Influencer marketing is a hot topic, but it’s not a new one. It's hot right now because marketers have so many channels at their disposal which play to the strengths of influencer marketing – social media, YouTube, and blogging for example. It’s also a powerful alternative to traditional advertising; influencer marketing can be more cost-effective, easier to measure, and provide the golden nuggets of credibility and authenticity. But what exactly is influencer marketing?
A history of influencer marketing
Long before the term ‘influencer marketing’ was coined, Josiah Wedgwood, a luxury chinaware producer in England, was given a royal endorsement for his products. On becoming ‘the royal potter’ in the 1760s, Wedgwood used this endorsement as a marketing device to illustrate the company’s value and credibility.
Fast-forward 200 years to the 1970 soccer World Cup final. Just before the whistle blew to start the match, Brazilian superstar Pele – standing in the middle of the field – asked the referee if he could re-tie his boots. The world watched as Pele tied up his Pumas...something Puma had paid Pele to do seconds before kick-off.
A person can be defined as an influencer if they have the potential to affect, inspire, enthuse and motivate others with their thoughts, opinions, associations, or endorsements. Pele is certainly an influencer.
However, it’s important not to confuse influence with popularity. It could be that an influencer doesn’t have a mass following, but they do have a very specific, high-quality audience. If they can change their audience’s way of thinking or even their behavior, they are an influencer.
For marketers, an influencer is someone who helps other people buy from you. How?
Through a combination of:
- reach (the size of their audience)
- credibility and authenticity (audience trust)
- sales skills (getting their audience over the tipping point to purchase)
Influencer marketing is closely related to word of mouth marketing, but has a wider scope rather than depending on existing customers to spread the word, and is usually a collaboration between brand and influencer. It is worth considering having both a word of mouth and an influencer marketing strategy to help promote your brand and boost sales.
An influencer has built their own brand and audience on their chosen channel. They could be:
- Vloggers, often via YouTube
- Social media influencers
- Experts in a professional field
Influencers usually want to protect their reputation and audience, and are careful about which brands they endorse.
Why does influencer marketing work?
Influencers enable you to reach a wider, pre-built, relevant and trusting audience more quickly than you usually can. Working with influencers offers:
- Credibility, relatability and authenticity for your brand
- A wider audience that becomes engaged with your content
- A long-term, mutually beneficial relationship
- Unique content
- Shareability across marketing channels
- Improved awareness and perception of your brand
- Actionable data and insights
- Strong ROI (especially if you’re not paying your influencers)
To pay, or not to pay influencers
There are two schools of thought on paying influencers. One is that true influence can only be earned, not bought; the other is that paying influencers is a simple and easy way to quickly reach a new and targeted audience. Both can be effective, and should be considered in any influencer marketing strategy.
Paying for influencer marketing
Paying for an influencer’s reach is effectively sponsored advertising or celebrity endorsement. It can be a great way to efficiently reach a wide audience through someone with broad appeal and powerful influence.
However, the cost can be prohibitive, and there is a risk of seeming disingenuous and lacking in integrity, which could ultimately be harmful to your brand. If an influencer isn’t genuinely invested in or passionate about your brand, it can be obvious – as in the recent Listerine social storm.
It also isn’t uncommon for influencers to discuss which brands will pay, and how much. And finally, you’ll need to watch out for ‘influencer fraud,’ which happens when influencers inflate their follower numbers in order to increase their price.
Genuine influencer marketing
Paying for influencer marketing may mean that you’re not maximizing your influencer marketing opportunities.
Influencer marketing works best when it doesn’t involve payments, and the influencer wants to talk about your brand and products in a transparent and honest way.
Yes, it may take more time and dedication to build a genuine, sincere relationship with an influencer, but the results are worth the effort. Influencers want something that you as a brand can provide – useful, unique, early or exclusive information and news. They can use this to strengthen their influence and further build trust and credibility with their audience.
The ultimate objective of influencer marketing is brand advocacy.
An influencer will discuss both the positives and negatives of your brand and products – that is fine because it is real. If they are genuinely passionate about your brand, they will talk about it in a way that is much more authentic and useful than an ad.
Take Disney, for example. ‘Disney Social Media Moms’ is a group of 1,300 carefully selected mommy bloggers. Each year, they attend an invite-only event at Walt Disney World. They aren’t paid, but they do receive discounted annual trips to Disney. Disney doesn’t tell the mothers what to write about, or even require them to write at all. In 2015, the event alone generated 28,500 tweets, 4,900 Instagram photos, and 88 blog posts – all tremendously positive. Why? Disney chose influencers who were already enthusiastic about the brand, and rewarded them for their loyalty without requiring anything specific in return. The result was that these influencers flooded their social channels with Disney content. Google ‘Disney Social Media Moms’ right now, and you’ll find blog post and social content from moms who are excited about attending this year’s event.
Checklist: how to choose an influencer who is right for your brand
We are not all Disney, however, and finding someone who is true to your influencer marketing strategy can be tricky. This checklist will help you to choose someone who fits your brand:
- Does the influencer reflect your brand values?
- Is the target audience right? (Biggest isn’t necessarily best! Is the audience relevant?)
- Is the influencer original, relevant, credible and appealing?
- Will they communicate the benefits of using your products (both physical and emotional)?
- Are the influencer’s channels and content a good match? Think about personality, tone of voice, and existing content.
- Have they previously partnered with competitors?
If you need help building your brand’s influencer marketing strategy, let’s chat.