For several years, Influencer Marketing has been a buzzword. For a while, it seemed like everyone was trying it, but no one could tell you exactly what it was. Reports on its efficacy varied wildly, and no one could say for certain whether it was a passing trend or a meaningful change that would have long-term effects on the advertising industry. But those uncertain times are long past. Not only has influencer marketing been established as measurably effective, it has proven to be more effective than traditional advertising strategies. While only 3% of consumers admit to buying products based on celebrity endorsements, 30% say they would purchase a product based on a blogger recommendation. Consequently, influencer marketing has blossomed from a niche industry to being used by 75% of brands.
“A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is- it is what consumers tell each other it is.”
— Scott Cook, founder and CEO of Intuit
I have personally observed this shift during the three years I have worked at Obviously, a top influencer marketing agency. In that time, the company has more than quadrupled it’s size and continues growing every day. We moved from a few desks in a shared office to taking over the entire space, which we will soon outgrow. The rapid expansion has showed no signs of stopping, as more and more brands come to understand our value. An effective influencer strategy is not only useful, it is essential to running a successful marketing strategy today. The reality is that the marketing landscape has fundamentally changed. Scott Cook, the founder and CEO of Intuit, declared, “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is- it is what consumers tell each other it is.” If we rely solely on traditional marketing techniques, it could prove extremely challenging to have any effect on the story consumers tell about our brand.
The problems with traditional advertising boils down to two basic causes: trust and fatigue. According to a 2017 survey by Havas Media, only 22% of brands are trusted. This isn’t to say that consumers believe brands are intentionally lying to them, but rather that brands do not live up to consumer expectations in terms of creating content that is relevant to their lives. The survey explains that “the vast majority (84%) of consumers expect brands to produce content that ‘entertains, tells stories, provides solutions (and) creates experiences and events” (ClickZ). With expectations like these, it’s not surprising that banner ads and pop-ups fall short. In the past, consumers just wanted brands to make a product that works, but now they are looking for something a lot more meaningful. While this may seem like a tall order, it makes sense when considering just how much content consumers are exposed to on a daily basis- between 4,000 and 10,000 piece of content each day. This is an incredible amount, and it’s exhausting to attempt to navigate the internet with the constant interruption of advertisements. It’s natural that users would expect more from brands in order to cut through the noise, or they’re simply not going to pay attention. User frustration is evident by the heavy use of ad blockers or the decision to navigate away, or bounce, the moment an ad appears. The bottom line: there is simply too much information out there for consumers to pay attention to mundane messaging from brands they don’t trust.
What brands need, then, is an intermediary, someone whose recommendations consumers do trust and whose content is welcome information rather than clutter. Enter the influencer. Influencers are everyday people with the ability to spur a specific group of people toward a particular action. They differ from celebrities in that, rather than being household names, they have small, highly engaged audiences that care deeply what they have to say. As described by Forbes, being an influencer “isn’t just having a lot of followers. It’s also driven by expertise and credibility on subject matter and the relationship between the influencer and his or her followers.” In other words, influencers feel more like a friend giving recommendations than a celebrity promoting a product, and it’s common sense that consumers trust their own friends more than advertisements. Furthermore, influencer content isn’t seen as disruptive in the way those 10,000 daily online ads are.
“I do not want to look at a traditional interruption marketing message… Whereas I always want to find out what people I’m interested in are reading or what they’re buying, because I know that they’re a natural filter for things that I’ll be interested in.”
— Joel Backaler, Author
As international marketing expert Joel Backaler, explained in an interview with Obviously, “The fact is, I do not want to look at a traditional interruption marketing message… Whereas I always want to find out what people I'm interested in are reading or what they're buying, because I know that they're a natural filter for things that I'll be interested in.” Interruption marketing is the perfect terminology to describe how traditional advertisements differ from influencer recommendations. No one wants to be interrupted in the middle of doing something, but influencer content neither frustrates nor disrupts. Instead, it is a welcome addition to content customers are already interested in, captivating them with something they are already seeking out. Customers captivated this way tend to be much better customers. They don’t just purchase products once; they follow and engage with the company online and remain loyal to the brand. According to a study by McKinsey, “marketing-inspired word-of-mouth generates more than twice the sales of paid advertising, and these customers have a 37% higher retention rate.” With metrics like that, who could deny the importance of influencer marketing?
But influencer marketing does more than merely solve the problems left by traditional marketing; it opens new doors as well. It has proven to be an essential tool for brands looking to capture an international audience without spending the massive amounts of money required in the past. It is no longer necessary to open offices in foreign countries or even work with ad agencies internationally in order to market your products overseas. Countries as far-flung as Sweden and South Africa, Australia and Brazil all have thriving influencer communities and audiences that are committed to both local and international creators. The ease of collaborating with influencers around the world is giving brands the opportunity to capture audiences they would never otherwise reach. For example, Lenovo’s successful #goodweird campaign saw growth not only in the brand’s targeted markets, such as the US, India, and Russia, but also in unexpected additional markets such as Pakistan. Unlike old-fashioned media like television and radio, the social media landscape is not subdivided by country. It’s just as easy to access a website for a US-based company form Paris as it is from New York. And, although the US still takes the lead in terms of the popularity of influencers, Latin America, Europe, and Asia are rapidly closing the gap. In fact, Latin Americans are accessing their social media accounts more often then US users, with 80% of Latin Americans reporting updating or viewing their social media account every single day. Backaler confirms, “it’s really a global phenomenon that's developing differently in different countries.”
Additionally, Influencer Marketing has made it possible to break into closed markets such as China, where there is heavy online censorship and significant hurtles for brands trying to set up profiles on national social media sites. In his book, Digital Influence, Backaler describes how working with influencers allowed brands to sidestep these roadblocks. Rather than having to provide a local phone number in order to get verification codes to establish a local subsidiary (all of which are required to create a profile on Chinese social media) marketers could share their products via influencers who were Chinese citizens and already had social media profiles. What’s more incredible, the brands were able to do this largely without paying influencers up front, instead sharing free products and forging a relationship with the influencer.
But all of the many benefits of influencer marketing would be meaningless without a strong ROI. Fortunately for us, that’s no problem. “A survey from digital agency Burst Media found that influencer campaigns ‘earn $6.85 in earned media value for every $1.00 of paid media” (Adweek). This impressive 1 x 6.5 ROI is actually a conservative estimate, with some studies suggesting even higher numbers. How is this possible? Because of the quality of the relationships between influencers and potential customers. Influencers measure their success not by how many eyeballs their ad reaches, but by how many actual engagements they have. This is measurable consumer behavior that indicates genuine interest within a dedicated community.
“A survey from digital agency Burst Media found that influencer campaigns ‘earn $6.85 in earned media value for every $1.00 of paid media’”
Additionally, Influencer Marketing is surprisingly inexpensive, with many of the best micro influencers willing to collaborate for product or event invitations alone. Influencers value their authenticity and objectivity above all else, and receiving large paychecks from brands can actually damage their reputation with their followers. For brands, this means that treating influencers well and forming sincere bonds with their collaborators can go a long way- much farther than the so-called “mighty dollar.” In 2017, an impressive 36% of brands reported spending less than $5,000 on influencer campaigns they described as successful. Meanwhile, only 2% of brands spent any more than $100,000 on a single campaign. You just don’t have to spend a fortune to get a great result from an influencer campaign. Finally, Influencer Marketing ROI is high because influencer content is evergreen. Sure, posts may disappear down an influencer’s feed, but brands are free to repost and share on social media to their heart’s content - provided they properly cite the influencer. Content such as videos and blogs are even more effective, as they are often sought out specifically by users, even months or years after they were originally posted.
Unsurprisingly, the most successful influencer campaigns set out with a particular goal in mind. The three most common goals for an influencer campaign are: 1) raising brand awareness 2) growing followers and 3) generating sales. It’s important to understand that sales generated through social media can’t always be measured through an influencer’s direct link. Often, consumers will see a product on an influencer’s feed, research the product themselves, then make the final decision to purchase. Repeated exposure to a brand online, especially from a trusted source, is the best way to generate brand sales long-term. This is why “76 percent of marketers look to increase general awareness through influencer-marketing campaigns and 71 percent look to reach new audiences.” (Adweek.) ROI on these campaigns is most often measured through impressions, but they can also be instrumental in growing a brand’s own social following. Influencers who ask their audience to follow a brand contribute to brand lift. “Brand lift takes brand awareness a step further and refers to a measurable increase in your social media or website presence” (Social Media Examiner). By requesting that their followers follow the brand, the influencer’s audience has been converted into the brand’s audience. And a brand’s audience is highly likely to make repeated purchases over time. This is why the majority of marketers assert that influencer marketing results in better customers then traditional ads. The goal isn’t simply to generate a one-time sale, but to form a community around the brand, and transform the brand into something relevant and vibrate, producing they type of content that consumers expect.
Clearly, influencer marketing is no passing fad. One third of marketers already hold IM as an essential component of their overall marketing strategy and a whopping 94% of brands who have tried IM have considered their campaigns to be successful. With impressive and measurable ROI for multiple desired outcomes, the potential for international reach, and the low costs of running influencer campaigns, the importance of influencer marketing could not be more clear. The only question now is, when will you get started?
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