Today's luxury brand buyers are increasingly more social and share their opinions about their favored brands like a badge of honor. Recognizing that more than 99% of the conversations are being driven by the consumer, luxury brands have carefully curated edgy and engaging content that push the proverbial envelope and challenge the laws of supply and demand.

To become even more desirable, they've simultaneously diversified their media to include campaigns with rich and appealing content and editorial strategies on relevant social channels to reflect the changing times.

While influencer marketing is critical, context is reigning king, compelling luxury brands to strategically partner with key opinion leaders on these very same channels, realizing a social credibility surge. In the case of the luxury beauty sector, researcher, L2, reported that leading video bloggers in the beauty space generate more than 700 million views on YouTube per month. For the more popular vloggers, these same premier brands can recognize more than double the amount of views versus more traditional top magazine advertising.

Leading luxury companies are getting the message loud and clear and are translating their understanding into considerable returns. And that message is simple: a social influencers' clout is holding more value than that of a mainstream celebrity.

Authenticity Is Expected

Recognizing the inherent power of social media in virtually everyone's lives, luxury brands have seamlessly leveraged the new influencers, Instagrammers, YouTube vloggers and blogosphere celebs - trendsetters and tastemakers of both today and tomorrow. With an element of 'lust' already baked into their product mix, these foremost brands know that partnering with key social media personalities and content creators is one of the most cost efficient means of communicating to present and future coveted consumers. With brand loyalists already expecting authenticity as a rule, the rest of us are now anticipating it as well. This has compelled luxury brands further into creatively leveraging an influencer's power to secure their ROI.  According to a study done by Upfluence, a content marketing and management provider, 45% of people trust the content written in a specialized blog. For some of the world's most opulent labels like Gucci,  Hermès, Louis Vuitton (LV) and Swarovski, among others, this adds up to even more profit. In the case of Gucci, hiring top social media influencer and graffiti artist, Trouble Andrew to take over Instagram and Snapchat during Milan fashion week was a no brainer. Even Hermes' 2015-2016 FW Collection was strategically complemented by Japanese fashion influencers who successfully advertised the campaign via Instagram helping to authenticate the brand further with consumers.

As budgets continue to shift toward social, prestige brands are investing even more to establish genuine consumer connections, while also harnessing critical data that strategically inform campaign optimization and overall ROI as an undeniable additional benefit. With only a six percent return from online sales as of December 2015, approximately ten elite companies are generating a combined sixty five percent of website traffic associated with the luxury industry. So, while this has not translated into larger returns as of yet, it's viewed as a worthwhile investment with digitally literate buyers.

It's Easy Math

Media savvy, strong brand affinities and purchasing power make the opinions and voices of 'home grown' social stars widely heard and followed. They're game changing the way in which potential consideration sets think about luxury products and services as they influence options and choices connected to the point of sale. According to Socialyte, the world's largest influencer casting agency, marketers are facing a seismic shift in the way they're doing business. Seeing the writing on the wall, they're also highly anticipating the rise and buying muscle of the influence savvy Millenial, the largest consumers of original and branded content. In a report surveying Millenials in early 2016, Forbes stated that only a scarce one percent said that a compelling advertisement would make them trust a brand more. Compared to the thirty three percent that rely on trusted blogs prior to purchasing versus less than three percent that look to TV news, magazines and books this is a huge wake-up call for the luxury industry.

With the time being now, initiatives spanning sponsored content, collaborations and marketing campaigns connecting influencers within luxury fashion, beauty and jewelry are now the new normal. When LV introduced their Dora handbag collection they utilized the large Instagram following of photographer @princepelayo, receiving a staggering 185% increase in likes. Realizing that partnering with four international fashion bloggers could successfully grow Swarovski's global appeal, their #SwarovskiLook initiative included fashion blogger video tutorials, user-generated content on Instagram and a brief four week contest curated by each individual blogger per week.

Rise of Micro-Influencers

Luxury brands have an incredible opportunity to participate in the conversation that is happening all around them by partnering with key social celebrities right now. Influencers with strong engagement rates have target audiences who are listening to and following what they are saying and this adds up to even more powerful impact and returns. To make things even more competitive, the next big shift will see the rise of 'micro-influencers' who've established an exclusive niche for themselves via their opinions, viewpoints and subject matter expertise. As opposed to having a massive amount of fans and devotees, these micro-influencers are followed by much smaller, but loyal and--perhaps more significantly--a devoted and authentic audience. Underused currently by luxury brands, their faithful followers typically take their words as gospel and this can translate directly to substantial profit for the luxury sector.

This article was co-authored by Jessica Gatti, VP of Client Services @GravityMediaLLC