Paid Owned Earned Media: The Cultural Shift from Affluence Marketing to Influence Marketing

For years, the marketing industry operated on the basis of what is called “affluence” marketing. This marketing model is rooted in marketers having the financial power, status, and exclusivity necessary to buy the right to reach a desired targeted group of consumers. Glamorous affluent brands dominated the marketplace through the lure of premium advertisements produced by big advertising agencies with all the right connections and resources to spotlight their products and services in a meaningful or desirable way. This meant marketers were engaged in identifying media channels (mostly very expensive channels) that they assumed would best reach targeted audiences, and then utilizing their clients’ or employer’s “affluence” to reach those audiences while working to exclude competitors to increase profits. As you can guess, this raised the cost of market entry by any other than other “affluent” competitors, leaving small businesses and start-ups to nibble at the edges for customers. This meant that innovation was stifled so big affluent marketers could protect their profitability. Sounds diabolical, right?

Well… it wasn’t so much diabolical, as just what was available to marketers at the time to reach the masses for their clients. Then, about 10 years ago, marketing began to change… mass-loss of trust in these macro-brands set off the large-scale digital transparency movement that is now growing ever more popular, and a new hyper-connected generation of consumers has led to an industry shift away from “Affluence” marketing to what has become known as “Influence” or social marketing.

In just ten years, the power to promote brands has moved out of the hands of big ad agencies into the hands of online social influencers of all statures. While some of these influencers remain anonymous, such as the case with travelers who post reviews on sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, others use their popularity or notoriety on sites like FaceBook, YouTube and Instagram to review, recommend, or smash products and services. This influence-style of marketing has proved to resonate with Generation Z (which apparently, one can be born into or adopted into if they adopt Gen Z behaviors) who, as a group, want their chosen brands to be transparent, trustworthy, custom-tailored to them, and engaged in sustainable activity. Generation Z is the only generation ever born into a society where one individual has the power to digitally surface from the abundant marketing noise to influence an entire market or movement. These voices of normal people who quickly become digital celebrities are garnering more attention from this new generation – thus, the creation of “Influence” marketing. In comparison to the traditional role of celebrity advertisements and endorsements, research shows that Generation Z is more apt to listen to the average-not-so-average joes and janes that are now major faces and Influencers on social media channels. This shift is changing the marketing industry from a mass consumer, one-product-fits-all paradigm to one that values personalization, individualism, and growth hacking. In other words, companies must now understand why they do what they do, their real differentiators, and who they do it for, rather than doing what they want and profiting in spite of it.

Branding must now reflect what’s real, rather than what marketers can make us believe. Future-forward brands are already adapting to this shift by engaging with their customers via social media, maintaining honest and open quality standards of production, and creating an emphasis on starting a social conversation around ethical values. These brilliant marketing campaigns position brands as experts in their space/field who are also interested in serving their community, and the people who make up that community. There will always be brands that insist on selling “low-price,” but we now know that consumers will go out of their way, will pay a premium, and sometimes even sacrifice on features/services to remain loyal to brands they connect with. These brands will excel in the years of marketing to come, and have already started adapting to a new demographic of consumers with evolved buying patterns and brand-centric mentalities. Engaging with consumers through free, unconventional, and creative marketing campaigns will grow your brand awareness, and position your brand as an outlier in a time that is honoring real innovators more than ever before.

Some wise brands are already adapting to this shift by engaging with their customers via social media, maintaining honest and open quality standards of production, and creating an emphasis on starting a social conversation with ethical values, rather than squeezing your wallet. These are brilliant marketing campaigns that position brands as experts in their community who are interested in serving their community, and the people who make up that community. These are the brands that will excel in the years of marketing to come. If you find that you’re still pursuing the world of “Affluence” marketing… it is time to rethink those aged strategies and adapt to a new base of consumers with highly evolved behavior patterns and brand mentalities.