Why Marketing Should be Dropped From “Influencer Marketing”



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 varticle-2269300-1734324D000005DC-331_634x632iew 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 241B449700000578-2876938-image-m-46_1418779629199Balmain 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 ofOLIVIER_R____olivier_rousteing__•_Instagram_photos_and_videos 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 veBalmain-Designer-olivier-rousteingrsa, 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 imgrestalking 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.







Social Media’s Role in Pharma Communications in 2014

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Just a few short years ago, pharmaceutical companies wouldn’t in their wildest dreams have considered leveraging social media for consumer marketing purposes. But now with consumer expectations, demand and appetite, dramatically changing, Pharma has been put on notice. The viability of social as a channel has shaped a new form of communication across the globe. Gone are the days of consumers being satisfied with one-way dialogue. The social web has promulgated a transparency between brand and consumer the likes of which have never been seen and Pharma can no longer be the exception. Still, this shouldn’t be something CMO’s and Brand Managers cringe at, on the contrary, this shift in communication should be welcomed.

Though social may not result in legal and regulatory becoming more lax overnight, they must become more inclusive. Consider the FDA, who just a few weeks ago, announced a predominately positive stance on social media. The definition of an AE does not extend as far as we all had originally anticipated and a brand’s responsibility for social communication has been significantly reduced.

This monumental communications shift is still in its infancy but branded social experiences, such as Gilenya and Lunesta, have already amassed thousands of fans on Facebook while Boehringer-Ingelheim has succeeded in generating widespread engagement by using conferences and events as venues for live tweeting and Q&A. What’s more telling perhaps, is the way these social experiences have impacted the larger conversation. They are the first branded Pharma properties to invite two-way dialogue and they’ve increased brand related conversation across the entire web, not only on their respective properties.

Extrapolate these results out over time and expand them to include more integrated tactics with paid media and a case can be made for more robust social strategies and tactics. Aside from the obvious external benefits, which include building awareness and informing preference, social can provide more immediate patient care, better access to information, greater adherence, connectivity of patient populations and more efficient dissemination of knowledge. Internally, social can help support stakeholder alignment, corporate communications, recruiting, culture and advocacy. The real-time element of social and the ability to scale messaging globally make it not only impactful, but time relevant and highly efficient.

That said, there is a risk. We all know this. But it can be mitigated exponentially by implementing processes ahead of time so brands aren’t scrambling to address collateral damage in the form of negativity or AEs. The belief is that, brands are starting to realize, the benefits far outweigh the risks and social is more than a gaudy accessory, it’s a necessity. With that knowledge, steps are being taken to create the foundation necessary to scale social efforts across organizations, therapeutic areas and global economies.

SXSW Diaries Part 1: Key Takeaways from SXSW Interactive Trade Show 2012

I am back in NYC and better than ever after seven exhausting 18- hour plus days at SXSW. The show was a smashing success and there are a number of key takeaways I want to share with other companies, agencies and brands looking to throw a party, exhibit at a booth or employ guerilla-marketing tactics in and around the city of Austin during SXSW Interactive. Below is the first in a series of three posts I am going to share, which detail the pros and cons of exhibiting at the convention center during the interactive portion of SXSW.


This was my 2nd time at SXSW, but it was my first time as an exhibitor and the first time that I threw a party or did a sponsorship. Although our party was a tremendous hit and our sponsorships worked out great for the most part, our booth was a disappointment. I should actually say that our booth was great, but the trade show was a bust for exhibitors. Yes we made some good contacts on Monday, but Tuesday through Thursday traffic dropped off dramatically and meaningful conversations were nowhere to be found.

This isn’t my first rodeo when it comes to trade shows. Fluent does close to 20 trade shows a year and I probably attend half to three quarters of them as an attendee, speaker or exhibitor, so I know how to gauge traffic, quality of conversation and overall value. At the end of the day, the SXSW Interactive Trade Show feels like a sham for the exhibitors inside the main convention center’s inner hall. The companies and brands that can secure booth space in the outer hall (the ring around the inner hall) which is open to everyone with or without a badge, do considerably better. This is because the outer hall is open from Thursday through the following Thursday, to align with the SXSW Interactive Festival.


An Interactive Festival by definition means that people should be able to interact and engage with a specific piece of content, a booth or an exhibit. The outer hall was filled with such exhibitors and they all did a great job providing badge holders and the general public with a highly interactive experience. The inner hall, although it did feature some interactive displays and exhibits, was largely about showcasing digital companies, agencies or brands. And because the opening of the inner hall Trade Show didn’t align with the Interactive Festival, it seemed more like an afterthought as opposed to an intricate part of the SXSW experience.

Just to recap for those who have never been, the SXSW Interactive Festival starts on Thursday night but the first full day is Friday. The Interactive Festival then runs Saturday, Sunday and most people either leave sometime Monday, or early Tuesday morning. For those reading closely, I understand you might be confused because I just noted that the Interactive Trade Show runs from Monday through Thursday. This means that you are just getting started as an exhibitor in the Trade Show, when everyone else there for the Festival is leaving. To validate my point, all you have to do is look to the top of SXSW.COM, the official site for the show, and you can clearly see the dates for Interactive. The 9th – 13th is Friday through Tuesday.

It’s perplexing I know. The Trade Show should start on Friday and end Monday or Tuesday afternoon, to align with the actual days of the Interactive Festival. To all those exhibiting, it feels like you’ve been taken by SXSW. The amount of money it costs to exhibit isn’t worth the booth traffic you receive on the best day, which is Monday.


The net net here is that unless you have a booth in the outer ring of the convention center, that’s highly interactive, you are paying to exhibit for three days after your core audience has left, assuming your audience is people who are attending the Interactive Festival. Why the Trade Show doesn’t align with the Festival has eluded me, but what I do know is that the $7,500 I paid for setup and to exhibit wasn’t worth it. Next year I’ll be more wisely spending that money on platinum badges for my team, then sending them out to proactively network during day. We will skip the hours spent loafing around a booth talking to UT students and faculty about how great the new Wi-Fi hotspots are on campus – it’s simply not worth it…

This week look for SXSW Diaries Part 2: Key Takeaways for Throwing a Party or Doing a Sponsorship

Next week look for SXSW Diaries Part 3: Key Takeaways for Guerilla Marketing

The Importance of Experience in Mobile Applications

In the wake of Foursquare’s recent version update that includes badge leveling, I thought I’d take a look back at Foursquare’s early beginnings and how they beat out competitors in the space to become the number one location-based service for checkins.

The most important thing to consider when designing and building a mobile application is the experience; more important than design, more important than look and feel, more important even than platform. Before I explain, lets first look at the development of two very similar apps focusing on the gamification of LBS. We all know Foursquare and some of us probably even use it on a regular basis, but who has heard of and uses Gowalla? If we examine the Gowalla user base that number is far smaller, around 1.5 million users compared to Foursquare’s 10 million users. Why is there such a dramatic rift in the install base of two very similar apps? They both focus on gamifying check-ins, they both launched about the same time and they both reward users with badges for checking in and power use. With a feature set so similar you’d expect parity, but that just isn’t case.


I think it’s safe to say that at this point, Foursquare has emerged the victor with the biggest chunk of repeat LBS users.  And the reason…? Because it provides a better experience. During the first iteration of both apps, before any major updates, they were both incredibly similar save for two major differences. Gowalla prohibits users from checking in to locations they are not in the immediate proximity of. Foursquare takes a more liberal approach and lets users checkin regardless of where they are located. This precipitates the second difference, speed of checkin. Because Gowalla’s backend is forced to work overtime confirming the exact location of the user, then matching that with the surrounding location, this inevitably becomes a longer checkin process. Foursquare only uses LBS to detect nearby locations but it’s not requiring users to be within a certain proximity of the place they are checking-in to.  Foursquare checkins are a one step process and typically take half the time. Physical proximity and speed of checkin facilitate a better user experience and form the deciding factor in Foursquare’s victory.


Most people who have used both applications agree that GoWalla is better designed and has cooler looking badges. In an application that relies on gamifying the checkin and then rewarding users for it, you’d think design and badges would be everything – and although those are two extremely important elements, experience is going to win out every time.

Foursquare Profile

Does it really mean anything to be a Foursquare Mayor?

I currently hold 6 mayorships on Foursquare. I wouldn’t consider myself a super user but I have a large friend network so this isn’t too bad considering. It’s fun to walk into a place that you frequent and then receive a unique offer simply because they want to give you a little something extra. In New Orleans, a place I called home for 5 years, they have a saying for this called lagniappe. A French Creole word used almost exclusively in Louisiana that means “a little something extra.” This may come in the form of something you receive at the time of purchase, like the extra donut in a bakers dozen, or even a compliment, something for good measure.

In Foursquare, lagniappe is typically extended at the time of purchase. At Starbucks this means $1 off a Frappuccino, while Pizza Hut rewards mayors with free breadsticks. This is different than rewards you earn for checking-in. In Manhattan many of the bars and restaurants on Third Avenue reward users with a free draft beer the first time they check-in, while mayors receive 15% off their tab. There is a clear distinction between a reward you receive for checking-in and a reward you receive for achieving mayor status. Greater rewards are extended to mayors as these are the people who return most frequently – the regulars.

Foursquare, in their 3.0 release a few months ago, created a “Specials” section in the main nav where users can search nearby destinations based on whether or not they offer rewards for check-ins or for mayors. This update came in response to critics who said brands had no way to clearly monetize the LBS and “Specials” is a feature loyalty programs can be built upon. Clearly this is something that Foursquare wants to emphasize and it’s not surprising that so many brands want to participate. It’s really a win-win situation for both user and brand if executed properly. The user receives a tangible reward for their loyalty (lagniappe) and the brand receives ongoing customer loyalty and social props that will probably come in the form of evangelism on the social web.

This all sounds good in theory, but unfortunately in reality, it’s not so simple. I was at BLT Fish in Manhattan just last Friday. I have held onto the mayor title for the last 6 weeks and I’ve been anxious to redeem my reward, which is pretty generous – a free lobster roll. I shared my excitement with Twitter and I even got a couple of responses from @BLTFish as you can see below.

I went Friday night at around 6:00 before any real dinner rush had formed. I beelined it to the bar for a few drinks and to show the bartender my mayor status as instructed by Foursquare.

After a few drinks I sat down to order and then showed the server my phone before he put the order in.  The server, who was clearly channeling Todd from Wedding Crashers and probably shouldn’t have been in the service industry to begin with says, “Ohhhh yeahhh I’m like so sorrrry, this is like only good at like the barrrr.”   His insincerity and cloying tone immediately prompted me to ask for the manager who then told me the same thing. Knowing this was wrong, I referred to the above tweet and offered the phone up, twitter message clearly displayed, for validation.  The manager said he would check with corporate before shuffling off.  Unfortunately he never returned.

I guess I was most disappointed with the fact that the manager never came back to apologize, or even to inform me the roll wouldn’t be on my tab. My server also disappeared and sent 3 other people to bring out my food and drink. Good or even decent customer service would dictate an apology or at least an explanation, especially considering the whole reason I hold the mayorship in the first place – I’m a regular. I go there, I check-in, I spend money.

My point is this, if you are going to run a Special on Foursquare then all the details need to be communicated from the top down. Starbucks uses a “Need to Know” sheet that is posted next to the cash register. This includes detailed information on Foursquare promotions and rewards, as well as the promotional code the server should be using when tabulating the bill in the system.

Many brands that run Specials fail to do this and it is an unfortunate, albeit common problem. The main objective, when offering a Foursquare Special, is to promote positive experiences and increased loyalty.  So when the mayor, or whoever else is checking-in  receives their reward, they will then evangelize their experience on the social web and via word of mouth.

Even though BLT Fish begrudgingly honored my mayorship, I am left with a bad taste in mouth – the fish was good but the service and overall experience were terrible. The question I posed to the Twitterati is this: “Is my one measly lobster roll really worth losing me as a customer and even more importantly, the negative sentiment that will be amplified throughout my social network?”

Sadder still is how some words are lost in translation across a thousand mile divide. The only lagniappe I received was a headache followed by a stomachache. That’s a little something extra I would have cared to avoid.