Muses, Leaders, Creators

How the influencers of tomorrow are building cultural relevance and meaning for brands

The use of ‘Influencers’ to drive brand growth is ubiquitous, but quickly becoming an industry cliché. However, it is becoming clear that a brand’s investment in their popularity doesn’t always pay off; and with the term influencer coming to encapsulate everything from micro-influencers to super celebrities like Kendall Jenner, its becoming harder and harder to the find nuance and definition to build effective, brand relevant influence.

We want to interrogate how influencers can stand for distinctiveness rather than sameness, build specific and relevant brand meaning and foster more empathetic connections with consumers.
Today, beauty influencers are archetypally a reflection of the cultural space they live in. They play out their personalities through saturated digital environments in bitesize formats, tailoring content to the platforms they’re leveraging. Sometimes this content is entirely shameless. For instance, Naomi Campbell lazily forgot to take out the initial instruction from Adidas in her post, whilst Louise Thompson’s promotion of St Ives appears overly saturated and staged, with one comment stating ‘you look plastic af’ – probably not the response St Ives intended.

Culturally, they occupy a liminal space, residing somewhere in between being a celebrity and being a friend. Their popularity has been built via the integration of codes borrowed from both. This makes it all too easy for brands to rely on relatability and mass appeal to prove relevancy, at the expense of the storytelling, creativity and cultural distinctiveness that influencers could bring.

Influencer channels across platforms are awash with anodyne and repetitive imagery and language that is already being parodied as inauthentic and formulaic. When brands tap into this system, they enter into a groundhog day mentality that doesn’t deliver ROI in sales, erases brand distinction and loses cultural appeal. Yet the principles of influence and advocacy remain important.  Peer to peer advocacy is among the most potent drivers of purchase and behaviour change. Influencers are part of this dynamic.
As such, we need to develop purposeful new roles for influencers to drive brand distinctiveness within the rich cultural environment of social media and beyond.

Some brands that are shaking up influencer dynamics:

Thinx wanted to enable their customers to create a cultural movement towards a fundamental behaviour change. Thinx set up a platform to enable ‘people with periods’ to send a tweet crafted by the brand beforehand, to influencers of their choice. This wasn’t about influencers as mouthpiece for the brand, it was about trusting in the existing dynamic of peer to peer advocacy between influencer and consumer.


Fenty has used Instagram to repost influencer content from women of all ethnicities and skin tones to demonstrate its credentials as a cosmetics brand really championing diversity.  Influencers are presented as part of the same cultural belief system as Rihanna – she does not dominate Fenty channels but brings cohesion to a specific cultural narrative of outspoken diversity.


Maybelline’s hugely successful partnership with Gigi Hadid builds on a strong foundation of influencer-led, educational social engagement.  Hadid has a clear creative and participatory role in creating a brand and promotional content. The partnership makes sense for both parties, and purposefully builds Maybelline’s particular take on beauty.

6 steps to optimise your Influencer Strategy:


  • Think beyond your category. Who are the influencers that embody your purpose, who occupy share of mind in the slice of culture your brand is targeting?
  • Develop an ownable definition of the influencer role. Ensure it’s a role that enables and inspires influencers to build brand purpose and distinction.
  • Identify the influencers who have truly meaningful relationships with consumers. Follower counts are misleading and hard to verify – identify the nature of those relationships and leverage their unique qualities. Are they educators, creators, muses, leaders, jesters, healers?
  • Leverage the influencer relationship as a dialogue. Tap into their unique position as muse-peer to gain a deeper understanding of consumers. What behaviours do they observe in their follower communities? How can they channel valuable feedback?
  • Enable influencers as agents of change. As leaders in mini-movements, influencers can be vital actors in creating positive cultural and social change.
  • Involve your influencers in development of an authentic creative strategy for your brand. Tap into their creative resources and opinion and use their influence and perspective from the inside out

— Grace Flavin