It is becoming increasingly clear that the world of work is undergoing a fundamental transformation. Millions of employees around the world have rejected the traditional nine to five and embraced new ways of working, in a bid for a better work-life balance and increased control over the type of work they perform.
While many of these self-employed and freelance staff are involved in low-pay gig work, including courier and transportation services like Uber and Deliveroo, a considerable proportion provide highly-skilled and in-demand services which are desired by an array of enterprises.
“We believe that the future really is freelance and this transformation is only just beginning. Up until recently, freelance professionals within industries such as marketing and professional services have been considered as a stop-gap rather than the perfect fit for an organisation or project. This is changing,” says Shib Mathew, CEO & Founder of YunoJuno, a platform for London’s elite freelance creative network.
Younger people are disproportionately interested in the benefits of self-employment, with the number of workers aged 16 to 24 in the UK who choose freelance life almost doubling since 2001, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
It is no longer the case that self-employment is seen as second best to a full-time employed job, meaning employers need to seriously reconsider how they both employ staff and how they interact with the growing freelance workforce.
“In most industry sectors there is a war for talent and there is a significant competitive advantage in hiring the best creatives, developers and engineers. As 90% of generation-Z see the gig economy being a viable career option, the very best talent of the future will be part of the flexible on-demand workforce,” says Jonny Dunning, CEO at freelancer management system, TalonFMS.
“Should a business choose to dismiss the huge potential of freelancers and independent contractors, they run the risk of losing much needed talent to their competitors,” he adds.
But how do established companies, both SMEs and major enterprises, tap into this burgeoning group of workers and add much-needed skills and talents to their operations?
A relatively small, but growing, number of forward-thinking brands and companies are seeking out novel methods of reaching new customers, through the unique talents of the on-demand workforce who are able to provide quality support as and when it is needed.
Multi-billion-dollar luxury megabrand Gucci may be best known for on-trend handbags and extravagant clothing, showcased in glossy advertisements, but their 2017 “#TFWGucci” (That Feeling When Gucci) watch campaign saw the Italian fashion house collaborate with artists, photographers, and meme creators, who produced humorous viral images, to bring their designs to new audiences.
The social media campaign used popular meme captions and placed Gucci watches in the accompanying images, resulting in tens of thousands of likes and shares, as well as dozens of pieces of media coverage.
“Gucci’s #TFWGucci campaign was extremely clever, partnering with meme creators to harness more modern, viral trends in order to bring Gucci’s more traditional brand into the current social discussions. It was an unexpected partnership but that’s what makes campaigns stand out,” explains Ben Jeffries, CEO and co-founder of Influencer, the UK’s leading influencer marketing platform.
By working with external meme creators, Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele was able to speak directly to prospective younger millennial customers and ensure the brands marketing efforts kept up-to-date with both a changing consumer base and new digital ecosystems.
Professional meme creators are one example of the new jobs found in the on-demand workforce that just a few years ago didn’t exist and are unlikely to be found in the internal workforce at most major companies and enterprises.
Of course traditional marketing methods still have a central place in reaching all types of customers, including millennials and members of generation-Z, but new forms of advertisement should be a part of the marketing mix, too. ™嚪
“The concept of younger consumers having a growing buying power is nothing new, but I would say that with the advent of social media and social media marketing, all companies need to be amping up their digital marketing strategies in order to appeal to these younger generations, and some have been slower to catch on,” adds Mr Jeffries.
Maintaining competitive advantage
There are no signs that this progression to a much more independent workforce will slow down, and businesses that do not proactively seek out talent in the freelance economy will see their competitive advantage seriously deteriorate. Companies in traditional industries, that are often slow to adapt to market changes due to complex bureaucracies and an unwillingness to fundamentally change how they do business, will be most at risk.
In the short-term, failure to access high-quality talent will lead to either the inability to take on new projects or delayed and unhappy clients who are not able to get the level of service they expect. But the long-term impact can be far more damaging, with businesses losing the ability to innovate as fast as their competitors who tap the freelance work-supply.
“In most sectors that we work with, IT, creatives, engineers, the average tenure of fixed employees is now down to 18 months, with the London Business School predicting that generation-Z will have 32 jobs during they career. The average tenure for contractors is 13 months and therefore the gap between the two ways of working is quickly bridging,” says Mathias Linnemann, co-founder & CCO at Worksome, a marketplace for highly skilled freelancers and contractors.
“Companies used to think of their workforce as a static pool of people they ‘owned’ on exclusive contracts. However, as more and more talent is breaking out of the static employer/employee relationships to work as independent freelancers, successful companies are starting to accept and even pursue a blended workforce consisting of up to 50% freelancers,” he adds.
Dozens of platforms have sprung up to connect in-demand freelancers and digital nomads with SMEs and major corporations. The launch of the Talent Exchange from professional services firm PwC in 2016 was a clear sign that even companies with an international presence and access to top-quality workers have a need to augment their workforce with skilled freelancers. The exchange serves as a platform where skilled freelance workers can work with PwC on a range of projects.
Marketing, advertising and collaboration with influencers on social media platforms has been viewed with a high of level of suspicion, especially when it comes to achieving a measurable return on investment. But the continuing audience growth on these platforms, particularly among younger people, is making them impossible to ignore.
“The attitude of companies, both big and small, towards influencer marketing has changed dramatically over the last few years. Just four years ago when we started Peg.co, no one wanted to own influencer marketing. Should it sit with media? PR? Digital? The brand? The agency? Everyone said it didn’t belong to them. Now it’s done a U-turn – everyone wants to own it,” explains Nic Yeeles, co-founder and CEO of Peg, an end-to-end platform that powers influencer marketing for over 1,700 brands and agencies.
It is not just established firms that are engaging with Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, and even smaller sites like TikTok, Pinterest and Tumblr, with some of the most innovative companies being native to these platforms. Watch e-tailers Daniel Wellington and MVMT, along with workout apparel firm GymShark and subscription box Lootcrate, were at the forefront of influencer marketing and are now reaping the first-mover advantage.
“Smart startups were definitely the first to truly embrace influencer marketing in the first place, and they’re also the ones leading the way now by viewing influencer marketing through the lens of performance marketing,” says Mr Yeeles.
Marketers need to be opening up to novel advertising concepts that aren’t without risk but have the potential to target hard-to-reach consumers where they feel most comfortable. A core part of this approach is collaborating with high-profile social media influencers, who can play an important role in connecting brands with captive audiences.
“Once the more ‘traditional’ marketers have also experienced the power of influencer marketing as a performance driver they will quickly discover there are very few other channels that can come close to delivering the same results. Budgets will quickly follow,” says Mr Yeeles.
“But for now, we need to stop viewing scantily clad, makeup-plastered Instagrammers who post pictures of teeth whiteners, diet teas and cereal boxes as influencer marketing,” he adds.