In the age of likes, followers and reach, the idea of partnering with somebody who has online clout to market your product sounds revolutionary. But influencer marketing is not new. From John Wayne and Camel cigarettes to Tag Heuer watches and whoever’s wrist they find themselves on, influencer marketing is the fastest way to remind people of the aspirations they didn’t know they had.
Screen icons, celebrity endorsers, brand ambassadors, and now influencers. Whatever moniker they have been known by, a popular face does not guarantee success, even when we have the necessary tools to monitor it. Recent blunders like the VW/Moozlie collaboration showed good analytical results but the jury is still out on whether the campaign achieved its objective or not.
It’s time to change the way we think about influencer marketing if we want the universal truth of ‘people influence people’ to remain a truth. The influencer bubble is facing the growing risk of popping. So here is a true-North (or three) to help weather it.
1. Be authentic
The eternal question of how does one market to the elusive millennial remains unanswered. Their preferences seem to change as soon as the latest consumer study is published. The numbers tell us that millennials prefer shopping online, so we close brick and mortar stores. Yet the numbers also tell us that they want real-world experiences, especially when retail-shopping. So which one is it going to be? One thing is for sure – they can smell BS through their phone screens. They don’t want to be marketed to, they want to partner with a brand with a ‘purpose’ – the decade’s favourite brand buzzword.
Beyond social change, ‘purpose’ reinforces the need for every facet of your marketing plan to be intentional. This is especially true for influencer marketing. Have a clear goal in mind. Your chosen influencer is only a vehicle, ensure that your vehicle is the right fit for your ‘purpose’, and vice-versa. If your brief is ‘as many likes as possible’, you’re doing influencer marketing wrong.
Fake influencers are a thing, don’t catfish.. Your brand gives the influencer relevance, not the other way around.
2. Your brand should be the reason for an influencer talking about it
Social media influencers are a great source of credibility for your brand, despite their price tag.
Still, it all comes down to the integrity of your content. If it is not educational, entertaining or useful in some way, it doesn’t matter who you have punting it. You need to give your influencer a reason to want to talk about your offering, besides obvious financial gain. That doesn’t mean the efficacy of your brand lies solely with the talking points you provide your influencer. No amount of clever copy or flashy design work can make an influencer the right one for a brand. Pepsi and Kendall Jenner anyone?
Seriously though, give your influencer a clear brief and let them add their own unique flavour. There are few things as harmful to your brand as having a reputable personality recite a board-approved script.
3. We are all influencers
The advent of influencer-incubators in China – entire agencies that are dedicated to churning out carbon-copy online influencers – is proof that it is only a matter of time before the West feels the same saturation. But it also shows the indisputable power of micro-influencers, online opinion leaders who only have a following of between 10,000 and 250,000 people. Ruhan, China’s biggest influencer-incubator, partners mostly with micro-influencers, allowing them to tap into as many dedicated niches as possible.
Micro-influencers may not have the reach of insta-celebs but they have worked hard for their following the old fashioned way – through real community engagement. And that’s what you ultimately want for your brand. Micro-influencers have the luxury of walking the line between ‘famous trend-setter’ and ‘man of the people’, making their content authentic and premium quality.
But it’s now time to consider influencers on an even smaller scale. Rising Creators – users who have recently dedicated themselves to forging an online career for themselves – number in the thousands. This means that they come at a smaller price but their tendency to partner with multiple brands for the sake of their own growth may affect the authenticity of your message. So why not tap into a group of hundreds of people who (hopefully) like you – your employees. They may have the online influence of the average person, but it is real. After all, humans trust humans. They share their opinions online but their advocacy for their preferred brands is present in the offline space too. In other words, ensure that as their employee, you are one of their preferred brands and that you give them a platform to share this preference.
So where to from here?
Analytical tools are being developed daily to better monitor the effectiveness of influencers. Still, the best way to capture your audience is still through telling stories with your brand. The only difference is that you should cast real people in the lead roles and let them do them.
The winner of the Superbowl wasn’t the New England Patriots, or Jeff Bridges or even the Backstreet Boys. It was Microsoft. Their ad featuring their new dynamic Xbox controller did more than just give the audience an ‘aaaw’ moment. It had a clear product, a clear message and made each of the featured kids an influencer in their own right. And there wasn’t a ‘Hey guys, so today I’ve partnered with X’ in sight.