Market News

The KOLBubble and what it tells you about the marketing ecosystem

I’ve been in digital marketing for over 12 years now, covering most performancemarketing channels and even some traditional brand and comms planning. Mycareer started in affiliate marketing in a time before facebook was a ‘thing’and blogs were still the common tool for independent writers to get theirvoices heard in the interwebz, i remember the raise and decay of Squidoo, ieven used it for SEO optimisation. So, KOL or rather influencer marketingreally isn’t anything special to me.

Ifanything influencers (or KOLs) are simply an extension of celebrity endorsementand affiliate marketing. Brands pay KOLs/Influencers because of their abilityto reach a well-defined, engaged audience, and (in theory) illicit a responseor action, like buying a product.

Sowhy the recent explosion in KOLs and Influencers in the marketing world, Iremember being an affiliate with a blog (about lego by the way, it was one ofthe largest lego affiliate blogs in the UK!), and despite the performance of mywebsite, any attempts to interact with lego would be stonewalled.

Ithink it filters down to some marketing fundamentals.

firstly,paid-ad options such as google search or facebook ads have suffered fromsignificant price inflation, so its getting less and less financially efficent.

next,when you consider the consumer funnel — awareness, interest, desire, action — you notice that most digitalmarketing that is measurably effective (i.e. actually works) is in theinterest, desire, and action stages of the funnel. What this means is that forbrand awareness there are very limited digital options, banner ads, facebook behaviourtargeting, retargeting/ programmatic and KOL/Influencer — of these KOL/Influencer isthe only option where advertising can be presented with a reasonable amount ofcontext.

Anotherfactor of marketing to consider is the need to target ‘tribes’ or rather‘target audiences’ increasingly (and i think this is a good thing) these targetaudiences are being defined by their interests over their age and otherdemographic characteristics, consequently KOL/influencers, again are the mostefficient ‘channel’ to engage.

Lastly,as marketing matures, we’re beginning to acknowledge as an industry that ADSand hard selling really doesn’t have the impact we claim it has, and thus asofter, personal, targeted form of interaction is needed, again KOLs fit thebill nicely.

Sowhat you have is KOLs as a channel seen by marketers as a great brand awarenesschannel, and compared to TV or offline or even alternative digital channels,KOLs are extremely good value for money. So this attracts more KOLs and hascontributed to the recent explosion, afterall, the barriers to being a KOL arepretty low, its effectively a game of segmenting traffic based on interest,then marketing to that database.

Ithink, when you look at the 70s, 80s and 90s when magazines were the big marketingopportunity, we see the same thing happening with KOLS now, indeed, you’ll seelots of similarities, after all, isn’t every KOL simply a Fan-zine of sorts?

Sowhat does this mean going forwards, well, as newtons laws of physics will tellyou, every action results in an equal and opposite reaction, and the explosionin KOLs and influencers has also need huge price inflation and thereforeperformance, effectiveness and results have been called into question, giventhis, it’s likely that the coming years will see increased accountability andscrutiny, a game where only the big KOLs and influencer can avoid the scrutinyor have sufficient performance to be deemed acceptable, at that point, lots ofsmaller KOLs will wither away.


Edited by Kenneth Cheung