The rise of the virtual influencer

Posted on 6th April 2020 by Becky McArdle

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With the influencer market expected to reach $15 billion by 2022, there is no denying that this marketing strategy can add incredible value to a campaign. Influencer marketing is often associated with just B2C as we see it so regularly on our personal newsfeeds. However, while we see B2C influencer marketing in the form of social media posts and product endorsements, B2B can use it successfully and effectively through guest blogs, Q&As and even speaker line ups at industry events.

Although influencer marketing has been around for a while in various forms, it has seen a huge surge in popularity over recent years as the internet and social media has given public figures the opportunity to communicate directly to their followers on a daily basis. As customers are always looking for authenticity, brands are able to draw from pre-existing trust and loyalty between the influencer and their followers.

As with any marketing tool, influencer marketing is constantly evolving, and an oversaturated market has forced brands to create innovative ways of using this technique in their strategies. Where there was once an abundance of trust between influencers and their following, this has become fractured and unstable following numerous scandals and comical online blunders. From selecting the wrong influencer for a specific audience and brand instructions being left on social post captions, to influencers using hateful, derogatory language and making guarantees they are unable to keep, there is a lot that can go wrong when dealing with influencer marketing.

The main problem with this form of marketing is that humans are imperfect and likely to slip up and make mistakes at some point. This is something that, on a human level, can often be forgiven but in the world of social media, no mistake is too small for the trolls and this can have detrimental impact on a brands reputation.

The virtual solution

In an effort to resolve the issue of trust, many brands have been looking to the latest technology for their answers. In a world that has no room for error, virtual influencers provide the ideal solution. According to HypeAuditor these hyper-perfect avatars can generate up to three times more engagement than human influencers. This begs the question of how social media – a platform that was designed to enhance human connection – is able to sell consumers this virtual dream?

Social media has a successful history of putting pressure on users to obtain the unobtainable and brands have homed in on the value that this can bring to them. The idea of everyone always wanting more, bigger, better products, holidays, facial features and lifestyles, means that we will never stop investing in brands that we feel can deliver this to us. Virtual influencers are perfect for this – they are projected onto our smartphones, tablets and laptops in the form of avatars. They’re so photorealistic they can hardly be distinguished from actual humans, aside from the fact that they do not possess any flaws. And the real benefit for businesses? Virtual influencers are unpaid, unbiased, available at the click of a button and evidently increasing in popularity.

Although the concept of virtual influencers has a futuristic feel to it, there has been a build up towards it for many years. The virtual band Gorillaz curated such a following that they collaborated with brands such as G-shock, Microsoft and Converse, who saw the value in incorporating their personas in their products. Last year Coca Cola signed EA Sport’s Fifa 18’s video game character for an undisclosed sum of money as one of its celebrity ambassadors.

A future for B2B?

While virtual influencers are a good fit for B2C, it is questionable if this can translate into the world of B2B. Effectively, the role of B2C influencers is to play the part of an aspirational figure, while B2B tends to shy away from the influencer title and their position of influence is usually a byproduct of their expertise. This is why content such as guest blogs work so well in this market, and professionals often avoid using the ‘influencer’ title as it can damage their reputation as a trusted expert. What we may see within the world of B2B is collaborations of influencers feeding information and opinion collectively into a portal to create a sort of ‘super influencer’ that companies can interact with. This is similar to what Prophix achieved through their interactive audio functionality on their microsite.

B2B traditionally takes to marketing trends at a slower pace to B2C so it may be some time before we establish the full potential of virtual influencers in this market, but the chances are that it will soon catch up. Until this happens, B2B companies will need to focus their efforts on other methods that can enhance their brand through word of mouth and increase trust from their target market.

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