Influencer marketing is no longer a trend: it's a reality. Everyone in the marketing world is talking about it. From Buzzfeed to Bloomberg, the comments are all the same - if brands can get influencer marketing right, the return on investment is huge. Some of the brands doing it right are generating at a 6:1 return on investment when working with influencers. Even Mark Zuckerberg himself has been quoted talking about the power of influence.
Towards the end of 2015 influencer marketing agencies were popping up all over the place. Technology was being built to automate the process, and brands started requesting the biggest names in the industry to publicly endorse their products. Campaigns we're getting bigger, influencers were getting smarter, and brands were asking questions like what? why? how?
Running the global operations for an influencer marketing platform has taught me many things, but one of the biggest lessons I've learned is the value of understanding why your clients really buy your product or service. That got me thinking.
What, exactly, do brands want out of Influencer Marketing?
While trying to figure this out I'm going to say a few things that might not sit right with you, but I need you to stick with me. In order to understand the future of influencer marketing, we need to understand the past. And to do that we have to throw away our fancy marketing jargon and understand the basics of why brands seek the approval and conversation that only influencers can create.
The first statement that's going to get me into trouble is this. It's not actually about clicks, shares or likes, at all.
Marketers don't choose to run an influencer campaign because of the clicks, shares or likes. That is just the result that proved it worked. Marketers choose to run an influencer marketing campaign because their biggest fear in the world is this...
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, we are humans after all. But what I am saying is that it's important to understand why we feel this way and why our end goal is, essentially, to be more popular than our competitors online. Even if it's just for a moment.
Of course there is the simple reason that we know consumers will buy from brands they like the most. Apple is a great example of this. Ask any person who owns an iPhone why it's technically better than the Google Nexus Phone and they don't have a straight answer - because it's not. But they know they like the Apple brand more, and that's okay. We're humans and we're wired to gravitate towards popularity, which means buying popular brands like Apple.
Oh, and saying Google makes a better phone than Apple is the second statement that's going to get me into trouble ;)
Now that we've figured out what brands are after, let's move on to understanding why.
A very smart man back in 1984, Dr Robert Cialdini, uncovered six principles of persuasion that all humans are wired to react to. These six principles are what most sales and marketing tactics we use today are based on, even 30 years later. Although the technology and landscape has changed, the principles that are most likely to influence us as humans remain the same.
The six principles of persuasion, inspired by Cialdini, are:
By working with social influencers you get to cover three of the key principles. The art of getting influencers to spark conversations around your brand, and in turn getting consumers to talk about your brand publicly, means you're combining the power of social proof, liking, and authority to jump your brand up a spot on the popularity ladder.
If we look at the official definition of popularity, you'll notice that it's made up of the three metrics highlighted above.
Hopefully you see what I see.
So what we thought was about clicks, shares or likes is actually about conversations. Social influencers are just the tools we use to spark those conversations, because as a brand we know that the more social proof and authority we have online, the more consumers will like us.
And let's be honest, people prefer to 'say yes' to brands they like. That's why popularity matters.
Popularity is a very distinct thing and every brand wants it. They know that if they can just be the most popular, the end result will be commercial success because consumers will subconsciously be wired to choose them. So as much as we say that brands turn to Bloggers, Instagrammers and YouTubers to positively influence their consumers, understanding how that actually works is important.
This is my take on it:
Influencer Marketing may be what brands are asking for, but what they really want to achieve is the successful transfer of popularity from influencer to brand.
Influencers are essentially the growth hack that brands across the globe are using to grow in popularity, quickly. And it's working. A great example of a brand that got it right in 2015 was Red Bull. Campaigns such as Felix's Space Jump helped Red Bull increase sales by over 13% after dominating social media with conversation for just a few days. The conversation started with the Red Bull ambassadors, and soon everyone was talking about it. Red Bull didn't have to say a thing.
Call it buying an audience before they buy your product, call it influencer marketing, call it what you like. At the end of the day as marketers we're all just trying to create conversations that will ultimately increase our popularity in the online world - because we know that if we're the most popular, consumers will come to us.