LCF23: Virtual Influencers in Fashion with MA Strategic Fashion Marketing Grad Simran Jena
LCF Postgraduate Class of 2023 features work from our three world-leading design, communications and business schools to demonstrate how LCF students look beyond the traditional notions of fashion to imagine a new and exciting future. A bustling two-day exhibition will offer a unique perspective into LCF’s postgraduate work by immersing visitors in the future of fashion through displays of design, film, photography, VR and more from LCF’s boundary-breaking students at the infamous Truman Brewery in east London. In light of the celebrations, we're finding out more about work from this year's graduating cohort.
Graduate Simran Jena from MA Strategic Fashion Marketing runs us through her study on exploring Virtual Influencers in fashion and the persuasive impact it has on the buying behaviour of GenZ consumers in the UK to successfully leverage them in marketing strategies.
Please talk us through your graduate project 'VIRTUAL INFLUENCERS IN FASHION'
The project focuses on the technological advancements within virtual realms that are causing brands, content creators, and marketing agencies to level up and experiment more in terms of communicating and holding the attention of their consumers. One of these digital experiments include the introduction of virtual influencers who can be briefly defined as anthropomorphised Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) models that are created by their developers to boost user engagement on digital and social media platforms. They are presented in a manner similar to human influencers, with their own backgrounds and storylines, while encouraging greater interaction between consumers and influencers on a variety of digital platforms.
With the widespread development of technology advances on the rise how can using artificial intelligence heighten the demand of consumers whilst still maintaining a somewhat tangible relationship amongst fashion brands?
The virtual influencers quickly grew in stature in the modelling industry, competing with both top human models and underrepresented talent. Lil Miquela was one of the first virtual influencers to gain prominence in the fashion industry in 2018 with 3M following base on Instagram which is predominantly constituted of GenZ.
The study critically analyses the influential impact of virtual influencers on consumers’ buying behaviour to leverage them in marketing strategies. Born in the era of internet and exposed to advanced mobile technologies and social media at the earliest age, GenZ are known to be the ‘true digital natives’. Hence, the research primarily focuses on the persuasive impacts on GenZ fashion consumers.
What character traits can a virtual agent have to create para-social interactions and adapt behaviours when communicating with GenZ buyers?
A critical analysis of existing literature concerning influencer marketing and virtual agents, combined with the primary research conducted with industry professionals and GenZ consumers of the UK revealed key findings to help understand the highest potentials of virtual influencers within the fashion industry.
The research unfolds the vitality of ensuring that the digital marketing strategies are rightfully aligned with the needs and demands of the market in order to be successful. The key driver to an effective influential impact is a strong para-social relationship which can be defined as the perceived two-way connection between an influencer and a follower even though in reality it is one-side and has no real engagement. The factors contributing to this relationship are relatability, credibility and intimacy. Hence, to optimise the benefits from a CGI virtual agent, it is essential to induce the right human-like connection more efficiently.
However, the findings of this study unfold the inability of GenZ consumers to dissociate with the ‘unreal’ identity of the virtual influencers despite their anthropomorphic features and thus leading to the inability to relate to them. This in turn contributes to a weak para-social relationship between virtual influencers and their followers. Although virtual influencers are efficient at creating brand/product awareness due to their extensive reach on social media, currently they do not seem to hold a strong influential impact on consumers’ buying behaviour.
How effective is influencer marketing on GenZ consumers when it comes to purchasing goods online for fashion brands?
There is a strong potential in being highly effective when it comes to influencer marketing, with the right developments. Industry professionals strongly believe that virtual influencers can minimise the risk of ‘cancel culture’, usually associated with human influencers, while also increasing a brand’s reach on GenZ users exponentially on all virtual realms. It also reduces carbon footprints that are caused as a residual of influencer marketing strategies by transferring the development of content to digital methods.
Furthermore, GenZ consumers also believe that by optimising the use of AI algorithms to understand the viewpoints of their audience, these influencers can offer more relatable opinions, thus creating a stronger para-social relationship.
Finally, as transparency is highly valued by GenZ, a virtual influencer is more likely to be credible if the users are more aware of their developers and appreciate their opinions and core values. This study has shown me that as brands transition into virtual realms and leverage digital technologies, it is highly vital to maintain the right level of human connection in order to ensure a successful digital marketing campaign on any platforms.
What career path would you like to explore after leaving London College of Fashion?
MA Strategic Fashion Marketing allows students to vastly explore all divisions within fashion branding and marketing, while giving them the leverage to choose their own direction and paths within the industry. This research process allowed me to pursue my interests in digital innovation within fashion marketing intensively while gaining in-depth knowledge about social media marketing (SMM) and influencer marketing.
Post-graduation from London College of Fashion, I intend on following down this career path and am seeking to apply my academic knowledge into practice as a digital and social media marketing executive.