Connecting with people is embedded into human nature. Today, the shifting media landscape with its rise of new technologies has amplified this custom by empowering the individual. Social media has allowed for real-time connections to be made between people who are miles apart. Ad blockers and cookies have given us the control over what we want and do not want to see. Most importantly, the digital universe has become a breeding ground for new communities and niche networks. Collectives with a voice and capacity to make movement happen.
So how can brands connect with an audience who put people at the top of their most trusted list?
The Power of People
It is no assumption to say that word-of-mouth is the most powerful form of marketing. According to a Nielsen study, 84% of consumers say that recommendations from friends and family are the most influential and trustworthy source. Influencer marketing is, in itself, an offshoot of word-of-mouth marketing. It offers a solution to the cultural shift from mass messaging to intimate exchanges by putting the brand message in the hands of individuals. Ultimately, it allows them to story-tell in a genuine, authentic way. Their trusted voices reach an interested audience.
This can only be achieved when a brand puts the creativity in the hands of the influencer. Without creative freedom, content loses its authenticity. Therefore, content strategies that place emphasis on the notion of co-creation between brands and influencers are key for influencer marketing. In this sense, traditional branded content is replaced by dynamic online ‘movements’ which are headed by relevant faces in the industry. These movements offer consumers something to participate in or engage with rather than simply absorbing. A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is, it is what consumers tell each other it is. That is why influencer marketing is a vital part of the marketing mix and is not going anywhere fast.
Influencer Marketing is Not Advertising
Consumers are congregating into niche networks and are increasingly difficult for brands to reach. Our access, however, lies with thought leaders or ‘influencers’. As noted by Douglas Holt in the Harvard Business Review, today’s “crowdculture” has deflated conventional branding models and given rise to an alternative – cultural branding – in which brands collaborate with crowdcultures and champion their ideologies in the marketplace. Influencer marketing taps into this dynamic. People engage with and react better to people they know, trust and admire due to their expertise or passion for a product, service or topic.
However, success is dependent on the right match between influencer and brand. When the match is perfect, the message communicated will reach the right audience and will strike the right balance between authentic and on-brand. Influencer marketing is therefore not ‘advertising’. It is also the reason why influencer marketing goes beyond numbers. Whereas the placement of traditional TV adverts is highly dependent on the number of viewers, influencer marketing looks further than just audience reach. The size of an influencer’s following is the easiest way to measure their popularity, however it will not guarantee consumer engagement. Instead, it looks closely at the interaction between an influencer and their community. The deeper the relationship with the following, the more powerful the influencer. This is why smaller, niche influencers are more effective than the ‘bigger’ influencers who function as mere broadcasters. A perfect fit is crucial to allow brands to build on the influencer’s authority and ultimately boost its ROI.
Moving the Masses
Influencer marketing does more than simply spreading a brand message. A study by McKinsey & Company confirms that “marketing-induced consumer-to-consumer word of mouth generates more than twice the sales of paid advertising”. Influencer marketing instills consumer action and motivates buying intention, especially for collectives such as millennials who are hard to reach by other means. In short, it works.
How? Good influencer marketing starts conversations which reach others, who also start conversations. The use of a hashtag, for example, is a great way to motivate and measure consumer engagement. This initiates an earned media ‘snowball effect’, which ensures that brands get the most for their marketing dollar when they invest. Only, however, if the influencer-match is 100% spot-on. A well-matched combination yields great content, which encourages conversation, or the creation of more content, and so the cycle continues.
Here to Stay
As marketers, we all know that we need to stop broadcasting messages to audiences and really connect with them. People believe in and follow other people, and this is a fact that will remain to be true for the rest of time. The age of social media has only magnified the opportunities that this fact holds by allowing us to connect with people in a scalable way so we can make an ever bigger impact. By channeling these realities, influencer marketing is only accelerating and redefining consumer-brand relationships. Watch this space.