The experience economy in the age of influencing

The 2010s was the decade of big tech, smartphones, apps and the Internet. Social media blew up and evolved into more than just a space to chat with friends. Concepts such as influencer marketing, hashtag campaigns and “instagrammability” took the place of traditional marketing. 

The 2010s was the decade of big tech, smartphones, apps and the Internet. Social media blew up and evolved into more than just a space to chat with friends. Concepts such as influencer marketing, hashtag campaigns and “instagrammability” took the place of traditional marketing. 

With rapid developments in technology, it’s no surprise that we consume media differently and expect bigger and better things from the stuff we buy. 

Instagram is an epitome of this change. Launched in 2010, at the beginning of the decade, it was a simple app designed to only upload, like and comment on images. It gathered 100,000 users in just a week, and was acquired by Facebook for $1 billion in 2012. Ten years down the line, and the platform is estimated to be worth more than $100 billion. Up to 89% of marketers say Instagram is important to their marketing strategy, while 66% of people say they use Instagram specifically to interact with brands. 

Global spend on influencer marketing is predicted to be worth somewhere between $5 billion and $10 billion by 2020, and could even rise to $15 billion by 2022. Paradoxically, 78% of Millenials claim to be indifferent to influencer marketing.  

So is this success simply due to the smart use of images that, after all, have been recognised as successful marketing tools for a long time?

In a study conducted fifty years ago, neuroscientists wanted to test our brains’ ability to understand images. People were shown 10,000 photographs and, a few days later, another 1,000. Half was from the original photographs, and half were new. It took the participants seconds to point out which images they’d seen before. This is because of something called ‘passive effect’ – the ability to capture the ‘essence’ of an image. You may not be able to recall the image but you know which ones you have seen before. An image you’ve seen before, even if you don’t remember exactly where you saw it, can bring up feelings of familiarity. 

Images have been used for decades in advertising but Instagram does more than just show people images of products that they might want to buy. Instagram has become a new model where consumers are not simply passively receiving ads on the screen, but interact with the brands. This is not entirely unique to Instagram – but it’s one of the most epitomal versions of the shift of the last ten years. 

Instagram is an amplifier of the experience economy, a term first coined in 1998 but has grown to become an important part of business this past decade. It’s the idea that businesses must create memorable events for their customers, and that it’s these memories that become the product. 

Instagram sells experience. It’s not the product someone uses, but rather the holistic and attractive lifestyle an influencer portrays on the platform. It’s this influencer life people choose to interact with when they follow, comment or like an image on Instagram. 

Although celebrity endorsements have been around for a long time, Instagram has enabled just about anyone to become an influencer at some scale or other, and there’s now 24-hour access to their lives. Anyone with a smartphone has access to about 1 billion Instagram users, and can become one themselves. 

Companies have cleverly adapted to this by ensuring that their product, services, store and overall brand looks great in image form. They make sure that their own images have a whimsical and shareable quality, as well as creating opportunities for customers to post brand-related photos. Restaurants, bars and cafes often create a backdrop that invites patrons to snap and share selfies. Whether it be the perfect lighting and decorations or the very presentation of the food itself, businesses are giving customers an experience that they can showcase online. Think rainbow cupcakes, latte art and eye-catching unicorn frappuccinos. Instagram’s influence extends past its own platform, with the creation of photo-editing apps, products specifically designed for Instagram photoshots such as baby announcement boards, and over-the-top make-up trends that are shared across the platform. 

Instagram is both a community and a business at the same time. If it were a country, it would be the third-most populous in the world. 

If it looks interesting or pretty, and the lighting is just right, someone might just take a photo of it and share it on Instagram. It might just become part of the influencer experience that followers crave and be listed in Instagram history. 


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