“It’s time for me – and you – to take a lesson from the big brands…We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”An excerpt from ‘The Brand Called You’ – 1997 article by Tom Peters, published in business magazine Fast Company 
Social Media Influencers (or SMIs) have become all the rage, and to think of it as a recently coined term is quite astounding. However the concept has long permeated the fields of business and marketing. This transformation of celebrity culture from untouchable figures so far removed from our actual lives, to accessible ‘micro-celebrities’ created by social media has caused an interesting shift in the personal and professional realms of society.
From a commercial stand-point, it seems rather intuitive that brands would seek human representation in order to increase their credibility and loyal clientele base. And where there is demand, there will be supply. This has opened the doors for self-branding – or personal branding – a practice of marketing people and their careers as brands. But this begs the question of what exactly is a brand? A brand can be generally defined as a concept that identifies one seller’s goods or services as distinct from those of other sellers. That is particularly interesting because even more than commercial products, individuals possess a unique selling point of being “singularly charismatic and responsive to the needs and interests of (their) target audiences”.
It’s quite a ubiquitous conviction that our perception of time is relative, and that has only been intensified by the pace of this post-digital era. Two decades ago, the article quoted above reassured the reader that “everyone has a chance to be a brand worthy of remark”. However, today, start-ups and individuals embarking on this journey of ‘remarkability’ face a new challenge: standing out in the midst of an overly-saturated field.
In order to dissect this conundrum, let’s try to visualize this somewhat harsh reality using Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory. Brand hygiene factors can be defined as the basic set of values a customer expects that do not offer positive satisfaction or lead to higher motivation, but bring dissatisfaction from their absence. On the other hand, brand motivators bring positive satisfaction due to the intrinsic reactions of the customer to the brand’s distinct ‘meta-values’.
In the age of saturation, if a brand wishes to rise above competitors, “it needs to demonstrate that the hygiene factors are in place, but communicate a positioning that exceeds these and provides a clear point of differentiation.” This can be exemplified in the rise of ‘ethical and sustainable fashion’, and the ever-growing backlash towards fast-fashion. Sure, H&M provides you with affordable clothing, but does it use eco-friendly materials or comply with Global Labor Justice laws?
Interestingly, compared to big brands, Social Media Influencers have a greater control over their brand motivation factors. In fact, SMI followers have grown to value intrinsic motivations and non-commercial orientation, especially as we – the global consumer base – strive to become more skeptical of brands and their strategic attempts to superficially appeal to our ‘meta-values’. Which leads me to my personal point of focus; authenticity. As consumers we have started to pursue a greater meaning to our consumption. We are more concerned and informed about the consequences of our spending and find ourselves more responsive to informational rather than normative social influence.
This is what I aim to delve into in my upcoming analyses of why we gravitate towards social media influencers and how their resemblance to us and our socio-economic backgrounds can generate trust, satisfaction and even a sense of fulfillment, in the products we consume or the lifestyle changes we choose to make. What does authenticity really mean in the age of self-presentation and how will that reverberate into our families, our education, and our political climate. Perhaps we can make that leap of faith into a greater understanding of what it means to be influenced in this post-digital age.
1 The Brand Called You. Retrieved from https://www.fastcompany.com/28905/brand-called-you
2 Khamis, S., Ang, L., & Welling, R. (2016, 08). Self-branding, ‘micro-celebrity’ and the rise of Social Media Influencers. Celebrity Studies, 8(2), 191-208
3 Two-factor theory. (2019, August 01). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two-factor_theory
4 Brands need to exceed the ‘Hygiene Factors’ if they want to succeed. (2018, November 19). Retrieved from https://hatchedlondon.com/brands-need-to-exceed-the-hygiene-factors-if-they-want-to-succeed/