Ah yes, look at all these sheep, sipping their cold brews and reading niche ‘zines in their cheap beanies and expensive jeans. I am such a rebel with my blond highlights, iced pumpkin latte and frayed copy of Eat, Pray, Love…with notes in the margins.
Whether we consider ourselves rebels or Socs or nerds or professionals or a combination of eight of those things, we woke up this morning and we dressed the part. On an even more basic level, we probably all brushed our teeth because 99 of 100 dentists recommend we do so. We styled our hair with or without products, designer or drugstore. We decided whether we wanted cereal, breakfast tacos, lasagna or just black coffee, before we started the day. Maybe we even put butter in that coffee. Maybe we think Sheena from accounting is a monster because she put butter in that coffee.
Did we all get cued by our Instagram feeds to make these decisions about what we do, wear and consume day-to-day? Of course not. Some of them are based on cultural norms, some the branding on your favorite websites, some your friend’s sister’s uncle’s daughter’s Facebook. (She seems hip to the foodie scene, and you are definitely a foodie.) And some, at least a few, are based on your actual taste (but even your taste was probably shaped by a multitude of influential experiences).
At the end of the day, even if you think you are the lonest of the lone wolves, you probably even developed a few “lone wolf” traits from others’ definitions of lone wolves. And you probably still buy Kashi cereal because you totally read about the pesticides in Cheerios, and you don’t want to be a lone wolf with cancer.
We are all subject to influence, and though we may resist the idea that we do things because others are doing them, influence is an inevitable and inextricable factor in all of our decisions (or the illusion of our decisions if you’re a Calvinist).
And though brands continue to harness that power through social influencers and celebrity spokespeople, there is a perpetual rumbling over the “paradox” of whether one can be both authentic and “selling something” at the same time. But that that’s not quite the right question. The real question is…are we okay with bowing to our hivemind overlords? Because if we are, they only need to make us believe.
You have never had an original thought.
No. No. That’s not true. That’s impossible!
Yes it is, Luke. Influence is…your father. And it’s cool because he isn’t [spoiler alert] all bad.
In this interview from the Psych Report, author and marketing professor Jonah Berger explains that the first step to accepting that we are all influenced is understanding that being influenced isn’t all bad, either:
We definitely have this notion that being influenced is bad, and indeed there are cases where being influenced is bad, but there are just as many cases where being influenced is helpful. Imagine that you had to pick where to go out to eat or what movie to watch without talking to anyone else—you couldn’t use online reviews, you couldn’t ask your friends. Life would be a lot harder. Others often provide useful information that helps us make better and faster decisions. They also help us get motivated. Comparing ourselves to others encourages us to work harder and perform better. Just as influence can hurt, it can also help.
Yes, in some ways we’re more true to ourselves if we all just try things till we find something we like, but most of us do not have the time, money or energy to spend on that sort of trial and error. Especially with the Internet opening up millions of choices for every product and every service imaginable – we NEED those Yelp reviews. We need our friends… and yes, even those fashion bloggers, to take a few risks on our behalves and narrow the field.
When we put this article to our team for discussion, AM Executive Vice President and Management Supervisor Katie McQueen confessed her own transition from “proclaimed influence rebel” to “the ‘not really that dark’ side:”
I remember because I shamed other people for doing it and then turned around and willingly bought [social media influencers’] stuff in the secret confines of my home. And I think maybe, after all these years, I can finally admit it.
Hi, my name is Katie, and I've bought something because an influencer told me to. Felt good to get that out.
Why was that so hard? Why would we ever have cared? Aren't we talking about the method of doing anything since the beginning of time: word of mouth?
There is a difference between advice from a collective of educated dentists telling you that brushing your teeth every morning is important to your health and a mom blogger telling you about the all-natural line of essential oils that helped her six-month-old through a head cold. Especially when the mom is taking money from that line of essential oils.
According to this article from Forbes:
A recent report by my company, Stackla, revealed that only 23% of people believe content from celebrities and influencers is influential. Alternatively, 60% say content from friends or family influences their purchasing decisions.
As an industry, we’ve lost sight of the fact that social influencers are inherently inauthentic. Even if they’re true fans of your brand, the content they’re creating isn’t earned; it’s just a modern form of paid advertising and content creation.
While this article is more cynical than seems reasonable considering the millions of dollars brands continue to invest in influencers every year, the writer has a point.
Several members of our team echoed this skepticism in our discussion. Debby Johnson, AM Executive Vice President of Strategy and Planning, said:
Where I resent digital (or mass media's) influence is where it’s not deserved, usually because it’s disingenuous. When it is someone flacking a product under the guise of being an independent genuine heart-felt opinion. That stinks.
We develop personal relationships with bloggers, and so there is more potential for us to feel betrayed when they sell us a lemon. The aforementioned dentists have earned the trust we put in them with years of medical school and consensus among others with years of medical school. The mom-blogger earns trust because she is “one of” her audience – a mom, just like them, with a teething child, just like them. But how can we believe her when she’s paid to recommend something?
While none of us trust anything that feels false or inauthentic – influencer blogs and Instagram feeds should maybe refrain from posting straight-up advertisements – we still gravitate toward influencers because they feel more like people, and not like brands.
According to this article from Inc:
Influencers are able to engage their fans by being their true selves. They express themselves through authentic and engaging content, which their followers look to for inspiration. And according to TapInfluence, 71.2 percent of influencers feel that their honesty and sense of humor is what keeps their audience engaged.
The dirty truth is, we want to be influenced. We want someone to help us decide which top is the cutest and which brand of organic tofu will bake without crumbling.
Henry Martin, AM Chief Creative Officer, summed it up well:
We want to be influenced—by people we trust. Influencer marketing serves a very crucial role for consumers: it saves them time. Rather than researching various products, or trying multiple brands until you find one you like, you have an influencer you trust spoon-feed the ideas directly to you. There are a lot of people who are very willing to make that deal.
We may never be “boldly going where no man has gone before,” but we are seeking influencers who align with our tastes, our situations, and therefore our trust, to make decisions about what to wear, eat, buy and do. As long as this is true, the force will be strong with influencers.