Monday, August 3, 2015

Coming to Believe in Influencer Marketing

Influencer Marketing is most certainly a term you hear bandied about the interwebs these days. On any given day, you can find a Twitter chat focused on it, read a blog about someone’s experience with it, and if you are a CPG brand, undoubtedly you have had a company pitch you on one of their “influencers” you can pay to work with.
14 years ago, I had just graduated from undergrad, and immediately got a job working at what is still one of the largest and coolest companies. In those days, influencer marketing was simple – you paid a celebrity, and they endorsed your brand. It could be through billboards, commercials, ads, appearances or a combination of all of those. We weren’t the only brand doing this, all the brands that could afford to did it. And it worked. Kids saw their favorite sports stars drinking something, asked their parents to go buy it for them, they did, and sales for the brand went up. Marketing had “worked.”
However, it didn’t work for ME. There was a pretty big star in MLB that had an endorsement with a beverage company (not my brand) that had a similar product to what we sold. You couldn’t go down most streets without seeing his face, smiling while enjoying one of their products. Ironically, he didn’t actually drink those products, though. How do I know? Because I once went with a co-worker to meet him in a dark alley, where we delivered OUR product to him. He oculdn’t be seen drinking OUR brand, it would have been a breach of contract with the company he was currently endorsing.
I immediately became skeptical of him, and the whole idea of this celebrity marketing. At the time, no one was talking about “transparency” or “authenticity” but I noticed that this was anything but. Celebrity marketing took quite a long time to die down, but with the increasing rise of “influencer marketing,” it has begun to. People are looking more to people they TRUST when seeking new products or brands to follow, rather than looking to celebrities, and mimicking what we see them doing.
The more you read or listen to people talk about Influencer Marketing, the more you realize that almost everyone seems to have their own version of what it means. It’s subjective, just as what an influencer actually is, or who it might be. It’s personal to each of us. Someone that incites ME to action, might not never make you change a habit or behavior or adopt a new one.
Marketers have long been aware the Word of Mouth was one of the biggest tools in our marketing toolkit. As social media has grown and become more widely adopted, we have been given even more resources to use the tool, and amplify the voices recommending our brands. People trust people they look up to, or those that “influence” them.
Influencer marketing to me, is a form of marketing where brands and companies target individuals with influence to affect change in buying patterns or habits over other people. As we’ve seen, where those individuals used to only be celebrities and pro-athletes, today anyone can have just as large an impact. It’s not follower numbers that determine someone’s influence on a given social network, but rather someone that people trust. Influencers are people that have strong feelings about something or an affinity to a certain company and a good relationship with others where people know this person knows their stuff. It’s a matter of finding people with credibility. Quite simply, influencer marketing is developing a mutually beneficial relationship with people that help create visibility for your company or brand.
Influencer marketing is closely tied to content marketing. In today’s world, consumers are becoming more aware of being “marketed to” and tend to trust peer recommendations over branded content. This means that you are more likely to have content shared on behalf of your brand if it comes from an “influencer” than if you posted the exact same content on your company blog.
Who are these influencers, then? The way I find influencers is by looking for a certain number of factors:
1.      People who engage with me in the communities I choose to be in, and say things of value, thought leaders or people that look like “experts” to me
2.      Someone who has an audience they actively work with
3.      Authenticity – no matter what they are talking about, they do it with authority and don’t change or sway from their beliefs with every new thought. They aren’t saying things simply because they’re paid to say them, the majority of their tweets don’t have #ad after them, and they aren’t compromising themselves in a ploy to gain more followers
Does every brand need to employ influencer marketing? I believe that every brand COULD use influencer marketing, but need is a strong word. Smart marketers have always known that the more people talking about a product or brand or service, the more people find out about it, gaining new audiences in a variety of places traditional marketing wouldn’t hit. Influencer marketing is nothing new, it’s just another piece of marketing with a new name and new importance.
I’m not saying celebrity marketing doesn’t work. Done right, it absolutely can increase sales or “move the needle.” Within the past 7 years, there was a day I was at work (for another rather popular brand) when suddenly our website crashed. Our sales on Amazon were skyrocketing. Why? Because I had sent product to Anne Hathaway, and she was photographed holding a bottle of our drink walking down the streets of New York.
It’s just important to learn how the audience you are trying to reach wants to receive messages, and what they respond best to. The more tactics you have, the better off you will be when trying to reach your ultimate goals.

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