Feb 12, 20205 min read

Influencers Are Building Their Own Brands. Threat or Opportunity?

Fredrik Thambert headshot

by Fredrik Thambert

Influencers are no longer just advertising other brands, they are creating their own. Fans love to identify with their idols by wearing their products, and the influencer merchandise trend is growing quickly. Can’t see how this matters to your business? Let’s take a look.

In recent years, influencers have become one of the most important marketing channels for brands and retailers in the e-commerce space. Special promo codes and collaboratory collections are just two of the tactics commonly used to turn followers into customers at different webshops. This is a win-win situation: the retailer increases their sales and the influencer gets paid based on how many customers they funnel to the merchant.

But if you follow any Instagram star or popular Youtuber, you’ve probably noticed a newer trend of influencer merchandise. Instead of only promoting other brands, a growing number of influencers are building their own line of products which they sell directly to their followers, cutting out the middleman (that’s you) in the process.

The new type of brands

The basic idea behind merchandise is not new. But the way it’s sold and distributed has been completely transformed. These days, you don’t have to be selling out concert venues or soccer stadiums to be worthy of your own t-shirt. Something that was once reserved for the biggest artists has now become available to micro-influencers as well. A couple of thousand dedicated Youtube or podcast subscribers will do.

Setting up your own webshop is easy, and there are plenty of suppliers just a few clicks away who are ready to produce your merch at a fraction of the price for which you can later sell it on to your followers. All that matters is how loyal your fans are, and how willing they are to pay money to show that support.

For influencers, merchandise is becoming an extra source of income on top of ad revenues and partnerships. And since they are in control of their own channels, they can market their products for free and drive traffic directly to their own store.

The success of this concept stems from the basic human desire to belong. Brands used to be the ultimate symbols of a shared identity, but they are now facing increased competition from social media personalities who are branching out into clothing, accessories, and frankly whatever’s relevant to them and their audience. The only limit is their imagination.

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Are influencer brands a threat for retailers?

The short answer is yes… and no. The phenomenon will only continue to grow as younger generations identify more with influencers than with traditional brands. But there are several ways to ride the trend and apply ‘influencer thinking’ to build your success. Here are a few ideas to start with:

1. Give your brand a distinctive personality

People identify with other human beings. Brands are just symbols that represent certain personality traits or group identities. This is why you need to clearly define the values that your brand stands for – and, more importantly, what you DON’T stand for. Just look at Nike if you want inspiration. This might sound basic, but a lot of brands seem to forget this aspect and become irrelevant as a consequence.

2. Build an emotional connection to your audience

Rational arguments about price and quality are still important, but the emotional connection to your audience is the number one driver of loyalty. Without it, they might just as well go to a competitor that’s offering a better deal. In this regard, influencers have an advantage since they already have that bond with their audience. But you as a brand or retailer can apply a lot of the same thinking in your brand positioning and communication strategy.

3. Open up for collaborations

Finding influencers that align with your brand’s values and inviting them to collaborate on collections, designs and branding is a shortcut to reaching their fans’ hearts. But instead of doing one-offs, consider forming strategic partnerships with a select few influencers and working with them over time. This will strengthen your bond and build credibility among their followers, which will be a big benefit for you in the long run.

4. Let influencers use your store

If influencer merchandise is here to stay, why not open up your store and facilitate it? Let it be an umbrella under which many different sub-brands can live. The most important thing is, once again, that you have a relevant connection, shared values and a common audience to address.

5. Become a part of pop culture

Today, consumers tailor their media consumption to fit their specific interests and needs, shutting out everything they feel is annoying or irrelevant to them. Hence the rise of influencers and niche media platforms. The brands we choose to associate with become part of forming our identity and making us feel like we belong in a cultural context.

At Klarna, we strongly believe that being part of the conversation is business-critical, for both us and our partners.
“Being part of pop culture, and therefore defining the current conversation, is one of the best measurements of fame. And in a connected, global business environment, this has never been more important”, says David Sandström, Chief Marketing Officer at Klarna.

Want to learn more about how Klarna can help your business to grow? Check out or Deep Dives on Growth, Margins and Loyalty here.