For retailers and brands, influencer marketing is a no brainer, but there’s more to it than having a teen arrange food or makeup and share it on Instagram.
An influencer can be a perfect and powerful add-on to a marketing campaign – as long as you find an individual or brand with great presence in a market, and whose messages have impressive reach, frequency and independence.
There are different reasons why you might get involved in influencer marketing. For some businesses it’s about brand building. For others it’s about promoting a specific product. Regardless, it should always be about giving audiences something that is aligned with your brand, and which they need.
Cosmetics business Mecca, for example, already connects with its consumers on Instagram and Snapchat in particular, sharing beauty tips, giving advice on colour arrangements, talking about the pros and cons of particular products, and more. And, a real sign of success – the community very much drives that conversation.
Under Armour, at the other end of the scale, engages its audience through apps, providing informative content on how to perform well through exercise. It’s a less direct approach because it doesn’t focus on products, but it is very much about engaging with the audience in a way that gives them something they want and is well separated from direct sales.
The trust that comes from building a relationship that is separate from the sales/customer relationship is a powerful offering. And influencers can play a big part in building it by bridging the gap between the customer and the brand – in the eyes of customers, the influencer is ‘just like them’, or who they aspire to be, so they are as removed from any sales process as the customer themselves.
Think first about how you will structure your campaign – who you might market to, through and with influencers.
Marketing to your influencers requires you to identify them, engage in a relationship with them and make them aware of what you offer. You hope this leads to marketing through them. This is when your own brand message starts to pop up in their content – they are endorsing your message.
Marketing with an influencer is a further extension – you act as partners with them and jointly take your messages to market.
Great influencers will vary according to industry, but they’re typically well connected, particularly online, and their peers will often reference their thoughts, reports, tweets and blogs. If they’re an individual then they are likely either a heavy hitter or an emerging player in the retail industry – someone the heavy hitters tune in to.
For example, two people we might use to reach retailers are in that first category, heavy hitters. One is Paul Greenberg, Chairman of the National Online Retailers Association, and the other is Paul Zahra, ex CEO of David Jones and a global retail adviser. What makes both stand out is their market reach, their frequency (or how often they provide an opinion or are quoted) and the market validating what they are saying.
When looking for your own influencers, consider, first and foremost who your customers look to for inspiration and who aligns with your brand message – are your customers and brand young and fun, or solid and dependable?
To then rank those people in terms of their influence on your audience, consider their reach, your audience’s perception of their expertise and independence, and how persuasive they are. Basically, you’re ranking them by how many people in your audience they can reach, and how many of those people will trust them and transfer that trust to your brand.
Trust is a very big thing when it comes to influencers, both brands and individuals. Not only have people like Greenberg and Zahra held very senior roles in their industry and performed highly in those roles, but they are also admirably independent. They’re not providing ‘cash for comment’ opinions and they’re not operating on a level that suggests an abundance of self-interest.
If your influencers are ‘heavy hitters’, their trust is most likely established by their years of experience, or the way they have blazed through the ranks to become a voice that people listen to. If they are a bit of a newbie, they need to be someone the heavy hitters turn to – someone who is listened to because they have their finger on the pulse, are an emerging leader (Lana Hopkins from Mon Purse comes to mind) and keep others informed.
While it may originally seem counter-productive to remove sales from the relationship, this is essential to gain trust. And remember, this is just one tool in the marketing toolbox – it works to complement the other more direct methods, which are tied to sales.
And although sales are removed from influencer marketing, you should still expect a return on your investment. Plus, a plethora of user-friendly technologies available today make tracking the effectiveness of influencer marketing far less of an effort than it once might have been.
Social platforms make influencer marketing far simpler and more immediate than ever before. The ability to produce, easily and at low cost, imagery and videos that can be shared with an audience is also a major contributor to a successful influencer marketing campaign.
As we know, customers are no longer just ‘customers’, they are ‘connected customers’. If you are able to automate your technology to deliver personalised messages in an elegant fashion, then the two relationships – sales and influencer communication – can co-exist to each other’s benefit. The latter creates greater stickiness and it gets the community talking about your product and ultimately buying it, all through the same platform.
Influencer marketing is ultimately sustainable and scalable. It becomes more powerful as it progresses thanks to the regularity of the conversation, as well as the growing number of people involved. It begins with trust, is fuelled by great content, is shaped around your individual customers and is rewarded by greater sales.