decisions about a purchase, 22% of consumers believe most or all online reviews are fake, and 62% believe at least some are fake. The problem is worse at either end of the spectrum: over 50% believe that the “one-star” and “five-star” reviews are fakes, and 75% of people have read at least one fake review over the past year. Being constantly misled ends up taking a toll — nobody likes it. It’s mental exhaustion for consumers and also a lot of money wasted by marketers.
RTP: Your survey seems to indicate that consumer mistrust rises along with the number of followers an influencer has. Experts with 1,000 followers are more than twice as likely (23%) to be considered trustworthy, compared to just 11% for influencers with millions of followers. Is this just a matter of people shouldn’t trust the Kardashians and similar “professional influencers”?
Sheinkop: If someone has built up millions of followers, that’s great, but it’s a billboard. As a marketer you get awareness from an influencer like that, but you need an expert to find the right product for someone and show them how to use it. Reach can be bought, but experience cannot, and the survey showed this.
It’s also about matching the product or service to the customer’s need. While a macro-influencer might say ‘Everybody should buy this product,’ a more expert influencer would say ‘This product isn’t for everyone.’ Influence is about awareness, not education.
At The Desire Company, we use experts who are accredited and reliable — nutritionists, dieticians, NFL players, Olympic athletes — all kinds of people that have dedicated their lives to their specific area of expertise. They’ve tried all the different products and so they know which ones will help consumers achieve their goals.
They can also talk about products in context. For example, Beyoncé’s makeup artist might say ‘When she’s on stage for two hours under hot lights, this is the type of mascara she uses.’ Now not everyone is on stage for two hours, but if you’re going to be out all day without a chance to refresh your makeup, that makes it relatable to your everyday life. Our survey indicated that 51% of consumers say the only recommendation they need to really feel confident in their purchase is an expert demonstrating how to use the product.
RTP: I was also struck by the fact that more than two in five consumers who have had a negative experience with an influencer-recommended product say they’re unlikely to purchase from that brand again.
Sheinkop: People have the luxury of being quite fickle these days, because they have so many options. If they’ve been burned once, they won’t go back. This can have true, lasting consequences for these brands: yes, using influencers often leads to a spike in sales, but it could be detrimental if [the influencer] is trying to sell the wrong product to the wrong demographic.