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How does influencer marketing really work?

A person with a big social following can, if done right, make a company’s sales skyrocket by simply posting a picture and a few words

If you traveled back to 2010 and told this to a marketer, she would probably think you were crazy. In 2018, this can still sound a bit like magic. How is it that something so quick and easy make your products sell out in a blink? Let us take a look at the basics in influencer marketing and exactly why we at United Influencers believe it works so well.

How influencer marketing really works can be explained by using three influencer mechanisms:
  • Aspiration and dreams
  • Trust
  • Authenticity

These three mechanisms works like an ecosystem, where none of them are powerful without the others. It explains the reason why an audience wants to follow an influencer, why they trust them and why they demand mutual trust, transparency and authenticity back.  

Influencer Marketing: Female Influencer holding flowers in her hand

Aspiration and dreams

To aspire to something. This mechanism appeals to dreams and self actualization. Deep into the human mind and on top of Maslow’s pyramid, we find the need to grow.

Human beings like to have role models. Someone to look up to. Followers often see influencers as role models within reach . From our experience, many look at influencers’ lifestyle as «life goals», and they can be much more relatable than traditional viral celebrities and superstars. They are right there amongst us, like your neighbor with the fancy car, your cousin with the expensive purse or the popular girl in class.

The audience follow for example what influencers do, what they are wearing, where they live or what they are doing in their vacation. This can typically be something the follower self dreams to have.


The relation between influencer/follower often go way back in time. Maybe they have been a part of each other’s life every day for several years. Through teenage drama, studies, boyfriends, weddings, divorces, kids and boring afternoons in the rain. This powerful relation is a very important reason why influencer marketing works so well. Without the trust, it would be just like any other ad pushed out to reach people.

Humans listen to recommendations. We seek them and we want them. But the important aspect is that we want them from people we trust. Since we now have learnt that the relationship between influencer/follower can be compared to a long term friendship, the next step comes naturally. The long lasting relation is there due to a process of building trust and by giving genuine recommendations over time. The audience knows that if the influencer recommends something, it’s because they wish to share an experience, not because they want to primarily make money.

This effect hasn’t showed up overnight and the long term relation is often long term because of continuous genuine recommendations.

Influencer Marketing: Male Influencer smiling in front of airplane


The third influencer mechanism we would like to tell you about is authenticity and the importance of this in branded content. The feeling that branded content feels natural, like it’s supposed to be there and like it’s a genuine part of the feed.

Let’s take a look at two different scenarios of influencer marketing to underline why authenticity and creative space means so much for your results.

Imagine yourself following an influencer on Instagram. She posts about her travels, exotic pictures with palm trees, coconuts, bikinis, blue oceans. You go to her feed to be inspired, to daydream and to get tips for your next holiday. Bang, a branded post comes up where she’s in her living room promoting a new lamp from an interior brand. The brand logo takes most of the picture space and the text beneath is clearly not written by her.

For the second scenario, imagine the same influencer posting a beautiful picture on the beach, with sand on her feet and tanned legs. In her hand is a sun lotion and the texting asks you how you take care of your skin in the sun. A couple of sentences about how important it is for her to protect herself from a sunburn and that she wants to recommend you the brand she uses. Here, the branded content is carefully implemented into the influencer’s regular feed. It’s relevant, in her own words and without flashy logos and the typical brand-stamp.  

Now, let’s ask which scenario would you have preferred as a follower? Our experience says that the second one works best every time. On the lamp example, you’d maybe think something in the line of “what on earth does this lamp do in here” and “guess she’s desperate for money”, but in the second scenario you’d might actually feel that the influencer gives you extra value. Like she has your best interest in mind, wants to remind you how important it is to remember sun protection and recommends you to use her favorite product.

The biggest takeaways we hope you get from this article is that with influencer marketing, you have to think deeper than reach and views. The value you get from cooperating with a person with genuine influence over a large audience is very high. Combining the three mechanisms aspiration, trust and authenticity is at the end of the day how influencer marketing really works.

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