Instagram Influencer Marketing Is NOT Working For Most In 2019 - Here’s How To Make It Work

Over the past 6 months, we surveyed 1,578 eCommerce brand owners and marketing managers regarding the state of influencer marketing on Instagram in 2019.

We spoke to the people actively engaged in the marketing for all sorts of products: from cosmetics and apparel brands all the way through to jewellery and consumable goods.

Our goal was to either confirm or disprove the credo that seems to be so prevalent in the digital marketing space today: “Influencer marketing works!”

Well, according to the vast majority of those surveyed, influencer marketing does NOT actually work. At least, not in the way that most people expect.

Out of the 1,578 respondents, 1,291 (81%) came back with some variation of the following:

  • Influencer posts do NOT lead to a direct increase in sales

  • The only people benefiting seem to be the influencers themselves

  • Influencer campaigns are simply not profitable

  • The brand awareness is nice but it doesn’t lead to any direct sales

  • Lot’s of positive engagement but no customers

Many of these brand owners now associate influencer marketing with wasted money, lost time and disappointing results.

Color us surprised.

Even more surprising was how vastly different the experiences of those on the other side of the spectrum was.

Of the remaining 287 respondents, 156 were indifferent towards influencer marketing while 131 were highly positive, saying that:

  • Influencer marketing is their most effective marketing channel

  • Their influencer campaigns are hugely profitable (average of 4.5 ROI)

  • Influencer marketing generates more repeat customers than any other channel

Our first reaction was that this was niche-based and that influencer marketing works well in some niches but not others.


The positive respondents were just as diverse in terms of niche as the negative ones. For example, two very similar cosmetics brands reported vastly different results.

One considered influencer marketing to be the key that allowed them to scale to $225,000 in sales a month while another blamed influencer marketing for wasting valuable time and resources.

So why this huge disparity? Why are some brands seeing incredible results while others are falling flat?

Well, it turns out that the successful brands generating the massively profitable results have three main things in common:

  1. A tried and tested strategy for finding the right influencers

  2. A content-first approach to influencer marketing

  3. A dedicated team/agency managing their influencer marketing

The rest of this article will be dedicated to breaking down each of these points to explain exactly why some brands are getting amazing results with influencer marketing while others are getting nothing.

A Tried And Tested Strategy For Finding The Right Influencers

The brand’s who are succeeding all have a very clear idea of who their ideal customer is. They know exactly who they’re selling to, so they know which influencers these people are most likely to respond well to.

The majority of the brands experiencing success with influencer marketing have detailed buyer persona briefs outlining every aspect of their ideal customer. From their interests and preferences to their inspirations and desires: they know their customers inside-out.

Another thing that the successful brands do that the unsuccessful brands don’t is to perform in-depth audits on all influencers. Influencer fraud is a huge reason for failed campaigns and unsurprisingly, most of the unsuccessful brands we surveyed do little or nothing to guard against it.

The brands seeing the huge returns all use some form of auditing tool like HypeAuditor to ensure that the influencers are legitimate and that their audience matches the brand’s target market. Unfortunately, at $30 per report, auditing every single influencer becomes very expensive, very fast.

In our experience, and in the experience of brands like L’Oréal and H&M, it’s money well spent and leads to vastly improved results.

A Content-First Approach To Their Influencer Marketing

The brands that failed all expected to generate sales directly from the influencer posts. The brands that succeeded didn’t really care about the posts at all. As crazy as that may sound, it’s true.

The successful brands all have a ‘content is king’ attitude towards influencer marketing. They don’t expect to generate a profit directly from the influencer posts, but rather from the content produced in the making of these posts.

Sure, they see the posts themselves as a great source of brand awareness, but don’t expect them to generate a flood of direct sales. They’re the cherry on top - not the main course.

The successful brands understand that the real power that influencer’s hold is not necessarily their audience, but rather their ability to create content that engages that audience. Influencer’s gain thousands of followers by creating content that their audience responds well to, so as long as their audience lines up well with the brand’s audience, the content has all the ingredients of a winning ad already built in.

The brands seeing 4.5+ ROI using influencer marketing are generating the majority of their profits on the paid ad campaigns that they run with the influencer content, NOT from the Instagram posts themselves.

A Dedicated Team/Agency Managing Their Influencer Marketing

Many of the brands who failed with influencer marketing saw it as a ‘magic bullet’. They expected it to be a simple matter of approaching influencers, sending their products over and waiting for the sales to flood in. That’s why they failed to see results.

Of the 131 eCommerce brands reporting large profits, most either use an agency or have some form of in-house team managing their influencer marketing.

Their reasoning boils down to the following:

  • Identifying the influencers that work requires going through thousands of them

  • Agencies tend to have internal networks of influencers and get good rates out of them

  • Running the influencer content on paid ads requires a unique approach

  • Managing influencer relationships is massively time-consuming

  • Collating and managing the content is also a full-time job

Making Influencer Marketing Work For Your Brand

We were initially very surprised by the results of the survey because our clients have always seen such positive returns from influencer marketing.

The fact that so many brand owners feel that influencer marketing ‘doesn’t work’ came as quite a shock to us.

But upon closer inspection, it all made sense. Turns out that our approach to influencer marketing is very similar to the successful brand’s we surveyed:

  • We build out dedicated Ideal Customer Avatars for all of our clients

  • We have an enterprise connection with HypeAuditor and perform audits on every influencer we work with

  • We have an internal network of 300,000+ influencers

  • We prioritise content and know exactly how to run it profitably on paid ads

  • We have a full team in place to manage influencers and collate their content

So if you’re looking for a way to make influencer marketing work for your brand, either start applying the guidelines above or let us apply them for you.

Becoming A TBA Client

If you’re looking for an agency to generate you huge returns using Instagram influencer marketing, then you’ll need to do the following:

  • Fill out our short survey honestly and accurately.

  • We’ll review your application to determine compatibility.

  • If you qualify, we’ll schedule a free 30 minute strategy session call.

If you’d like some more information on our process, check out our short video:

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