Ships, Boats, Waves, and Anchors
What’s common between one of the world’s largest internet-based retailers and one of the world’s biggest online search and media companies?
It’s not big data (not at least in the context of this article). It isn’t a merger/acquisition story either, though both these organizations have been fairly active in that space recently. The similarity I am talking about concerns the marketing buzzword (arguably) of the year – influencer and content marketing. Last month both Amazon and Yahoo made announcements that indicate how these giants in their own right are placing strategic focus on turning influencer and content marketing into viable business forces, and heads have been turning ever since.
While Amazon launched its own Influencer Program targeting ‘social media influencers with large followings and a high frequency of posts with shoppable content’, Yahoo India announced the launch of Storytellers, “a content marketing solution for brands and agencies” aimed “to successfully develop, distribute and measure premium branded content that meets consumers’ high expectations and drives engagement.”
Amazon’s Influencer Program is a sequel to the much successful Affiliate Marketing Program – Amazon Associates. The latest offering, currently in beta and open by invitation only, is by definition more focused on celebrities and well-recognized social media figures as of now. Naturally, Amazon’s new initiative will draw success tips and insights from Amazon Associates (however, Amazon has made it clear that it doesn’t intend to merge the two platforms,) and is a well-timed move to leverage influencer and content marketing as Amazon shifts gears in the intensifying global e-commerce war.
Yahoo Storytellers was launched at the Cannes last year, and was more of a rechanneling of Yahoo’s existing capabilities than a fresh project. With Storytellers, Yahoo wants to increase its focus on branded content creation and the offering is targeted to marketers and includes services such as content consulting, premium video development, influencer activations across social platforms, distribution and metrics. Now, with its launch in India, Yahoo will focus on providing premium content creation services in a one of the world’s largest growing digital-first economy.
These offerings appear to be chalk and cheese, as far as features and modus operandi goes.
With Influencer Program, Amazon is opening its doors and directly collaborating with influencers who can aid consumer decision making and boost sales conversions. It is a testament to the growing recognition of social media influencers as potent consumer decision driving forces. Participating influencers do not have to abide by any specific brand guidelines on content creation and exercise complete autonomy in terms of the products they choose to promote. Their audience will continue to receive genuine content, and can easily view all the recommendations of their favourite social media celebrities on their custom Amazon pages. By design, this program is a direct win-win for everyone in the ecosystem – Amazon, sellers, influencers, and the consumer. Brands could also benefit from this ecosystem by directly activating influencers.
In comparison, Yahoo Storytellers adopts a more traditional approach of providing knowledge expertise and execution assistance to brands looking to creating higher engagement through content. As a digital content studio, Storytellers looks to fill the void between marketers and authentic, high-engagement content sources. As a part of this effort, Storytellers will also help brands collaborate with social media influencers. However, the exact nature of this collaboration is not exactly defined and the level of autonomy the influencers will exercise would most likely be subjective to the nature of campaigns and more importantly, the comfort level of the collaborating brand in handing over the creative reigns to the influencer.
But these differences apart, it is the underlying shift in marketing ideology that deserves a more careful consideration. Both Amazon Influencer Program and Yahoo Storytellers are projects that bring to the fore the importance of high-engagement content in the consumer conversion funnel. It's the case of different structures, similar foundations. ‘
While 'content is king’ is a phrase as old as the digital marketing industry itself, one can see that Amazon and Yahoo, and in fact everyone who’s cognizant of the millennial content consumption trends, is quickly understanding the need to focus on innovative, authentic, and relatable content as the key to engagement. Consumers do not only listen to brands, and if recent social media studies are to be believed, most of them do not wish to listen to brands at all. They are instead turning their ears to online influencers, and would trust them for product recommendations and purchase decisions over ads.
Almost overnight, social media influencers have grown beyond being online entertainers and emotional inspirers, and have become niche knowledge experts providing consumers with unbiased opinions based on their first-hand product experiences. People, especially millennials, look up to these influencers because they find them to be authentic and reliable. Their social influence is not just emotional anymore, and carries a tangible, measurable impact on the consumer mindset. Because of the high trust factor that these influencers enjoy with their audience, brands began associating with these influencers albeit in a more concealed manner to avoid driving the consumer away from their branded messages. With time the brand influencer relationships have become more obvious and public, however consumer trust in influencer recommendations has only risen. This could be attributed to the fact that most influencers have stuck to the ethos of ‘consumer-first’ content, and have in fact taught many a brands to adopt this philosophy as well.
Projects like Influencer Program and Storytellers are important milestones in strengthening the brand-influencer-consumer conversations. Both Amazon and Yahoo understand that the key to do this successfully would invariably involve social media influencers and high-engagement content, and are using this lesson to make important business headways, at what can only be the best time to do it.
It looks like big ships are turning fast this time and dropping their anchors with influencers, as changing consumers preferences send waves across the ocean of traditional marketing and rock the boats of brands.