Influencer marketing is rife. But for good reason. 

For retail brands looking to profit from this prolific marketing trend, the future looks bright. But why are the returns so great? 

The rise of influencer marketing is largely down to evolution in the digital space, forging a  need for brands to reach consumers differently. 

The market is expected to reach $10 billion by 2020 and this seems plausible once you take stock of how many influencers have built absolute empires by forging hugely profitable deals with brands.

Witnessing such growth, we carried out bespoke research in August this year to learn as much as we could about influencer marketing – where it is now, where the trend is going, and how retail brands can implement influencer marketing strategies that work. 

We asked consumers in the U.S. and UK:

  • Which social media platforms they use.
  • How they research brands.
  • What content they consume.
  • Where they engage with influencers.

Using influencers can offer retail brands the opportunity to create deeper, more meaningful connections with their key audiences — so it’s something worth getting right. 

Here are the key takeaways from our new influencer marketing report.

Influencers bring value to multiple stages of the purchase journey.

Close to 70% of internet users in the U.S. and around 60% in the UK follow influencers.

For retail brands in particular, influencers can act as powerful brand advocates throughout the purchase journey. 

Our research indicates this is especially true for brand discovery and product research phases: around 15% of internet users globally discover new brands via celebrity endorsement, rising to 19% among Gen Zs. 

And in the U.S. and UK:

  • YouTube takes the coveted top spot for brand research, with just over half of Gen Z and millennials turning to the video platform when seeking information. 
  • Instagram takes second place for research among Gen Zs (45%), while millennials look to Facebook more for research than Gen Z (45% vs. 31%).

And whether we call them Influencers or catalysts, they have a direct impact on purchase decisions for almost 1 in 5 consumers in these regions. 

Around 17% of internet users in the U.S. and UK say they were inspired to make a purchase from an influencer post on social media in the past month.

Influencers are believable – if they’re the right brand fit.

Consumers are inclined to trust what others who are like minded have to say. 

If we strip back the layers, that’s why influencers are able to transmit commercial messages in place of brands so convincingly.

Conversations about your brand, its products or services that are communicated via an influencer can come across as more genuine, meaningful, and altogether less salesy. 

But what really counts is who you choose and why. Any influencer who’s advocating for your brand should be doing so appropriately, authentically and for the right reasons. 

And if you have access to research that lets you quantify what consumers are actually saying, thinking and feeling, you can find out: 

  • How they’re relevant. 
  • Why they’re relevant.
  • Where your audience is most likely to engage with them.

As well as this, it’s a good idea to research which brands influencers have aligned themselves with in the past – to see if their previous partnerships make them a natural fit for your brand.

Lastly, but surprisingly, having more followers isn’t the gateway to consumer trust. 

In fact, it’s the opposite:

Over half of consumers trust influencers with 50,000 or less followers the most, citing smaller influencers having the greatest and most exciting potential.

Influencer marketing is most effective among the Gen Z audience.

Consumers in the U.S. and UK are highly engaged with influencers on social media, but if you’re asking which demographic is most receptive, it’s Gen Z.

Not only do they spend the most time per day of all generations on social media and on their mobiles, they’re the generation most likely to follow celebrities from a range of entertainment fields — such as films, music and comedy — on social media. 

Gen Z have a fundamental need for visual, engaging, video-led content:

  • Around 1 in 3 Gen Zs want more short-form video content from influencers.
  • Over half of them said they’d watched a video tutorial in the past month. 
  • Between 2015 and 2019, the number of Gen Zs following vloggers on social media grew by around 40%. 


If we compare the topics Gen Z are interested in versus millennials, the results are quite different.

Gen Z engage slightly more with fashion content (46%) than they do with food content (37%).

Interestingly, millennials are more engaged with content related to health and self-help than Gen Z, which likely reflects their life experience and life stage.

Gender can sway the content consumers gravitate towards.

Men are engaging with influencers just as much as women are, but interests differ:

Men are most interested in content related to sports/outdoors, tech and food, while women say content related to beauty, fashion and food is top of their list. 

Our findings show food-related content is the clear favourite as it appeals to a wide group of people and isn’t limited to a specific age or gender.

Males also express a greater demand for short-form videos (45%) compared to females (31%), which is something for influencers and brands to bear in mind when it comes to targeting key groups. 

Instagram takes the throne for influencer engagement.

A recent survey on influencer marketing carried out by Mediakix found 89% of US marketers view Instagram as the most important social media channel for influencer marketing. 

They’re right: 

Instagram ranks first place to engage with influencers among Gen Zs (64%) and millennials (53%), while older cohorts prefer Facebook.

Instagram is the perfect platform for influencer marketing — it’s highly visual by design, and its Stories feature enables influencers of any kind to experiment and exercise their creativity. 

And with influencers capturing ‘of the moment’ or behind-the-scenes style content on stories, it can be a very good thing. ‘Less polished’ content can appear more genuine, and successful retail brands are leveraging this sense of affinity and personal connection to win the hearts of their consumers. 

YouTube comes in second place for engaging with influencers among Gen Zs (50%), whereas millennials turn to Facebook (44%). 

And Snapchat is way ahead for Gen Z compared to other generations. For example, 31% of Gen Z use Snapchat to engage with influencers compared to only 7% of Gen X.

By contrast 56% of Baby Boomers say they don’t use any of the mentioned platforms to follow influencers, which shows influencer marketing doesn’t work for everyone, older generations in particular.

Issues around trust and transparency matter (a lot).

Transparency is an absolute must when it comes to influencer marketing and when it’s absent brands stand to lose serious money. 

Consumers want influencers to be trustworthy above all else, and this sentiment is consistent across all generations. 

Furthermore, 50% of influencer followers¹ strongly agree influencers should make it clear if they’ve been paid to promote a brand or product on social media. There shouldn’t be any reason to hide this, and being open will only help to bring consumers on side.

Establishing these values is key to being successful – the only way forward to win the hearts, minds, and wallets – of consumers. 

Case study: Adidas focus on micro influencers with the Tango Squad FC  

Adidas are taking consumers on a journey using micro influencers. 

The brand’s latest initiative was The Tango Squad FC show, which followed some of the best street footballers and chartered their journey as the first “social media football team” over two seasons. 

The brand used Instagram’s IGTV to highlight behind-the-scenes content, and episodes were played across YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, racking up 41 million views across the platforms. 

Adidas have chosen to abandon one-off engagement in favor of a longer-term journey with these small, aspirational influencers. By doing this, the brand helps consumers build a deeper connection with these influencers. 

Influencer marketing is going full steam ahead.

Influencer marketing is a way of giving brands the opportunity to reach consumers through more authentic experiential marketing forms, while offering entertainment value and a personal connection beyond traditional advertising. 

Marketers rate influencer marketing as their fastest-growing online customer-acquisition channel, outpacing organic search and email marketing. The market is more than saturated and a growing number of people are now managing influencers as legitimate – and necessary – job roles.

This year, the new ‘Influencer Marketing Awards’ event launched. The event, which recognizes influencers for outstanding achievements, is already confirmed to return again in 2020. 

So if you’re worried about the marketing tactic’s long term appeal, don’t. 

Influencer marketing isn’t and was never a fad – it’s powerful technique for attracting and enticing consumers. 

For retail brands to succeed in this space, it’s vital that they build genuine and honest relationships with consumers.

The bottom line is, brands need to carefully consider the type of influencer they choose to partner with. 

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¹Influencer followers refers to any internet user that engages with influencers on social media


Written by

Katie is a Senior Trends Manager at GWI. She’s an avid baker and Harry Potter fanatic, who loves to binge-watch all the latest shows. When she’s not busy whipping up a cheesecake or watching murder-mysteries, you’ll find her exploring what makes consumers tick.

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