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Micro-Influencers: A Growing Component Of Apparel Brand Strategy

Brett Hershman

Celebrity endorsements aren't what they used to be.

The reliance of athletic brands on signing the biggest stars in their respective sports in hopes that they will in turn help push product has become a broken marketing model.

Just ask Nike Inc (NYSE: NKE), which has arguably the greatest female athlete of all time In Serena Williams — but that doesn't mean she's influencing purchasing decisions.

The culture of female empowerment isn’t tied to athletes, said Agathe Blanchon-Ehrsam, chief marketing officer of business consultancy and branding company Vivaldi.

“We’ve seen that women are motivated by being part of a movement, by participating in a lifestyle — not necessarily by the performance of top athletes,” she said.

Men’s tennis star Roger Federer left Nike for Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo, in a deal worth $30 million annually over the next 10 years — whether or not he plays tennis in the future.

“What we are realizing is that the paid endorser model is simply broken. Fans know that athletes and celebrities are paid to wear products, and only wear them because they are paid. Celebrities’ relationships with brands are based on compensation, and not on any true emotional attachments,” said NPD Group's Matt Powell.

Ayton: 'Business Is Business'

Consumers have begun to view pay-to-wear deals as inauthentic, and celebrities are often endorsing what they're simply paid to wear.

DeAndre Ayton, who recently signed with Puma (OTC: PMMAF), wasn’t shy about admitting to the reason he signed with the German brand, which is attempting to re-enter the basketball footwear market.

“Nike is Nike. Adidas is Adidas. I’ve played in their circuits and stuff like that, but now it’s a business. You don’t want just product. You’re not a kid anymore. You’re really trying to get bank,” Ayton told Bleacher Report. “Of course, if Adidas is giving you like $2 mil and Nike is giving you $1 mil, who would you pick? If you have history or chemistry with Nike, I can see that. But when it comes to business, business is business.”

The Micro-Influencer Approach

The alternative could be to pay online niche influencers, who brands can sign for significantly less money and who appear to have a more honest approach to endorsements.

The influencers who tend to have the most impact appear to be more authentic, and micro-influencers tend to be more authentic than A-list celebrities, Powell said.

“Brands think it’s a simple transaction that you pay somebody a couple million bucks and it turns the fortunes of your business around,” Powell said. “But I think the relationship with the consumer is much more complicated than that.”

Smaller footwear brands Pony, FILA and KSwiss are going the influencer route to differentiate themselves from major brands and appeal to a different consumer base. While some influencers may not have the follower count of a celebrity, their influence and engagement can be significant.

K Swiss President Barney Waters said the brand is looking to connect with audiences on a personal level through entrepreneurship. The brand made a signature shoe for social media influencer and entrepreneur champion Gary Vaynerchuk in a risky move that ultimately paid off handsomely.

“There’s a real danger in sneaker culture where all of the brands are going after the same small group of people,” Waters told Footwear News. “When I came on board [as president in 2016], I realized I’m not going to win if I’m the eighth brand knocking on the same door.”

Related Links:

Are Athletic Endorsements Worth It Anymore?

LeBron's Move To Los Angeles: What It Means For Nike, Adidas And Puma

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