Even in high school, it was hard to be cool if you were trying to “buy” cool. Authenticity was a primary component of what separated cool from the “me too crowd.” Just as many a high school student went from trend to trend, trying to emulate that one person who was a natural, we continue to see big and small brands attempting to embrace influencer marketing as a major strategy with limited success.
This begs the question – is influencer marketing a proven strategy that drives sales and brand equity or is it a dying concept as consumers become savvier in understanding this often pay-for-play relationship?
To answer this question, it’s important to understand what influencer marketing is. Simplistically, it’s taking the cool kid in school and providing him or her with your product – a brand of jeans, edamame for lunch or the latest in foot fashion. By association, you are hoping others will notice and covet your product. Basically, you’re borrowing cool.
In marketing speak, per Wikipedia (most comprehensive definition actually), “Influencer marketing (also influence marketing) is a form of marketing in which focus is placed on specific key individuals (or types of individuals) rather than the target market as a whole. It identifies the individuals that have influence over potential buyers, and orients marketing activities around these influencers.”
Influencer marketing is NOT a new concept. Think Michael Jordan and Nike, Jennifer Anniston and Smart Water, and (not trying to date myself) New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath and Brut cologne. For years, brands have aligned with celebrities, sports stars, famous musicians, top models, etc. to promote products and services, most often through advertising.
The difference is that social media has changed the landscape. Today’s influencers no longer have to be established stars. Many unknowns can achieve influencer status if they are passionate about a specific topic, have some level of expertise or unique perspective, are authentic yet authoritative and have the savvy to embrace technology quickly. This single fact has created a major point of confusion for agencies and brands alike as they scramble to understand the who, what, when, where and why so as not to be left behind.
So how can a brand test influencer marketing without making costly mistakes?
Research their background. Understand that for better or worse, once you engage with an influencer they become representatives of your brand, even after the relationship expires. They are telling your brand story. Review their previous work and research their social networks. Pay attention to how their actions and beliefs align with your brand promise and company’s purpose. Don’t deploy PewDiePie when who you want is Reese Witherspoon.
Recognize it’s not always about the size. When seeking to identify an influencer, many marketing professionals will look at the numbers – how many followers do they have, number of retweets, UMVs – but it’s not always a numbers game. While quantity may be important, quality may result in greater engagement with your brand and thus sales. After all, the value of these influencers is to tap into their niche-based content to connect with an audience in an authentic, relevant way. Why pay the big bucks for a major celebrity when you can engage with DJ Khaled, the King of Snapchat? By picking and choosing the most relevant individual in each channel, you can develop an influencer cohort that may pack a huge punch while still saving money.
Keep it relevant. This type of marketing is all about the third party testimonial. Even though, many know that these are paid endorsements – and in fact, the FTC has ruled that this must be acknowledged – if the content is relevant and authentic, there is still an element of trust that the influencer is selecting brands that reflect his/her own personal brand. Kim Kardashian touting Volvo was a bust. But, when Kendall Jenner collaborated with Estee Lauder to reach a younger audience, it was a hit.
A 2016 study revealed that of the 86% of marketers that have used influencer marketing, 94% of them found it effective. In fact, 48 percent expect to increase their budget in 2017. So why do we constantly hear the death knell that influencer marketing is just a trend soon to be finished? Done right, it can be a very successful strategy for brands of all sizes. The key is to understand your objective and ask the right questions before engaging.