As traditional marketing methods continue to decline in popularity, influencer marketing has become the go-to tactic to connect with consumers. However, when executed as a tactical add-on, rather than a strategy, influencer marketing falls short.
I recently had the opportunity to interview a global thought leader who is pioneering strategic influencer marketing for his clients. It’s my pleasure to introduce Sebastian Jespersen, CEO and President of Vertic, a strategic digital agency dedicated to creating groundbreaking solutions for Fortune 500 companies across industrial, healthcare, CPG, and technology industries.
Coming from a management and strategic consulting background, Sebastian’s industry experience inspired him to rethink marketing in order to make marketing relevant again. Thus, Vertic was created to make sure the investment put into marketing had more transparency in regards to the return.
The following eight questions reveal our conversation around influencer marketing and how Sebastian has seen the practice evolve:
1. How have you seen the influencer marketing space evolve over the last 5 years? And how has it specifically impacted digital agencies?
SJ: Influencer marketing has always been around. Companies like GE have been working with influencers since Thomas Edison founded the company, but it has been difficult for them to do it at scale.
Much of the advertising we see today is not adding any value for many consumers; they perceive advertising as intrusive, a complete waste of money. The vast majority of consumers would not care if 75% of all brands disappeared tomorrow.
Advertising has become a poor man’s tax. A lot of business models have come forward, like Netflix, where you pay to get rid of advertising.
With consumers stepping back, how can brands now create a different model where they still have a need to get their product, services and messaging out there? To me, that’s where influencer marketing is a key component.
What has happened over the last 5 years is that you are starting to see technology that enables brands to scale influencer marketing across the globe.
2. How are you seeing most brands tackle influencer marketing? Are most approaching it strategically or do they silo it off from the rest of the marketing strategy?
SJ: There is a fundamental issue that brands do not really understand influencer marketing. They are trying to shift the money from traditional paid media over to influencer marketing, but are doing so on a tactical product launch level. I believe this is a huge mistake, and the prime reason why some do not have success.
3. What’s it going to take for brands to understand that they are essentially moving the money to another tactic?
SJ: Influencer marketing belongs at the CMO level. Brands and agencies need to treat it as a strategic objective, an always-on initiative. You can’t look at influencer marketing as something that stops and goes. Why should you stop influencing?
The key to influencer marketing is addressing what do your customers, potential customers, and key stakeholders actually care about? Once you identify that, you need to invest some of the money that you are using in paid media into driving unique insights and content to provide to the influencers.
The influencers then become the distribution channel for these unique insights and content, which is in the interest of the stakeholders or the customers.
4. What are some examples of driving unique insights with influencers as a distribution channel?
SJ: For brands to be able to resonate with their consumers, they should tap into the topics that they care about, and value. For example, if you’re a bottled water company, then you should identify ‘hot topics’ that your target audience is highly engaged and involved in, yet are naturally related to water or hydration. It could be sports, child development, pregnancy, or diet.
Another example could be a B2B brand that produces stone wool insulation. In this case, the brand can tap into topics such as fire safety, indoor wellbeing, energy efficiency, or CO2 emission. These are all examples that stone wool insulation plays an important part in yet are highly relevant to your target audience.
Instead of having an influencer promote a brand, and tell consumers to buy it, they would be providing insightful content such as a study, or an article that adds value to the consumer’s experience.
This approach ensures the development of authentic relationships with consumers that can go a long way.
5. How should digital agencies and brands start when forming an influencer strategy to build ongoing relationships?
SJ: We have created a 5 W model:
- You need to identify WHO is it that you like to influence. It’s not everybody. So, understand who.
- Then you can use the who to answer: WHAT do they care about? How can we provide value to something that they value? That’s the WHAT.
- The next bit will be WHERE. Which channels should we do this in?
- And WHEN? We’ve reached a tipping point where now most consumers spend most time online rather than offline. So when? In the morning? Lunch time? Afternoon? Evening?
- The last bit is WOW. How do you make them say wow? Once you have those components ready, you then identify the influencers with whom to build relationships.
Never start with the influencers, instead start with your audience and then break that down into sub-segments. Use the 5 W model and then identify the right influencers by being very specific, and having something unique, interesting and compelling to say.
6. Could you share some insights on setting KPIs to measure success and align with the overarching marketing impact?
SJ: From a CMO perspective, the influencer program should be aligned with the overall objectives for the business. What is the most important agenda for the company over the next 12, 18, or 24 months? From there, you start to align the KPIs of the influencer program accordingly.
If you start with thinking, “We want to have 10 or X amount of Influencers that are talking our content up and writing about it,” you are starting at the wrong end, at the tactical level.
Influencer marketing should accelerate the conversions in between the different stages of the customer journey. You must understand where you need your influencer program to have the biggest impact, to solve your biggest challenges.
7. How can agencies bring unique value to influencer marketing programs?
SJ: Agencies have an obligation to help brands understand how influencer marketing fits in an overall ecosystem. Influencer marketing should not be an isolated island. How does it fit in with all elements of your marketing? With an always-on model, agencies represent a managed service, but the company should be able to operate influencer marketing internally. Agencies ensure that the customer journey is aligned across the different touch points.
8. What is the unique value that Vertic brings to influencer marketing?
SJ: We’re having conversations with our brands about doing influencer marketing the right way. It’s a tough journey; it’s not easy to tell them, “Whatever you have done so far, it’s not influencer marketing…it’s paid advertising.” It needs to be a mind shift.
You need to set the right KPIs so it fits with business objectives and ensure that it’s a cohesive journey from the consumer’s perspective.
That, to me, is the value that Vertic brings…we do not go out and sell influencer marketing as a service and as a standalone thing. It’s embedded into what we do. That is an approach that many companies are quite relieved about. They have a social media department, so should they have an influencer marketing department? Of course not, it’s embedded into what they do.
I'd like to thank Sebastian for taking the time to share his unique expertise and insight around influencer marketing strategy. To go deeper and get started with strategic influencer marketing, read The Guide to Influencer Marketing, your customer-centric blueprint for the practice.