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Influencer Marketing & Retail: Learnings from the Nano-Influencer

Influencer marketing works. Studies show that influencer marketing would generate eleven times higher ROI than any other digital campaign. We are currently seeing a striking shift within this field, from macro and micro influencers to nano-influencers. These are people who do not regard themselves as influencers at all, but they are indeed! We conduct research into how influencer marketing creates added value, and share in this article our learnings in general and specifically for the SME retailer.

In this article, we offer, based on 3 cases, an overview of how retailers can learn from nano-influencers. And how they can successfully use these learnings within their own content strategy.

With a content analysis, literature review and interviews with various retailers, insights have been collected to answer the question of how retailers can use the principles of influencer marketing within their existing communication. These outcomes are part of the two-year research project Retail Innovation in Rotterdam.


Macro-influencers and the benefits of micro-influencers

Influencer marketing has proven itself in recent years as an effective way to approach your customer online in a personal way. The success of this was previously mainly expressed in the number of followers and/or subscribers of the social media influencer. Brands seemed to determine value primarily on the basis of reach.

The focus was on macro influencers. These are influencers with hundreds of thousands or millions of followers across various social platforms. Macro influencers give brands the opportunity to reach a huge audience and can create a great deal of visibility and awareness around a brand.

Opinion leaders

Among others Traackr effectiveness a few years ago by not only looking at reach, but also relevance and resonance. The engagement with micro-influencers is much greater than with macro-influencers, because their relevance and resonance are higher. Micro-influencers are individuals who are usually within a certain niche, such as beauty, lifestyle, food or fitness. They usually have about 5,000 to 50,000 followers. They are often seen as opinion leaders within that particular niche.

It is therefore not wise to opt for the influencers with the highest number of followers in your influencer strategy. In other words, a higher number of followers does not automatically mean more influence on these followers. At the moment an influencer has created a huge follower file, the value of the influencer decreases in terms of involvement of his or her fans.

New kid on the block: nano-influencers

We see a new type of social media influencer, the nano-influencer. Nano-influencers do not see themselves as influencers, they are ‘everyday’ people who express their passion about a subject and/or a brand on social media. With Instagram as the most important platform. And very important: a nano-influencer has only a follower base between 100 and 5000 followers.

Although nano-influencers have fewer followers than their large million + colleagues, it can be very interesting for brands to enter into a collaboration with a nano-influencer. Nano-influencers generally have specific knowledge about a particular theme. As a result, their followers experience their recommendations as more reliable than those of macro influencers. The content is more relevant to them. In addition, nano-influencers are perceived as pieces of authenticity in comparison to micro-influencers, because their content does not come through all kinds of different brands non-stop.

Trust, relevance & involvement

Nano-influencers also have the space to respond to their followers themselves. This creates a greater involvement. It is clear that trust, relevance, and involvement are keywords and critical factors in purchasing decisions. The expectation is that we will talk about nano-influencers in a while. These hero’s, in contrast to micro and macro-social influencers, have an even better relationship with their followers.


How do influencers create the ultimate customer relationship?

The relationship that influencers have with their followers is very important in the context of brand resonance. The chance of conversion is highest here. Resonance arises according to Keller when there is a high level of awareness and trust for a brand with the consumer. And this consumer has strong, favorable and unique brand associations with the brand. If the consumer judges the brand both rationally and emotionally positively, a solid foundation has emerged. And a sustainable relationship with the brand can be built up.

Influencers like no other are able to create meaningful relationships with their followers. In most cases, this is because their followers find the content appealing and they cherish the contact, which creates a stronger resonance.

Influencers like no other are able to create meaningful relationships with their followers.

From research shows that the resonance between influencers and followers can be explained on the basis of “para-social interaction”, a concept derived from the media world. Para-social interaction (PSI) is about the relationship between media personalities and users. It is defined as ‘the personal involvement of the media user with what he or she consumes’. The involvement in this relates to media personalities, but the comparison with a social media influencer has been made easy.

Para-social interaction

The follower seeks confirmation from the influencers, considers them as friends, and imagines that they are part of their social world. The idea is that followers feel that they ‘know’ and understand the influencer. Like their real friends in interpersonal relationships. Repeated exposure to an influencer, via social media channels, can, therefore, generate positive feelings in a follower.

If this relationship continues to develop, the follower will also see the influencer as a reliable source of information. This means that the development and presence of PSI between influencer and follower leads to positive attitudes in the follower. This is then more inclined to take (purchase) advice from the influencer.

PSI seems to be influenced by 3 factors: physical attraction, social attractiveness, and attitude-homophilia, where it appears that attitude-homophilia and social attractiveness have a much stronger influence on PSI than physical attraction (Lee, JU & Watkins, B. 2016). This means that if a consumer can really identify with an influencer and sees an equal in him or her, there is a greater chance that para-social interaction will occur.

The retailer as an influencer

Based on the above, it can be assumed that the greater the para-social interaction between influencer and consumer, the more effective influencer marketing is as a strategy to influence people to exhibit certain behavior (eg to buy a product). It is important to ensure that the values, beliefs, and wishes of the target group are leading when choosing an influencer as a brand ambassador.

Nano-influencers can be used for brand awareness. It is even more effective to use them to build up authority within a certain niche and to create relevance, in order to deepen the brand resonance. Nano-influencers have a strong and natural relationship with their followers because they recognize themselves in the same standards, values, beliefs, and wishes. An additional fact is that due to technological developments the process between consumer and retailer is becoming more automated. The assumption is that the consumer is looking for the human side of brands and retailers. And this human side can offer influencers, and more specifically nano-influencers.

From insights to 3 concepts

The question arises as to what retailers and brands can learn from influencers. Influencers are good content creators. Nano-influencers, in particular, are able to build up a sustainable relationship with their loyal supporters with personal and authentic content. We translate the above insights into 3 concepts. This is based on the principle that personal content, and emphasizing the human side of your brand, works well to build a relationship with your customer.

Personal digital content from the retailer itself, employees or customers can contribute to strengthening the brand resonance between the retailer and the consumer.

# 1 The retailer as a nano-influencer

Interviews with various retailers show that most of them are not very positive about the use of social media influencers. Influencers are experienced as superficial and expensive and, moreover, it is difficult to measure what a collaboration ultimately yields. But what if retailers do not use influencers, but start behaving like influencers on the basis of the above insights?

Many retailers use their socials to promote their product and brand. Based on the above, it can be concluded that the resonance becomes stronger when brands become more human. The retailer as a social media influencer.

QR codes

This concept was further elaborated with fashion designer Sam Cruden. Her label and communication mainly focus on the garment. As an experiment, QR codes are placed on the labels of Sam Cruden’s garments. When the QR code is scanned, you get a video in vlog style, direct and personal, a picture of who Sam Cruden is and background information about the specific piece of clothing. The underlying idea is that the level of involvement is increased and the temptation to purchase becomes easier. This is also a concept to preserve your own identity within ‘concept stores’ where different brands are sold.

Sam Cruden in Hutspot: Retailer as Influencer.

# 2 The employee as a nano-influencer

Roel Bleijenberg, from the idea that personal content scores better with a content analysis, researched what better scores on a photo. A person or a product. It turned out that a person or a face on the photo does better than a product. It also turned out that the use of photos of their own staff, within the content, results in higher performance on the social channels.

If a member of staff repeatedly appears within the content, the target group knows a higher degree of involvement with these messages. A ‘face’ with a brand or retailer thus contributes to success on social media. This corresponds with the development of nano-influencer. The everyday person who acts on the basis of a certain passion to bring his or her supporters into this. He based this on the concept of using the retail employee as a nano-influencer. To increase the experience of the brand on the online platforms.

# 3 The customer as a nano-influencer

From the above context, Anne Corbeau developed a Confluentials concept for Hutspot, where Millennial customers (the nano-influencers) are used as a strategy to increase the brand awareness of Hutspot in cities such as Rotterdam, Eindhoven, and Utrecht.

Traditionally, openings of shops, new developments, and collections in communication are aimed at the traditional press. It is all about creating offline events within or around Hutspot, aimed at nano-influencers. Think of a shop opening event, not aimed at the press but at customers of Hutspot. With, for example, a discount action, a fashion show of a collection or a workshop that is in line with the core values of the retailer and nano-influencer. Important in creating these moments is that it offers opportunities for the nano’s to create relevant content.

The relationship first

In the meantime, influencer marketing is no longer a hype, but a proven component within the (content) strategy. Macro-influencers, but also the larger micro-influencers, are increasingly losing themselves in the many collaborations with brands, as a result of which their content loses more and more of authenticity. This is also their followers. The question, therefore, arises whether these collaborations improve their relationship with their followers, or rather deteriorate.

In follow-up research, we want to analyze which content strengthens the para-social interaction between brand and consumer. Nano-influencers are in any case just as interesting, and perhaps even more interesting, than their ‘larger’ colleagues for brands and SME retailers. They act less from a commercial perspective, and from hobby and intrinsic motivation are busy filling their social channels with authentic content. Where the relationship with their followers is paramount.

Retail innovation in Rotterdam

The insights are part of the two-year research project Retail Innovation in Rotterdam. Creative professionals from the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and knowledge center Creating 010 are working together with various practical partners on how Rotterdam can continue to develop as an innovative shopping city. Teachers and students from the Communication course are specifically looking at how influencers can be of added value for the SME retailer. This generally does not have high marketing budgets. In the second phase of the research project, students from the Communication course started working on creating innovative concepts related to influencer marketing for the SME retailer.

This resulted in a number of insights in relation to how retailers can learn from influencers and how they can successfully use these learnings.

About the author


Vikram is a Digital Media Strategy Consultant who helps small business owners grow their
business. He is passionate about blogging, digital marketing, and emerging technologies.

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