Influencer marketing: It’s just a marketing channel

There is a lot of hype about influencer marketing these days and some marketers are getting into a right tissy about it, claiming the number of views will make or break a brand, worrying over the loss of control of marketing messages and stressing about how to discover and select the right influencers. These concerns should be put into perspective – influencers are just another channel to market and companies should be focusing on understanding the opportunity and using it well, starting with what is the purpose of an influencer for your brand?

The purpose of using influencers is for advocacy marketing as brand advocates (historically it was employees or customers) are a proven way to bring in new customers, improve customer retention and deliver big return-on-investment. Successfully emulating this with influencers relies on their “authenticity” a buzz word in influencer marketing because we’ve all got savvier and know influencers get paid to endorse products. Authenticity is linked with credibility and having a truly engaged following otherwise the supposed influencer is merely just adding another piece of mindless chatter to the internet. Your chosen influencer and their storytelling need to genuinely influence consumer behaviours and drive sales, not just awareness – more on this later.

Obviously influencer marketing is most worth the investment when your target demographic is actively engaging with this media.  Statistics show social media is regularly accessed across all generations, however, Instagram’s most active users are in the 18 to 29-year-old demographic. Furthermore, GlobalData found in May 2019 that 39% of UK online shoppers aged 16 – 24 have used Instagram Shopping to buy a product. This is higher than any other age group … it was only 8.4% of 45 – 54-year-olds!

Social media influencers develop their own messages about brands – its a key feature to using them and evidences their authenticity – which inherently means a loss of control over your marketing. To me, the only way to manage this is to be hands-on and choose an influencer that genuinely really likes, preferably loves, your brand and is a person that your target customer will relate to, respond to or aspire to be. This way they should be more on-message. You should approach the relationship just as you would with any other agency, as the influencer market has professionalised and influencers know to get contracts they need to evidence good engagement metrics, long-term brand relationships and ethical standards. Finally, remember that influencers evolve and track your relationship to be sure you continue to be aligned in interests. I recently heard a beauty influencer declare her passion for reducing packaging and plastics, I might agree with her, but some of it was at odds with the sector she wants to promote.

Getting the relationship working well with influencers is undeniably quite hard. I’ve certainly seen it take time, money and effort to have any success, although once a good connection is made it is often robust and has longevity. Get it right and you have the potential for a symbiotic relationship that delivers and is relatively cheap but I don’t suggest you think of influencer marketing as a quick win.

Historically, influencer marketing was all about creating brand awareness. Marketers have got tired of this, realising that creating, spreading and amplifying awareness is not measuring real bottom-line results. So they are now focusing more on measurement and less on follower count, and this will be amplified by Instagram’s shift to not emphasising post likes. Influencers will have to use dedicated, trackable links to measure conversions and monitor traffic coming from posts. Influencer identification algorithms are under development and so are complex modelling programmes to analyse and map an influencer’s content and tone against your brand to see if they have ‘complementary personalities’. The whole market is getting more sophisticated, which is good for consumers, brands and influencers.

It could soon be the case that it is more detrimental not have an influencer marketing strategy than to have one, so it is very important to consider as part of your marketing mix, although your influencer marketing strategy must be weighed up against your use of other market channels, which may deliver better ROI. It makes me smile to think this market is maturing when there is still a demographic that hardly knows it exists, which is why I started this post by downplaying what the fuss is about because, in a straw poll of my peers, none of them had bought anything because of an Instagram post.