The most sought-after brand relationships in all of marketing are coming less and less from famous celebrities, and more and more from wildly popular online “influencers.” Effectively leveraging the power of influencers offers tremendous value to marketing executives—but only to those who truly understand its potential.
As a still-emerging marketing discipline, there’s a lot of confusion about what, exactly, influencer marketing is and how it works. Here are a few things every CMO should understand about this developing trend if they hope to use it as a new source of marketing ROI:
It’s Not the Same as Celebrity Endorsement
Perhaps the closest traditional analogue to influencer marketing is celebrity endorsement. In both cases, your brand partners with a popular personality (often with a financial incentive involved) to publicly engage with your product in the hopes that consumers who value that individual’s opinion will also be compelled to engage with your brand.
But having Michael Jordan drink your sports drink in a commercial is wildly different from arranging for a niche blogger to write a post featuring your brand. Though there are some fundamental similarities, there are some practical and technical differences that a CMO must understand:
- Audience: Celebrities typically have very broad followings of people that follow them for their athletic performance or their role as an entertainer in various media. Those audiences tend to be relatively diverse and not share a personal connection with that individual’s values and opinions. On the other hand, an influencer usually has a smaller, more specific audience that specifically follows that individual because they find that individual’s thoughts valuable or entertaining. Additionally, celebrity endorsement may have more weight among older audiences, while Millennials and younger consumers overwhelmingly favor popular influencers.
- Developing relationships: It’s rare to directly make a connection with a popular celebrity to secure a paid endorsement: there are often several layers of middle-men and agents that have to be worked through before any personal contact is made. On the other hand, most influencers operate on their own accord and strike their own deals personally. At most, there may be an agent-like third party that partners with a network of influencers to help facilitate brand partnerships legally and logistically–it’s rare for web influencers to be entirely behind a wall.
- Production value: Celebrities are constantly in the lime-light. They’re often publicly seen as attractive, and have the help of makeup artists, fashion designers and agents to manufacture a certain image. But an influencer could be almost anyone: for instance, the most popular YouTube influencers include a 20-something Swedish video game player, a comedic brother duo, and a music video parodier. Their personality and content are almost entirely self-created, without the careful eye of a brand manager watching their every move. As a result, celebrity endorsement might add glamour and awareness to your brand, whereas an influencer tends to provide a more personal, authentic (if less polished) connection.
The ROI is Probably Better Than You Think
The immediate effects on conversions and sales of an influencer campaign are fairly easy to measure through trackable links, specialized landing pages, and e-commerce tools like specialized promotional codes. A basic ROI calculation can be drawn simply by counting ad clicks and conversions driven through influencer links and comparing it to how much you invested.
That alone is often enough to convince CMOs that influencer marketing is a worthwhile investment. But there are other secondary factors that can be harder to quantify but have undeniable value nonetheless:
- The domino effect: If one popular influencer has a positive engagement with your brand, it may inspire other influencers in the niche to reach out to your brand for partnerships or take initiative and create their own content featuring your products for free.
- Brand reputation: Even if an influencer campaign doesn’t motivate immediate action, a positive experience between an influencer and a brand can put the brand top-of-mind in the future when a better opportunity for purchase arises. And remember; that audience is very specific, and thus should be highly targeted (and highly valuable from a LTV perspective).
- SEO: Influencers often have high-authority blogs and websites of their own, and linking to your content can be an enormous boom to your SEO staffing. Furthermore, the general online and offline buzz of an influencer’s statements on your brand creates in traditional media and social networks can also contribute to overall better SEO rankings.
What’s the bottom line? All told, influencer campaigns can return “$6.85 in earned media value for every $1.00” spent. But you’ll only get that kind of ROI if you have a well-run campaign overseen by a proficient digital marketing executive and executed by supremely talented influencer staffing or influencer consultants.
You May Have to Give Up Some Control
One aspect of influencer marketing that might make some CMOs nervous is the lack of control they have over an influencer as an independent actor. Though traditional endorsements can be carefully manicured messages recorded for commercials or handled through a professional manager, this is not always the case for an influencer who will be mentioning your products through organic content creation.
In fact, unless you have a strict contract that explicitly states what an influencer may or may not say in your agreement (which can be difficult to secure), they may even say negative things about your brand. For instance, if you pay a popular tech blogger to review your new gadget and they happen not to like it, they may decide it’s their obligation to their audience to share their honest thoughts, which would reflect poorly on your product and potentially hurt sales.
This is why it’s critically important to have highly talented influencer marketing staffing creating your strategy and running your campaigns. An experienced influence marketer knows how to choose the most trustworthy and capable influencer partners, and can provide them with the proper brand guidance and training to appropriately reflect your business and products. And of course, maintaining your own brand image and producing high-quality goods and services make it much less likely you’ll get negative attention from influencers.
It Requires Dedicated Resources and Expertise
Influencer marketing is closely aligned with many other aspects of marketing—social media, sponsorship, content marketing, digital branding, and more. But while influencer marketing should work hand in hand with these complimentary disciplines, it is still fundamentally different and requires its own budget and talent assigned to carrying it out.
What that means for your organization specifically will vary depending on your needs and capabilities. A properly executed brand marketing executive search or public relations executive recruitment should be able to source a leader that can adeptly create an influencer strategy and manage the budget. Then a core influencer relationship and management team augemented by marketing influencer staffing should be built to engage high-value influencers and promote your brand.