In an advertising marketplace where ad blockers are common on mobile phones, where Millennials are jaded about advertising and the digital space is overcrowded, what can a brand do that cuts through the noise?
People's consumer choices are far more often influenced by word-of-mouth. People listen to other real people about their experiences of products and services.
That's where influencer marketing comes in. There are a bunch of influencer marketing platforms out there, such as Little Bird, WordPerks, TapInfluence and others. I recently spoke with the CEO and co-founder of ReadyPulse Dennis O'Malley about the potential of influencer marketing.
First, I asked him what need in the marketplace inspired ReadyPulse, which was founded in 2010. He mentioned that his wife bought athletic apparel from Title Nine. He asked her what it was about the company made her want to shop there. She said that the catalogue included real customers as their models. Not only that, they shared the stories of their customers. That sounded right to O'Malley, "They put their customers front and center in their marketing, and I thought, 'Why isn't everyone doing this?'"
At the time, most of the customer input online was in the form of reviews and comments, often posted anonymously. It was hard to tell what was a fake review. O'Malley says he thought, "Wouldn't it make sense for customers be able to communicate about brands in a way that is social and visual?" What if customers were put front and center with Twitter streams, product reviews, and real-time Instagram photos as ads?
"A lot of brands know that to get to the two million social customers who use mobile exclusively, ads often just don't work," says O'Malley. What works? He says real people and crowd-sourced content.
I asked O'Malley what made ReadyPulse different from the other influencer marketing software and services out there.
"All our social influencers are authentic and credible content creators. They are not paid to post. We bring them directly into relationships with brands," says O'Malley.
The ReadyPulse platform not only finds influencers for brands, it also manages permissions for brands and provides both analytics and other tools to help content creators get better.
I recently wrote about how some brands fail to get permission before sharing user generated content on social networks such as Instagram. This kind of behavior isn't good for brands, who appear to be stealing images and ignoring copyright. But more than that, says O'Malley, brands should go "beyond permissions" and build a relationship with content creators. "There is a good way and a bad way to do things, and we take the high road," says O'Malley. "The relationship between a brand and their influencers should be one of trust and transparency and that is only possible through a direct connection."
"Marketers and influencers tend not have the time to be up to speed on the newest rules from the FCC and all the legalese, so our platform takes care of that side of things for you," says O'Malley.
I asked O'Malley why content creators are willing to work for free, which seems to me like one of the murkier parts of this whole system. What are their incentives?
O'Malley suggests that there are three big reasons why influencers do what they do. The first is they want a direct connection to the brand. It's exciting when a brand elevates a piece of your content or puts your photo on the big screen at a stadium. "You get your own 15 megabytes of fame," says O'Malley.
A connection with a brand can also give visibility and credibility to a content creator within his or her own industry, which has real public relations value. As well, a connection to a brand might allow an influencer to pass on benefits to their own audience, such as discounts or new info.
Lastly, once a brand has discovered a content creator who does a really good job, their relationship could grow into a sponsorship of some kind. Content creators aren't paid to tweet or write posts, but they might get other kinds of benefits with real financial value.
Also, O'Malley says, who doesn't want to get "discovered for what you do?"
Before we got off the phone, I asked O'Malley if he had any parting advice. "There is real momentum in influencer marketing. When put to good use, it works really well, better than other forms of marketing. User generated content is just more effective."
One of O'Malley's rallying cries is, "People trust people, not ads."
According to their website, ReadyPulse "customers experience an average of 30x return on investment." Now if only I could take a photo of that kind of value and put it on Instagram, I might become an influencer myself.