In the past, customer and company were two disparate entities with disparate roles. The ‘role’ of the company was to sell, the ‘role’ of the customer was to be sold to – a largely passive recipient of marketing information that was outputted in a few predetermined, traditional ways. There were newspaper and magazine ads, billboards and bus-backs, TV and radio commercials; all providing a static, one-way flow of information. It’s not that the consumers of yesteryear were necessarily credulous, they were simply products of an era where advertising methodologies hadn’t yet reached the all-encompassing, always-on zenith that we are witnessing today.
Over time, however, customers have become more discerning, more cynical and less easily marketed to. Unless a billboard is particularly stand-out or a TV ad truly groundbreaking, customers often filter them out. That’s not to say traditional mediums don’t still have a place in today’s marketing strategies, but they have become secondary tools in the marketer’s armoury. Today’s consumers are more savvy, proactive and self-sufficient. They’re able to research brands online, read customer reviews and, rather than taking a brand on trust, they prefer to hear about it from someone they already have faith in.What is an Influencer?.
For a while now, the term ‘influencer’ has been making its way into marketing consciousness. Yet it’s not an easy concept to pin down, largely due to its flexibility, along with its ability to morph and evolve – not just from brand to brand, but from campaign to campaign. It’s driven by real-world humans in real-world time, and the end result isn’t something that’s formulated and strategised within a boardroom down to the last word (even though marketing campaigns can be directed towards influencers and there’s a skill in selecting the right influencer for a business). Nevertheless, influencer marketing is something that grows independently and organically, according to the individual influencers concerned.
In this respect, influencer marketing is closely aligned with content marketing and social media marketing. Today’s heavyweight influencers are often those people who have an impressive online presence and, ergo, a large online following. They’re the people who act as brand enthusiasts– and because they’re often doing so via videos or blogs that are closely linked to companies’ products or services (such as the YouTube smartphone reviewer who says they love a certain device), they’re able to not only drive awareness but to also drive action. Meaning there’s every chance viewers will rush out to buy the phones their online gurus recommend.
At its most basic level, influencer marketing is like having a friend vouch for a company or product. If you’re standing in a shop trying to decide between two laptops, and an acquaintance walks in and starts raving about the spec on one of them, you’re more likely to buy that one.
That’s not to say that influencers are entirely autonomous, and it’s quite common for brands to inspire or hire influencers – but they’re still impartial; spreading the word because they have a belief in the brand. They are willing to make themselves part of the conversation surrounding a product or service and recommend it to their followers – and this gives a brand huge credence.Influencer or Advocate.
There’s a slight yet distinct difference between an advocate and an influencer. Advocates are generally already loyal customers who are then incentivised to write reviews, participate in MGM campaigns or generally spread their enthusiasm for a product or brand.
Influencers aren’t necessarily current customers but are those individuals whom companies feel are a good fit and who would be willing to disseminate their message. They are usually reimbursed in some way – either with money or free products.
Influencer marketing is all about allowing credible, popular and trusted figures to take your product and run with it, sharing it with the people who trust and follow them.The History of Influencer Marketing.
Despite influencer marketing being able to predominate like never before, thanks to the rise of social media, it’s not a new concept. As far back as the late 1800s, companies began using celebrities to give a glamorous edge to products like cigarettes and home goods. Actress Lillie Langtry was the first woman to endorse a commercial product, lending her alabaster complexion to Pears Soap adverts in 1882, at the age of 28.
Companies also used much-loved characters to build feel-good connections with their brand, such as Coca Cola’s use of Santa in the 1920s and 30s. Then, in the 1950s, came the Marlboro Man – possibly the biggest influencer of that decade. Although he was portrayed by different actors (right up until the 90s), this fictional figure made smoking appear more macho and helped condition consumers into believing they, too, would take on his attributes.
It wasn’t until the start of a new Millennium, however, that influencer marketing began to align more closely with what we know it to be today. One of the most successful influencer marketing drives ever was the Old Spice viral campaign of 2010 “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”. Over the course of three days, Old Spice sent personalised videos to celebrities and people with large social media followings. 180 videos were shot in total. On the first day, the campaign clocked 6 million views. Seven days later, that sky rocketed to 40 million views. Old Spice also responded in real-time to fans.
What’s key to the Old Spice campaign, though, is that it was all played out via social media – YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Not a TV ad in sight. Here was an early clue as to where influencer marketing could really make its home – and make the most impact. And the stats bore this out. Old Spice sales shot up by 27% over the following six months, and by a massive 107% in the final month.Boost Your Brand with Influencer Marketing.
According to Altimeter Group’s “State of Social Business” study, 35% of social media professionals polled in Q2 2015 considered their use of influencer marketing to be at a mature stage, and only 14% had no plans to use it. So it’s clear that to maintain a competitive edge, brands need to be including influencer campaigns as part of their marketing strategy.
Platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Periscope have enabled real people to build up huge, faithful followings, simply by blogging or vlogging on subjects they’re passionate about. Names like Zoella, who shot to vlogging fame by talking about anything from makeup to what’s in her handbag, can help propel a brand or a product to the top of people’s most-wanted lists. And with over 11 million subscribers, she certainly carries some weight. Such is her influence, that she’s now made it off of social media and onto mainstream TV, with her place in The Great Comic Relief Bakeoff. And then there’s her novel – Girls Online – which sold more copies in its first week (78,000) than any other book since Neilsen BookScan’s records began in 1998. That beats J.K. Rowling. This alone attests to the powers of an influencer with a huge following. It’s no secret that the book was ghost written, yet it still sold, thanks to Zoella’s online popularity, magicking its way above Potter.
There’s also a host of top tecchie bloggers, such as Marques Brownlee, to whom millions of fans turn for trusted tech reviews. Not to mention Lewis Hilsenteger of Unbox Therapy. He’s the man who’s turned unboxing into an art form – and for brands, such lavish performance is invaluable.
No matter what product or service you offer, out there in the wide world of the web, there will be an influencer who’s a perfect match. And here are just some of the things they can do for your business:Create Strong Brand Awareness.
As the saying goes, ‘you’ve got to be in it to win it’, and for a brand managing to hitch itself onto the success of a widely-followed influencer, they’re able to put themselves right into the heart of the online action. It doesn’t do, nowadays, for businesses to watch from the sidelines, staying on the periphery of everything social media has to offer.
Influencer marketing is all about reach – and it’s axiomatic that the more reach you have, the more awareness you’ll garner. By using an influencer, brands can promote their products without being actively involved themselves. A good example of this is Guess’s collaboration with fashion bloggers, whom they used to create new content. Guess also allowed members of the public to get involved too, with their loveguess hashtag, which encouraged people to post their own style content. Not only did this user-generated content have a snowball effect – getting more people to talk about Guess – but it also increased trust, because everyday people were seen loving the brand. Which, as we’ll see next, is another vital component.Increase Trust.
According to a Nielsen study, 92% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know, while only 58% trust branded websites. And it gets worse, with confidence in ads falling to as low as 29% for those sent to mobile phones. Conversely, 70% of participants said they trust online consumer opinions – meaning people are more likely to believe what strangers say about brands than what the brands themselves have to say.
It stands to reason, therefore, that if brands can utilise the enthusiasm of people with no brand connection, then consumers’ trust in what they’re being told increases. As well as increasing trust, influencer marketing can also help lesser-known brands gain credibility. A thumbs-up from a well-followed online influencer can jump-start sales for a new brand better than any radio or TV ad ever could. It’s easy to see why, when you consider that 74% of consumers use social media to make purchasing decisions – often switching from viewers to purchasers off the back of an influencer’s recommendation.Establish Authenticity.
Another benefit of influencer marketing is its apparent authenticity – something that goes hand-in-hand with trust. When it comes to bloggers and vloggers, their audiences feel that they know them – especially if they’ve been following them for a long time. Rather than constantly pushing out advertising content, influencers behave much like our friends would. So when they do recommend a product, it comes across as genuine and organic.
In addition, many of these influencers are aware of their own standing among their followers – they are not slaves to a brand. Their main aim is to keep the followers they have and build on their fan-base. As such, authenticity and honesty is key to their own image and followers’ perception of them. In other words, most only genuinely recommend brands they like – giving even more credence to the products they promote. Anyone who’s listened to a review of a new smartphone from a trusted vlogger knows that there is depth to their opinion – light and shade that may also pull out some negatives of a product, along with many positives. But because the review is genuine, those few negatives don’t necessarily put people off the product; rather, they add weight to the overall review and increase the trust of the viewer.
This type of authenticity can’t be bought, and is the perfect antidote to people’s cynicism towards more forceful ways of promoting a brand or product.Generate Content.
As well as helping to get your content noticed – encouraging people to view it and engage with it – influencers can also help generate new content. Quotes, testimonials and videos can all become an important part of your marketing assets. Better still, you haven’t had to pay for them.Influencer Arbitrage.
An arbitrage is when something is selling for cheaper than it is actually worth; and the difference between the market price and the real value is where your profit lies. But this sort of scenario doesn’t usually last for long. At the moment, influencer advertising is still in the arbitrage stage. Right now, there are many more influencers out there than brands running influencer campaigns. This means you can currently buy an influencer promotion below its real value and turn a strong ROI in the process – on average, businesses generate $6.50 in revenue for each $1 invested in influencer marketing, with the top 13% making $20 or more for each $1 invested.Boosts Your SEO.
Nowadays, SEO is also about creating quality content that’s of value to consumers. And one of the best ways to boost your SEO ranking is organically. Up to 25% of search results come from user-generated social posts – so getting influencers to talk about your brand can actually help your rankings.Act as Native Advertising.
Because native advertising is already part of the content users are viewing, it doesn’t interrupt their experience. The advantage of influencer content, however, is that users are already engaged with what the person they’re watching has to say. And because it’s an indirect form of marketing, consumers are less likely to switch off – mentally or literally.Utilise the Power.
This is a golden time for savvy brands to utilise the power of influencers. There has recently been a move away from super-influencers, such as Zoella, towards what’s being called the micro-influencers. The old way of thinking was that the more followers an influencer had, the better the results. But we’re seeing this isn’t necessarily the case. Stats have shown that once a social media influencer gains a critical-mass following, engagement actually decreases. Influencer marketing platform Markerly showed that when it came to unpaid posts, Instagram influencers with fewer than 1,000 followers had a like rate averaging 7%, compared to a rate of 4% for those with 1,000 to 10,000 followers. And as the number of followers increases, the like rate decreases, dropping to just 1.7% for influencers with 1 million to 10 million followers. The same applies to comment rates.
Indeed, there are a lot of people out there with smaller channels but a lot more clout. These are the micro-influencers – those capable of engaging a smaller quantity of higher quality potential customers. Proving that the old adage, ‘it’s quality not quantity’ really is true.
By the same token, ‘quality’ is going to involve context as much as content. The pull of the influencer is that they can be reactive. They deal with real people in real time. Because of this, influencer marketing has the opportunity to tap into interests and issues at exactly the right time; making their product contextually relevant.The Future of Influencer Marketing.
It’s also clear that the age of the influencer is soon to become one that is regularly measured and compared. It’s no longer enough for companies to simply know that there has been some influence brought to bear, they are now wanting to know how much. As influencer marketing increasingly enters the remit of a media-buy, there will, necessarily, be the need for more accountability. Measuring clicks and increases in engagement will soon become a fundamental part of any influencer campaign.
Whatever the future holds, it certainly looks good for influencer marketing. According to a Tomoson study, marketers rated influencer outreach as “the fastest-growing online customer acquisition channel, beating organic search, paid search, and email marketing.” And in the next year alone, 84% of marketers have said they’re planning to launch an influencer campaign. If this proves anything, it’s that even if we’re spending more time viewing devices, we are still essentially moved by human connections and interactions. And we will always listen harder, and longer, to those people whom we trust, respect and admire.
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