Influencer marketing has become the industry’s hottest go-to strategy – just take a look at all the celebrities on your social media feeds that are encouraging you to try that beauty product they claim you ‘simply cannot live without’. Brands are investing big budgets in influencer marketing, enticed by the opportunity to amplify their content and attract new business. But is this buzzworthy trend all that it’s cracked up to be and, most importantly, is it a sustainable strategy for brand success?
The truth is, influencer marketing was bound to be alluring to marketers. Word of mouth has always been the most effective way of getting a sale, people trust people, especially people they know and already trust. So influencer marketing is very much an extension of that, albeit with slightly different circumstances with it being, you know - the internet.
Step forward the ongoing challenges of ad-blocking and banner fatigue, digital advertising has somewhat lost its appeal and marketers are seeking alternative strategies. Immune to ad-blocking with its native approach, influencer marketing makes a lot of sense, especially because consumers are already receptive to recommendations when they’re shopping. In fact, according to research, over 50% of internet users claim to seek an expert opinion before making a purchase, sites like Which? base their business model on this.
With the rise of YouTube review channels and trust focused websites like TrustPilot it’s logical that people will look to others for advice and recommendations, especially in the social space. The people who give this advice are really where influencer marketing is at its core - just as they would their friends and family. This then casts a wider net, scaling out from here to people that have similar tastes, or are interested in similar things, right up to people you admire or are entertained by.
Quick Jump: Summary
- As The Space Becomes Saturated, Audiences Could Become Disengaged
- Brands Need To Focus On Sincerity And Relationship-building That Matches Their Ethos
- You’re Probably Getting Influencer Marketing Wrong Like Everyone Else
- Trusted Collaborations Are The Best Collaborations
- Follow Fraud? Get Over It
- Track The Return!
- Are You Paying Attention?
As The Space Becomes Saturated, Audiences Could Become Disengaged
Influencer marketing isn’t as fool-proof as it sounds. As more and more brands and businesses jump on the bandwagon, there comes the threat of influencer fatigue, but also of impact reduction. Between the high-profile celebrities that are paid to hold handbags, and the lesser-known micro-influencers that review free products, promotional content is beginning to clutter up our news feeds. Not only this, there are only so many products one can recommend before audiences switch off or lose trust, over saturating and disengaging the audience. Just as they turned to ad-blockers when sites became overloaded with ads, there’s the chance that they’ll turn away from influencers in exactly the same way.
There’s also little sign in our data that this is becoming a major route to reach consumers. While it could be argued that it’s harder for consumers to recognize when they’ve been influenced by or exposed to an influencer (as opposed to a TV or print ad), it’s just 14% of digital consumers who say they discover brands via celebrity or influencer endorsements.
This is a figure that has remained remarkably steady over the past couple of years, despite the influx of influencer posts. We do see a slight peak to 17% for 16-24 year-olds, but even here its impact is limited when compared to other strategies, like traditional advertising. Digital consumers are about 3x as likely to say they discover brands via TV or online ads, for instance.
For us at Disrupt, this makes a cohesive strategy all the more vital for social marketing success. We believe that influencers are a vital channel, more so than these stats suggest, but it needs a solid approach and a 360 campaign in order to drive maximum impact. Influencer marketing should be used not just as a media channel to “reach” but to add credibility to a campaign. Yes there is a performance element to the channel if done right, with the right incentive relevant to the audience you're speaking to, but it can be much more.
Brands Need To Focus On Sincerity And Relationship-building That Matches Their Ethos
With the supply of influencers at an all-time high, it’s actually starting to lose its personal touch. And a backlash against influencers who aren’t authentic will certainly follow, so brands need to be prepared for this. They need to be smart, focusing on sincerity and building a long-term relationship only with those who fit with their messaging and ethos.
We know influencer marketing can drive huge success, if the balance is right. It’s already proved to be a success for several brands. Back in 2015, department store Lord & Taylor collaborated with 50 Instagrammers, asking them to Instagram themselves wearing a specific dress on a specific day. The result? The dress sold out in lightning speed online. And then there’s L’Oréal, which shifted its investment from traditional media to influencers, reportedly seeing a positive impact on sales - all thanks to the influence of its ‘Beauty Squad’.
The key to success is trust. If there’s no genuine story behind promotional content it’s just that and your audience will tune out. It’s only a matter of time before consumers turn their backs on the influencers who have clearly been paid off by brands. Part of the reason for L’Oréal’s successes is because it partners with micro-influencers rather than just high-profile celebrities. And by allowing everyday women to critique products, the content appears authentic and believable.
Storytelling is what should prevail in every marketing strategy, and brands need to come to terms with that fact. If you’re wondering what success looks like, it’s about marketing with influencers, not influencer marketing – and making sure their audience reflects the personality of the brand their promoting.
Influencer marketing can translate into valuable attention, but that only holds true if the practice is taken beyond apparent product endorsements. Getting an audience to empathize and relate is far more effective than blatantly trying to make a sale. And an overloaded use of influencers is not a sustainable strategy either, so it’s time to get it right before the influencer bubble finally bursts and ruins it for everyone.
You’re Probably Getting Influencer Marketing Wrong Like Everyone Else
Word of mouth, the most powerful form of building trust, has been around since the beginning of time. And when it comes to influencer marketing we seem to be overlooking the fact that the practice is just word of mouth, at a much bigger scale.
For a brand to feel like it’s winning at awareness it has to be embedded in culture - that’s where trust is formed. And when it comes to influencers and using word of mouth, there are a few things to consider:
- Credibility : do you believe them and do they scream authenticity?
- Rigour: do they have the right to talk about and recommend things?
- Empathy: do you believe that what they say is true and do you get a sense of responsibility on a personal level?
These 3 things add up to trust. And that’s what breeds success.
Trusted Collaborations Are The Best Collaborations
Marketers need to realise that influencer marketing should come down to harnessing the power of collaboration. And choosing the right person to work with depends on a lot more factors than just their follower numbers. Collaboration means hand-picking someone that can be trusted to deliver a credible and trustworthy message to people that would otherwise be difficult to reach, or ‘cold influence’.
This marketing technique is often placed under scrutiny, resulting in disproportionate blame or skewed results, that give the industry and the practice, a bad name. At Disrupt, we call it ‘marketing with influencers’ and follow a rigorous approach around our triangle of trust - and that's just to get the right influencer in the first place.
Follow Fraud? Get Over It
As with most things that gain popularity, there are some problems that come with influencer marketing. These issues don’t just arise from ‘follow fraud’ of the influencers, they equally stem from the due diligence and negligence that brands and agencies have in place. If brands and agencies didn’t give so much value and bargaining power based on the size of an influencer’s audience, then we would expect to see a lot less desire for deception.
When the difference between 90K followers and 100K followers is thousands of pounds, it’s no surprise that there is a clear incentive for influencers to boost followers. Truth is, we’ve created the monster, and we’re the only ones that can take it down.
But enough of the excuses, it’s time to look at better ways of measuring someone’s influence, and that should go way beyond engagement and follower numbers - and if you do your due diligence correctly, you'll be able to navigate around the fraud anyway.
Major key - Aside from the obvious ways to spot follow fraud, such as spotting dodgy account names and pictures, look for high numbers of associated pages that are either fan pages, or curation pages for things in that or a similar category. It’s common for DM groups or “pods” to drive up engagement, and this can usually be spotted by the same people liking and commenting. Other tell-tale signs are comment quality, 1000 emoji comments just won’t cut it!
Track The Return!
Despite popular belief, influencer marketing is actually one of the easiest types of marketing to track — much more so than TV or radio that still rely on outdated audience surveys and ‘reach’. The number one reason brands find it hard to track the return from influencers is that they don't actually know what they are looking to achieve in the first place. I've broken down the four key marketing metrics and their measurable outcomes below.
Are You Paying Attention?
As it stands, it’s the industry and even brands themselves that are just as accountable for the poor practices and reputation influencer marketing is currently shouldering. While everyone is focusing on follow fraud, its the ROI that should be the real focus. There always has to be an element of faith in marketing on some channels, attribution has always been a challenge, but real ROI can come from the simple act of having a plan, and an end goal. Figuring out what you want - action, attention or awareness, can help you mould your campaign more effectively and enable you to define your measurements of success.
The influencer bubble has been tarnished with the PR brush, delivering poor metrics such as ‘reach’ as benchmarks for success. But with the decline of organic reach, algorithms and feed visibility we have to look beyond. Even still, the industry merits influencers based on their following and engagement, and while this can be gamed, real attention can’t. It's just a different ball game, so we need to bring new metrics together.
Brands should be demanding a target watch time, swipe rate, number of genuine views and engagement rate that are agreed upon in advance. These can be based on business goals, and agencies should be able to supply stats like cost per click, as purchase decisions are easy to determine with the right tracking measures in place.
Influencer marketing delivered effectively shouldn’t be centered around views, but should be about authentic and brilliant content that’s perfectly crafted for a highly engaged audience.
So instead, marketers should be looking to set up and run their campaigns based on solid business objectives, and the ROI they get from them. For instance, trackable links provide clients with a look at the genuine click-through rates, making it possible to assess specific details, such as if someone goes on to make a purchase, enter a contest, or genuinely engage with the brand.
Spending big budgets to work with influencers based on metrics like follower numbers and impressions is not the smartest way for brands to assess the value that they are getting from influencer marketing. These are dated metrics that go back to a time when a million views on YouTube used to be something that was remarkable. This is no longer the case, and understanding this is crucial if brands want to achieve victory in influencer marketing.
If you’re working with influencers, or planning to do so in the near future, download our 6 step guide on how to earn attention with influencer marketing