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The Newsletter | Edition 103
Progress Report is dedicated to providing inspiration for action. In our Off-White Papers, we provide practical guidance on how to respond to our rapidly-changing world. This newsletter explores those topics in real-time, with information and action steps on how to make progress now.

But in this special newsletter series, The State Of, we dive a little deeper into the long-term work that comes after, in the places where we’re seeing new types of progress in action. From brand strategy to design, internet trends to sustainability, music to science, beauty to travel, and more.

Think back to when you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? A pilot, a teacher, a fireman, a fashion designer? Quaint. Those days are gone. Recent surveys have found that one of the most desirable jobs for American kids is YouTube star. In fact, almost three times as many kids want to be a YouTube star (29%) than an astronaut (11%). Among Gen Z, that number keeps climbing: 57% would become an influencer if given the opportunity. Free trips to Dubai, $2K face creams, and no traditional nine-to-five — it’s not not enticing.

But, the golden age of influencers — are we calling it that? — may be over. 90% of consumers no longer trust influencers,deinfluencing’ is on the rise, and “the most aesthetic” café in Brooklyn is closing its doors to anyone feverishly wielding a camera.

While becoming an astronaut may no longer be the dream, calls from the Hype House are saying “Houston, we have a problem.” The Faustian bargain to trade power for perks comes at a cost. What are you sacrificing if being an influencer is your biggest ambition?

Back in 2016, we — and by we I mean Joey Camire, Chief Strategy Officer at SYLVAIN — wrote a book called The Dots to deconstruct influence: what it is, how it works, who has it, why you need it, and how to get it. Simply put, when we talk about influence, we’re talking about the impact that one person, idea, or institution has on the decision making of others.

Today, the thesis and concepts explored in The Dots remain relevant, but the landscape around influence has expanded tremendously. The influencer market has become increasingly vast, up from $3B in 2017 to an estimated $21.1B in 2023, and saturated, with 50M+ people claiming to be influencers. Thanks to TikTok’s algorithm, anyone can be an influencer — but not everyone can be Influential. Because while influencers have a megaphone to the masses, the Influentials hold all the power.

Remember the infamous cerulean monologue from The Devil Wears Prada? Fashion magazine Editor-in-Chief Miranda Priestly scoffs at assistant Andy Sachs:

“You’re also blithely unaware of the fact that, in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns, and then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent, wasn’t it?… who showed cerulean military jackets…And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores, and then trickled on down into some tragic casual corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. That blue represents millions of dollars of countless jobs, and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry, when in fact, you’re wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room… from a pile of stuff.”
That is (capital “I”) Influence — with a sample closet sized side of snark. Influentials create the initiating force that wields the power to shape behaviors, opinions, decisions, and events. Influencers, on the other hand, use their manicured public identities to promote the products, services, ideas, or causes of the Influentials. In short, Influentials are the originals, and influencers are their derivatives.

The Influentials, like Miranda, are often invisible to the masses, yet pervasive in their domain of influence. Not many people know who Larry Fink is, yet CEOs of Fortune 500 companies attend to his every action. The Influential’s power stretches across peers and trickles down to their followers and their peers’ followers, compounding and embedding itself in the collective mindshare. As their impact grows, it takes on new meaning and personal relevance independent of the Influential’s name or face. It becomes its own entity that warps the fabric of global industries, markets, and landscapes.

To create Influence, The Dots posits that one must first understand the behavior you want to create and drive (shamelessly) towards it. Next, one must target the audience that will yield the best results. Then, one must identify the dominant players in the spheres you’re creating behaviors within. These players are the influencers, with social media followings leveraged to sell products, ideas, services, or causes. Influence is aggregated by aligning these influencers on the same, sticky idea to share with their networks.

As such, the influencer is a tool in the Influential’s arsenal used to propagate their vision. Influencers trade on the likability and relatability of their public-facing, digital-leaning name and face, creating an amorphous identity dependent on the trends du saison. Their influence alone will never warp industries, because it never comes entirely from them; it originates, whether consciously or unconsciously, from the Influentials.

So while the state of influence feels particularly pervasive today, it's just an amplified version of something that was always there. Now, at the very least, we can stare this reality in the face. In a world where influence is everywhere, use it to grow your power.

We know it sounds intimidating to be Miranda Priestly or Larry Fink, but everyone has to start somewhere. Look at Kim Kardashian. She went from endorsing Fit Tea on Instagram to building a multi-billion dollar shapewear and apparel business. The journey from influencer to Influential is long and windy, but it’s nonetheless possible.

  • Audit how you are being influenced today. Admittance is the first step. Understand the powers at play within your world. Are you being swayed by influencers, and if so, which Influential are they selling for?
  • Discern how you are influencing your networks. Often, you’re influencing those in your immediate orbit without even knowing. Understand what your network is coming to you for and lean into that niche.
  • Become an expert. Once you’ve identified your niche, learn how you can expand it. Do the research to go from good to great.
  • Be patient. Due to the nature of virality and light-speed movement of the digital world, we expect to have influence overnight. But, becoming Influential is an exercise in patience. Have the diligence to grow slowly, the resilience to fail, and the ambition to keep going.

Chloe Sutter is a Senior Strategist at SYLVAIN. She develops brand and consumer-led strategies for technology, sports, and lifestyle companies.

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