In August 2017 Gerald C. Kane, professor of information systems at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College wrote a powerful article on MIT Sloan Management Review describing what digital transformation really means. Spoiler alert: it’s not about technology or transformation.

Alas, Kane states, “digital transformation is about how technology changes the conditions under which business is done, in ways that change the expectations of customers, partners, and employees.”

In other words, digital transformation is an ongoing organizational process to understand and respond to new external expectations, which are evolving because of technological advances. There is no right way for an organization to set in motion their process of digital transformation, but one vector which often accelerates the adaptation is influencer marketing.

Influencer Marketing Connects Brands With Customers

One of the greatest value propositions for influencer marketing is that it enables you to connect with your audience through voices they already engage with and respect. At a time when the efficacy of traditional marketing tactics is in decline, influencer marketing offers one of the few antidotes.

The challenge with influencer marketing is that to do it correctly, aka, to have at the greatest impact, most organizations need to not just change strategies, but restructure the way they organize, staff and budget.

The skills required in-house and agency side are different. The costs don’t align with legacy expense structures, and our research shows that four or more departments engage with influencers to implement an influencer marketing program forcing collaboration where there was none before.

From Transactional to Transformative Relationships

Which is why it should come as no surprise, that a brand’s first approach to influencer marketing falls in the purely transactional bucket. A new product is about to launch, influencers are discovered, and the brand offers financial incentives in exchange for promotion. While this type of initiative may get you a jump in awareness, traffic and sales, the results are short-lived.

In our research for Global Influencer Marketing: Insights from Beauty, an in-depth report produced by Traackr and Talk PR, we interviewed over 20 marketing executives who shed light on the evolving relationship between brands and influencers.

We chose to study global influencer marketing through the lens of the beauty, because it’s a sector that’s been through a decade of change as the power has shifted towards online trendsetters. One of the seven trends we identified was that forward-thinking organizations are evolving beyond promotion to begin innovating with influencers.

Concretely, this is taking shape in many ways. We see influencers embarking on long-term collaborations with brands starting with product conception. For example, MAC teamed up with influencers this year, including Fleur de Force, one of the original beauty vloggers, to co-create new lipstick shades.

Other organizations, like Unilever, are involving influencers in their strategic sustainability initiatives. While insights departments are now researching influencer-generated content to identify trends.

At a recent talk on the report, Josie Fear, lifestyle influencer also known as the woman behind Fashion Mumblr, shared her own first-hand experience working with Estee Lauder to advise makeup artists, their customer-facing representatives, on how to leverage their own influence to reach the customer.

“It’s very flattering to see brands look to us influencers now, not just for our ability to influence an audience, but also as a source of knowledge,” said Fear.

Outside of beauty, we’ve seen consumer technology organizations, such as Orange, develop relationships with influencers who become de facto community managers within the brand’s forums.

In many ways, influencers have become a living conduit through with an organization can better understand their customers’ expectations and expand their own knowledge in areas of strategic importance for the business. However, to take full advantage, organizations need to move beyond “using” influencers to involving influencers in their own transformation journeys , wherever that may take them.