In the past several years, young people in Thailand have fallen hard for a new kind of star. Influencers have a hold on the attention – and the consumer choices – of the country’s Millennial and Generation Z demographics. It is they, rather than traditional marketing, who lead the conversation about what’s hot in Thai youth culture.
Vero recently commissioned a study to learn more about Thailand’s influencers from those who matter most: their fans. The responses we received revealed a lot about who is engaging with influencers and who stands to benefit from their rise.
The study consisted of a survey of Thai Millennials (ages 24-35) and Gen Z (ages 16-23) and paid special attention to the differences between these demographics. Participants and only qualified for the study if they were regular followers of influencers.
WHY ARE INFLUENCERS SO IMPORTANT?
Influencer marketing is a growing field that leverages the credibility of influencers to circumvent the usual marketing issues of consumer distrust and disinterest. When done right, it can offer many times the return on investment of traditional marketing. An endorsement of a product or brand by an influencer is like a less expensive celebrity endorsement, with the key difference that people believe it.
While influencer ROI is notoriously difficult to measure objectively, a 2018 survey of US marketers by Linqia found that 52 percent believe influencer content performs better than brand-created content, while only six percent believe it underperforms. Even fewer (five percent) reported that their budget for influencers would decrease this year, while 39 percent were confident it would increase.
The major advantage of influencers is the trust their followers place in them. Respondents to our study were often swayed in their opinions of brands by influencers, with Millennials and Gen Z respectively 80 percent and 66 percent more likely to trust a brand following its recommendation by an influencer they trust. While Millennials may seem more easily led, they were also more often aware of the products beforehand (76 percent of the time), compared to Gen Z who had influencers to thank for introducing them to 40 percent of new products they bought.
Both groups tend to accept that bloggers receive payment or other incentives such as free products in exchange for their support (though this assumption was more pronounced among Millennials), but nonetheless 81% believe that said endorsement reflects a genuine approval and personal experience with the product. The level of trust here is remarkable but understandable, considering the premium fans place on trustworthiness. It seems that loyalty to online “friends” is powerful enough to withstand even apparent conflicts of interest. The strength of that influencer-fan connection means that brands which cater to young audiences should be looking out for influences to work with. They may just be the best way to get ahead.
WHO ARE THAILAND’S INFLUENCERS?
Influencers in Thailand comprise many kinds of online content creators, with the only common denominator being that they have large and loyal followings. Some are native Youtube stars (the favored medium among Thai audiences) who built up their identities making videos and organically attracting subscribers. Others operate on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Many spread themselves wide, maintaining an active presence on all of the above.
While influencers are often bloggers or vloggers, the terms are not synonymous; influencers are specifically those who have amassed enough of a following to make a social and/or economic impact. This may be because they have proven their expertise (or at least experience) in a certain field and are duly respected for it. These specializations take a variety of forms, with the universally popular and eternally photogenic subjects of food and travel at the top. Other segments like beauty, fashion, sports, and video games have large fanbases but tend to be segregated by gender.
Some influencers, however, are stars from the Thai film or music industries who maintain higher than usual social media presence (and popularity). Others are simply trendy social media personalities – “famous for being famous”, as the saying goes. Often influencers specialize in more than one related area; combining food and travel content is as obvious as it is effective.
Many of Thailand’s most popular current influencers established themselves when the social media landscape was relatively sparse, planting roots that enabled them to dominate an increasingly crowded field. These days, aspiring personalities face an uphill battle for the precious resource of audience attention, but the largely youthful scene ensures that it’s not uncommon for new stars to blow up overnight.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD INFLUENCER?
Different demographics respond to influencers differently. Gen Z tend to be hungrier for content, for example, following more people and checking in more regularly than Millennials (perhaps simply because they can, since most are students and not employed full-time). Millennials are more likely to comment on posts, and less likely to buy recommended products without further research, suggesting a more cautious nature.
Subjects in our study reported that the biggest reason they chose to follow an influencer was due to the influencer’s personality. They prioritize those whom they perceive as trustworthy, sincere, entertaining, intelligent, knowledgeable, outspoken, and bold. Relatable bloggers rank higher than mentor/older sibling types, and generosity with fans is appreciated; those described as “somewhat selfish” possess the least appeal. The focus on an approachable personality makes sense: in a crowded market, there may be many people reviewing the same product or visiting the same place, but audiences naturally develop a sense of loyalty to those whom they find particularly charismatic and similar to themselves. Fans may feel like these are their friends, and in fact the survey shows that they trust them nearly as much as friends (and equal to experts) when it comes to recommendations.
But personality is rarely the sole contributing factor – quality content matters at least equally. For both Millennials and Gen Z, original, entertaining, and educational content were each reported as “very important” by more than 30 percent of respondents, with six percent or less describing these as “not important”. Favor goes to those who continually attempt to up their game, while influencers who produce irregular or low-quality content fall by the wayside, if they gain an audience at all. Thus, a ‘native content’ approach is often best, in which brand promotion is wedded to entertaining, informative content that feels like a natural extension of the influencer’s non-promotional work. Help create something people already want, and they’re bound to thank you for it.
So, what’s the biggest takeaway? For brands, the ideal influencer partnership will feature a synergistic combination of genuine interest and connection to the product, a personality aligned with the brand, and a cadre of loyal fans hanging on their every recommendation. Fulfill all of those, and you’ll have a match made in digital heaven.