There is myriad data to support the idea that influencer marketing should be a core part of your marketing strategy. More than 92% of consumers say they trust word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising. Influencer marketing campaigns drive 16 times more engagement than paid or owned media, while the average CTR of an influencer post is 15%. It’s only .15% for display and .68% for Facebook, on average.
These numbers are pretty staggering, yet marketers are not shifting advertising dollars to influencer marketing at a rate that would suggest acknowledgement of this performance increase. Although marketers know what influencer marketing is, many still don’t quite understand how it works or how to use it. Even when the ROI is substantially higher, their lack of understanding around what it takes to get to the ROI is prohibiting them from taking full advantage of this powerful medium.
The first thing to consider is that influencer marketing should no longer be treated as marketing because audiences don’t view it that way. Audiences view influencers as purveyors of cool, simply because they do cool things. Those things can range from the practical, like giving advice, providing empathy, or applying makeup, to the impractical, like taking ridiculous basketball shots, Let’s Play videos and epic rap battles.
Audiences engage with influencers because they are interested in the content those influencers create. With the exception of the upper echelons of the celebrity elite, who amass followers and gain influence just for putting up a social media account, influencers still need to create content designed to add value and keep their followers engaged.
Just because a person has a large following on social media doesn’t mean he or she is influential. Influencers are influential because they influence their followers to do things, not because they market to them. A steady drip of content that showcases the fabulousness of their life, like Balmain design lead Olivier Rousteing who rose out of relative obscurity to become a top designer, is key in maintaining sustainability. Rousteing did what no one dared do before him; he pulled the curtain back on high fashion. His goal was to make high fashion more accessible by showing what real life looks like, not just the hyper stylized version that plays out on the runways in Paris and Milan (although there is plenty of that as well.) This mass fascination by the public spawned a partnership with H&M and instead of commoditizing the brand, it made it more sought after. This is the power of the influencer, amassed and disseminated in a highly organic fashion.
In this case, Rousteing is providing value in the form of exclusive content. A never before seen view into the life of one of the world’s top designers. From the ultra sleek lines of a simple t-shirt, to the intricate stitching on a leather blazer, watching Rousteing’s creation is breathtaking, but the most shared content tends to be the most candid. The shot of him hung-over the morning after a London fashion show. Or the shot of him working out with a personal trainer next to a glimmering pool just as the sun begins to rise. It doesn’t hurt that Olivier looks like a model himself with flawless skin and sunken cheeks, but he has built his personal brand into an empire using his social media influence to further extend and enhance that halo.
For marketers the benefit lies in crafting a more humanized narrative communicated through the unique voice of the influencer. Balmain was hardly a household name prior to Rousteing and vice versa, therein lies the sell. The core value exchange between brand and influencer is symbiosis. Some influencers are paid for their influence but others, typically those who aren’t already celebrities, exert their influence for free, understanding that by associating themselves with a brand, they can advance their credibility and further validate their message. The opposite is true when influencers sell-out and become brand shills, but the ideal balance is reached when brands simply ask influencers to do what they’ve always done.
Authenticity is key, that should go without saying, but the real value is unlocked when a relevant brand is organically mentioned. For example, if Dude Perfect, makers of ridiculous basketball shot videos, started talking about the benefits of Spalding basketballs, that wouldn’t be a far stretch from the content they normally create. Dude Perfect already talks about the way they meticulously plan their shots, so in that context, mentioning their preference for Spalding because of the superior grip, would feel seamless. This, as opposed to saying, “Go out and buy Spalding balls!!!” or even sponsored by Spalding, is the way brands are going to attract customers in the future. This is more akin to recommendation seeding as opposed to influencer marketing.
The dynamic isn’t entirely new. There are certainly some similarities between the way brands engage influencers now and the way they’ve engaged media in the past. But it has evolved from there and understanding the many nuances of how to integrate the influencer in as seamless a way as possible is key to maximizing ROI and will become even more critical as people get smarter. Influencer marketing needs to err more towards smart, subtle influencer integration, as opposed to overt influencer mouthpieces. If this can be done effectively, brands have an entirely new way of communicating their message and it won’t cost them a dime in media spend.