Industry op-ed: a digital marketing powerhouse on the role of influencers in the modern fashion marketplace

You’ve seen the FashioNZ Creators Power List. Now, fashion marketing expert and Powerhouse digital CEO Christine Kearney gives a lesson on style and strategy.

Digital platforms have changed all aspects of our lives. We are endlessly on our screens, communicating with each other and constantly consuming content. Whether it’s something that inspires us to change our habits, an educational piece that opens our minds to new thoughts and opinions, or an authentic video from a relatable digital persona that influences us on where and how to spend our money, this new digital frontier has changed the way we interact both personally and professionally. 

Against this landscape, the distinctions between social and commercial activities have become increasingly blurred as the power of influence and digital platforms continue to drive commerce and our economy. 

The evolution of traditional media to the contemporary digital landscape we now live in has completely changed the way that marketing works. It’s important for both new and established businesses to also evolve and adapt, understanding how full scope marketing strategies, which include traditional marketing efforts, as well as performance and influencer marketing can ultimately drive growth and success in business.

Legacy media marketing relied on big budgets and broad reach. This approach is fine for mass market products that millions of people buy, but it isn’t a realistic or effective strategy for many of the incredible homegrown New Zealand brands we love to support, spanning boutique fashion and niche designer products. 

Digital marketing, too, is constantly evolving, and having a performance strategy is more important than ever. I have learned many things through my time in business and as a marketer, an important one is that digital marketing is not just about throwing content into the abyss of the internet and hoping something will go viral; it’s about slicing through the saturation and reaching those who truly matter to your brand. If you’re analytical, you will appreciate how digital platforms allow for a much more targeted approach to advertising. Analytics can track the performance of digital ads, making sure that they are reaching their intended audience and translating into actual sales.

Simply pumping advertising dollars into ‘boosting posts’ is no longer enough. Your ads and social channels can be getting a high number of views and clicks, but are they converting? Performance marketing specialists offer insights into how your ads track in terms of actual sales, and the impact they have on top line revenue making sure that clicks and likes aren’t just vanity metrics and there is a clear return on investment. There is such a misconception that simply getting hundreds of thousands of views on a reel is going to translate to more sales, but if we are not targeting the right customers, these are simply shallow, superficial and costly measures that hold no actual weight.     

Although there is absolutely a place for traditional marketing, this performance-centric approach is simply a necessity of operating in the contemporary digital marketplace. 

Additional factors, including the pandemic and cost of living crisis have drastically changed consumer behavior, with many people becoming more conservative in their spending habits. This is a challenge facing anyone selling non-essential items. It also raises interesting questions. Why should someone buy your product? What problem are you solving? These days, our purchasing decisions frequently come down to whether a product reflects our values and aspirations.  

This is where widening your marketing strategy comes into play and the importance of evolving to include influencers. In an age where trust is a rare commodity, influencers have emerged as modern-day titans, wielding the power to make or break trends and brands with a mere post or story.

Influencers have audiences that are already aligned with the set of values that they represent. These values can range from deeply ethical and eco-conscious, through to a full embrace of ultra-consumerism. The upshot is the same – influencers humanise brands. In an increasingly competitive marketplace like fashion, where there is so much saturation, a simple endorsement from a trusted or admired source can be the difference between making sales and not.      

To some extent, influencer marketing has always had a significant place in advertising. Leveraging celebrity associations to sell products dates back as far as the 1700s when British potter Josiah Wedgewood made use of royal endorsements to promote his homewares. 

Much more recently, highly effective campaigns have included Kim Kardashian for SKIMS, Snoop Doggannouncing he was ‘giving up the smoke’, promoting a new smokeless fire pit, and perhaps the most high-profile and effective celebrity endorsement of all time – Michael Jordan’s branding partnership with Nike, which started in 1984 and is still active to this day (if you want to inspire a marketing team, take them to the movie, Air!).  

Of course, it’s not as simple as aligning your brand with a famous face. In fact, a certain level of celebrity can be off-putting – this according to Business of Fashion and McKinsey Co’s latest State of Fashion report, which names authenticity and relatability as two of the most crucial qualities for influencer cut-through in 2024. My experience tells me that this very much aligns with the New Zealand psyche, which values genuine connections that transcend mere transactions.

By sharing real experiences as their honest and unfiltered selves, influencers have the power to inspire, educate, and positively impact their audience, steering away from superficial endorsements in order to drive meaningful engagement. Their authenticity not only shapes consumer perceptions but also cultivates a culture of transparency and reliability in the influencer space, driving a deeper sense of digital community and credibility. It’s imperative for consumers to decipher the real from the reel, keeping a discerning eye on what they consume.

Someone doing this very well in the fashion space is Beck Wadworth, a respected businesswoman with a background in e-commerce and PR. Beck is all about less is more, and quality over quantity. Her style is chic, understated, and elevated, and she’s always bang on when it comes to forecasting fashion trends and advocating for small local boutiques, purchasing investment pieces for a sustainable and multi functional wardrobe. 

In Beck’s case, she has also been genuinely open about health struggles and other challenges, talking about the real life ups and downs she has faced. Openly discussing sensitive topics has a huge impact on others, and empowers them with information that can enrich their lives, and help them feel less alone in their own personal struggles. By fostering genuine connection, care and concern for her audience, the influencer becomes even more influential.

Not just a mechanism for putting your products in front of an entirely fresh set of eyes, influencers have the ability to imbue businesses with heart and humanity, simply by bringing their fully-formed digital personalities to the table. But once again, performance is key. My recommendation to New Zealand brands considering engaging with influencers in 2024? It’s important to look at marketing with a wider lens. Being dynamic in your approach and understanding how all of these integrated factors play a part is essential. 

As a specialist in digital performance marketing, I can say that whether you’re in fashion, skin care, designer furniture, supplements or luxury goods, a combined and dynamic strategy is how a business moves from passive to powerhouse. Traditional advertising and comms, activation events, PR, content creation, influencer marketing, and technical performance targeting are all very powerful tools, and there’s always going to be strength in numbers.

The FashioNZ Creators Power List 2023 was brought to life in association with Powerhouse.