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10 Ways to Future-Proof your Influencer Marketing Program

Sep 14, 2016

Guest post by Leslie Deamer

The last few years in digital marketing have been a rollercoaster of change – something out of “Future Shock.” Working in continual “hair on fire” environments, it’s surprising that marketers (and their agencies) aren’t checking into sanatoriums in record numbers with smaller budgets, thinner margins, fewer resources, less control, and a decentralized, overcrowded, and ever-shifting marketplace. Layer on to that:

  • An utter explosion of content (content cost down and distribution lanes up – this is inverted from 10 years ago)
  • Agencies and advertising business models in question (agencies are being replaced by consumers and their business models aren’t always aligned with their client's interests)
  • Word of mouth is generating more than twice the sales of paid advertising in categories as diverse as skincare and mobile phones
  • Celebrity endorsers don’t produce business results

As a professional services executive, my experience has covered the gamut of brands, agencies, software solutions, services consulting, and digital marketing. You could say I’ve learned a thing or two, especially from the most successful and awarded campaign in history: American Express’ Small Business Saturday/Shop Small.

Being Bold Pays Off--Especially During Changing Times

Working on the brand side taught me the importance brand equity, how fragile a brand can be, and how tough it is to get things implemented across the enterprise. But it also taught me that it pays for a brand to be bold and innovative especially during changing times. Take AmEx for example. In the face of an economic downturn and being in the center of a denigrated financial services industry, it saw an opportunity to reposition itself in a distinguished way by helping small business merchants (that were closing in record numbers) make their customers feel great about helping the “little guy.” This allowed AmEx to be seen as part of the solution and not part of the problem. In addition to being inspirational, “Small Business Saturday” was the first social media movement of its kind, leveraging national (including President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg), regional, and local influencers. I learned a crucial lesson with this program: being bold also means letting go and trusting the expertise of your partners in a brave new world.

As consumer distrust increases, the role the influencer now serves as the ultimate concierge and curator for providing signals in the sea of infinite content noise.

Influencer marketing is the biggest driving force in Marketing today yet the practice is still in its teenage years with many players, misinformation, lack of integration, methodology, and measurement.  It’s no surprise then that brands are insecure and confused about what moves the needle and how to properly implement influencer marketing and management.  Social buzz and recommendations play an even bigger role than thought on both direct and indirect sales.  In fact, 3% of influencers generate 90% of the impact, so finding the right influencers is paramount. With that said, there is a huge untapped middle market that will be the next opportunity.

Putting my consulting and professional services hat on, I wanted to share some advice with global brands (and the agencies that love them) for navigating in the current environment.

Here are 10 ways to unbeatable influencer marketing during these changing times:

  1. Never lose sight of business fundamentals. Make sure your influencer marketing programs are aligned to your business goals of increasing revenue (awareness and leads resulting in sales), reducing costs (product development or economies of scale) or improving the relationship with your customers (brand advocacy).
  2. Determine how to deliver usefulness to people, not consumers. As we all know, broadcasting the value of your brand has gone the way of the Dodo bird but looking at your customers as just consumer-bots is not going to work either. The brands that are winning and will continue to win are those that are plugging into lifestyle and culture and are focusing on making people’s lives better. I love this perspective provided by Izzy Pugh of Added Value:  The best brands “use their resources to deliver usefulness. And they move culture forward for the benefit of the people they serve.”
  3. As a rule of thumb, brands should be looking hard at organic influencers instead of paid influencers. According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers trust recommendations from friends, family and peers above all other types of advertising. In fact, McKinsey research shows that marketing-induced consumer-to-consumer word of mouth generates more than twice the sales of paid advertising in categories as diverse as skincare and mobile phones.
  4. There is a time for paid influencers; however, it’s a tactic. You should only pay an influencer if they are creating a tangible thing (product) or deliverable for you or they fill a specific or discrete requirement for a tactic or campaign. You should not pay them for their opinion about your brand. For some additional rules of the road when using paid influencers, refer to Pierre-Loic Assayag’s top notch, "The Seven Golden Rules to Paying Influencers".
  5. Develop long-term, strategic “always-on” relationships with your influencers. As with any relationship, the investment of time cultivates rewards over the long run. Real influencers don’t take kindly to “cold-calling” for campaigns. Even if you were able to get them to participate the results probably won’t be successful nor sustainable. If you already have a relationship with an influencer based on mutually-beneficial values and goals, then it becomes much easier to approach them with an opportunity. The initiative or campaign becomes one touch point along a relationship-based continuum.
  6. Master WOMM or risk a huge vulnerability to your brand. While most marketers believe that Word of Mouth Marketing (WoMM) is the most effective, only 6% say they have mastered it –which reveals a huge vulnerability with brands. Influencer Marketing, as a formal practice, is relatively new– educate yourself and don’t get swept away by the hype.  I think the “paid” influencer marketplace is taking advantage of the ignorance and Fear of Missing Out (FoMO), relying on what is familiar (“paid media on legs”) and easy (tactical, ad hoc and transactional). Don’t be fooled.
  7. Know who the right influencers are for your brand – and that changes based on context (topic, timeframe, and geo). I’ve seen many a brand make a misstep focusing on reach within an industry as their main criteria to identify influencers.  Here’s a great example on how to do it the right way.
  8. Don’t confuse “advocates” with influencers. Advocates are already customers (or employees), who love your brand and who willingly share your content. Think of them as marketing amplifiers who, as Michael Brito says, “have emotional equity” in your brand. Influencers are trusted authorities within a niche who are behavior change agents. Think of influencers as the concierge to your target market  - they will onboard your new customers.  Both have an important role in your marketing strategy.
  9. Integrate your influencer marketing across all marketing functions: PR, HR, Customer Success, Product Marketing, Community Management, and Marketing so that the consumer hears one voice, your influencer feels your coordination, and your company and departments are all in sync regarding the activities with that influencer.
  10. If you can't measure it, you can't improve it. Understand what metrics apply given your business goals, initiative and program and how to measure them.

It’s a very exciting time (again!) in marketing. Why? Because constraints and challenges always separate the wheat from the chaff and produce innovation. Some will be able to cut out the noise and focus on the business essentials and some will get distracted and lost in the forest. I’ve been to these transformational rodeos a couple times now and I’m grateful I’ve partnered with a company like Traackr that saw the light early on and has evolved alongside with real maturity and substance.

Do you agree with the advice I’ve offered to brands and their agencies? What points would you add? Leave a comment, I would love to hear your thoughts.

About Leslie Deamer

Leslie Deamer is a digital strategy, marketing and delivery professional who has spent the past 15+ years at Tech start-ups and agencies helping Fortune 500 organizations define and deliver digital marketing services that drive awareness, lead generation, and sales through compelling campaigns and engaging, targeted content. Leslie has led and grown high-performance teams at Traackr, Sprinklr, Publicis, Digitas, Sapient and Viant. Connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.