Influencer marketing isn’t a particularly new concept, but it’s a marketing approach that’s been invigorated by the prevalence of social media. Quite simply it’s the act of using people that have some influence over particular target audiences to market products or services. It’s something that brands have pursued for years, but social media has helped them identify influencers in a different way.
Social media has also helped boost ‘unconventional’ voices, by giving a platform to figures that may not previously have achieved influence in their chosen field. Successful influencer marketing may not seek out the influencer with the largest following, but rather the one with the most leverage within a small niche. The power of their influence is more important than the size and reach of it.
Influencer marketing really isn’t the same thing as a celebrity endorsement. Brands get celebrity endorsement by paying for it – this can diminish the credibility of the association in the eyes of the audience.
Brands achieve influencer marketing by working much more in collaboration with influencers. It’s much more of a give-and-take approach than celebrity endorsement and the brand may have to acknowledge they don’t hold as much power in the relationship as they would with a celebrity spokesperson.
Influencers aren’t always paid for their activity on behalf of a brand. The best influencer marketing exchanges credibility between brand and influencer, helping both achieve their aims.
Brands can support influencers consolidate their status in their chosen space by offering them credibility and early access to information. This might include first views of any new products, front row seats at brand events and access to people and areas that the brand has influence in.
A typical example would be fashion bloggers being invited to catwalk shows, or a car blogger being invited to test drive a new model.
Cutting through the noise
Why the sudden rise in interest in influencer marketing? Well, like any marketing trend it’s about finding a new way to cut through the noise and connect with audiences. Brands are also seeking ways to engage the unpredictable Millennial and Centennial audiences, who aren’t consuming media in the same way as prior generations.
As these younger audiences tend to be active on social media, they’re more open to being reached by influencers in this space than generations have been before.
Marketing efforts in the mainstream media just aren’t as effective at reaching younger audiences as they used to be and engaging influencers can be far more effective in terms of impact.
Social media supports brands trying to reach niche groups by making these audiences easier to identify and engage with. Influencer marketing can also be more cost-effective compared to expensive forms of marketing such as TV ads.
Influencers tend to be particularly impactful when audiences are inexperienced and underconfident. Take new parents for example. This audience faces a steep learning curve at a time that requires them to make many purchasing decisions. A trusted voice that they relate to, such as a blogger, can be highly influential at a key time for them.
In emerging markets with fast-growing incomes, inexperienced consumers may be seeking guidance as they adjust to a new higher-consumption lifestyle and make some types of purchase for the first time. Influencers may be particularly significant in these markets, as consumers seek guidance.
Trends in influencer marketing
Brands seem to be allocating an increasing share of their budget and attention into influencer marketing at the present time. As the interest in influencer marketing practices intensifies, more and more brands seem to be outsourcing to external agencies that can help them with influencer campaigns. Agencies are there to help with everything from finding the right influencers and managing relations to amplifying campaigns.
PR firms are finding themselves increasingly being asked to respond to the interest in influencer marketing and they are upskilling or bringing in dedicated resources to respond to client interest in this area. They’re finding new ways to measure engagement and ROI of influencer campaigns.
A key trend is to work with a large number of micro-influencers, rather than a small number of macro influencers, in order to get the deepest engagement. Small local influencers and niche experts are the ones to target, rather than celebrities with mass followings. It’s a more complex campaign approach to manage but it’s one that generates the best results.
Influencer marketing is increasingly being tied to another hot marketing trend; experiential marketing. It’s increasingly common for brands to pursue deeper relationships with consumers by exposing audiences to carefully controlled events where they deepen and intensify their relationship with the brand.
Experiential marketing can also help influencers create the content that brands actually want them to share.
How to implement influencer marketing
One of the hardest elements of influencer marketing is finding the right influencers. The perfect influencer is not only credible to their specific audience, but they also have a big enough audience to achieve the reach you want. It’s also important that they are motivated to exercise that influence for you, and a good salesperson. Not every influencer can sell; not every influencer is motivated to try.
Brands need to be aware of the dangers associated with influencer marketing. Influencers can be loose cannons, and their behavior can damage brands they’ve previously supported. Audiences can turn hostile if brand marketing is too overt, or isn’t consistent with an influencer’s previous content or known interests.
If you’re working with a lot of micro-influencers, it can be extremely hard to keep track of them all and assess the campaign impact.
Influencers tend to have a strong connection to their audience based on authenticity and transparency, which is why their voices are so influential. If they talk about your brand it’s likely to be a very honest conversation covering negatives as well as positives. Brands need to be prepared for this level of authenticity, which may not reflect the exact image they want to portray.
One of the biggest challenges for an influencer marketing approach is to generate the type of content influencers actually want to share. Many brands find it best to create brand experiences that give high exposure to influencers and enable them to create their own content.
The classic example of this is inviting influential fashion bloggers to catwalk shows and letting them write about the event for their followers.
Some of the biggest difficulties associated with influencer marketing can be overcome by working in collaboration with influencers rather than trying to dictate messaging to them – brands need to resist treating influencers as paid endorsers and concentrate on cultivating them as passionate fans of the brand.
It’s a different approach for many brand marketers to take and one that may find difficult to adapt to. The results that can be achieved make it worthwhile brands trying to engage properly with this type of marketing.