Influencer marketing has been gaining an immense level of attention over the last few years from brand marketers. In 2018 and beyond, leading brands will move from experimentation to transformation. This means not only optimizing the efficiency and impact of their existing programs from a marketing point of view, but also working across organizational, financial and management processes that are directly impacted by the development of influencer programs.
Earlier this year, Brian Solis from Altimeter released a new research piece in collaboration with TopRank Marketing and Traackr, delivering the first detailed evaluation of the current state and future evolution of the practice. Based on input from more than 100 senior marketers from leading brands, the report has already been vastly commented in the press.
The purpose of this article is to go to the next stage, identify what it means for global brands as they move from experimentation to transformation and highlight the 10 priorities we see driving the agenda in such organizations.
For years, marketing budgets have been structured around campaigns, peak of media activity around launches or specific times of the year such as Christmas, Back to School, Black Friday, Mothers’ Day etc. With influencer marketing, organizations are revisiting their budgeting process, integrating high activity periods into longer-term programs and allowing for specific activities outside of traditional peaks.
Another challenge for financial planning is that relationship-driven influencer programs require longer term commitments and the capacity to aggregate resources from the different departments involved in the process – PR, Social, multiple brands etc.
It also often requires realigning resources from agency spend to in-house staff: not a simple process in most organizations where headcount is under a very tight control.
Altimeter's research shows that influencers impact multiple departments in the organization (see chart). Collaboration around influencers is a key challenge in all companies: internal processes need to be able to identify influencers throughout the organization and define specific service levels at each contact point.
Companies are also looking to integrate their influencer network with their customer data and ensure they are managed as such through the CRM program, customer service, on their website or even on the shop floor.
Most influencer activity was born locally with PR or social teams organically extending their remit to include influencers in their scope. However, with more than 70% of organizations thinking of influencer relations as strategic, the practice is being increasingly integrated into global brand strategies.
It means that many global brands have started developing their own centrally managed influencer activities, engaging key influencers across the globe on international campaigns. This new type of program naturally creates new coordination requirements with local teams driving programs locally with –potentially- the same individuals.
Global brands have been working on streamlining their social media presence and providing strong global guidelines on their publishing strategies. In the same way, they will audit existing influencer programs across their organization, start closing irrelevant initiatives and ensure that local influencer marketing practices are consistent with global guidelines.
It also means that global companies will leverage technology partners to provide consolidated reporting on influencer programs globally.
Smart companies are starting to build bridges between earned influencer activity and paid media to maximize the impact of their program, as sponsoring influencer content through paid support helps increase the reach of selected influencer content.
Some companies are even starting to use one-to-one targeting possibilities on social platforms to target specific influencers with relevant brand content as a part of their engagement strategy. In years to come, most advanced brands will run experiments to use programmatic advertising to target influencer audiences with personalized content.
As influencers become part of the marketing funnel, they also will be integrated in the overall digital marketing strategies. A key step in that direction will be the integration of influencer-based data into DMPs and other marketing planning tools.
Many brands, especially in the B2C sector, combine organic engagement strategies with paid approaches with selected star influencers acting as official brand ambassadors. With many reports in the marketing press about erratic pricing and an increasingly significant investment level, influencer agreements have come under scrutiny from many procurement departments looking to bring clarity on price drivers and optimizing investments across groups.
On such reviews, procurement experts will focus on accessing detailed data from potential intermediaries (agencies, paid networks) and identifying widely differing transaction costs and pricing between campaigns or brands for the same influencer.
More advanced teams will also look at optimizing spend based on detailed audience analysis, managing potential overlap between influencers.
With influencers becoming an integral part of a brand's communication strategy, this is no surprise that legal and compliance teams have also started to get involved. Brands managing significant influencer programs are working on internal rules and guidelines that clarify how the company wants to engage with influencers. This includes pre-engagement validation of influencers over reminders around confidentiality risks, guidelines around potential conflicts of interest with employees. In regulated industries such as financial services or pharmaceuticals, it will also define internal approval processes for any initiative that involves such 3rd parties.
Most importantly, as the regulator has started to put pressure on the industry, larger brands are issuing very clear engagement rules that reflect best practices around advertising regulations and disclosure. These can be as rigid as forbidding teams to engage with influencers who cannot demonstrate an exemplary track record of disclosure with the brands they have contracted with in the past.
Agencies have been playing a strong role in the experiments and initial set-up of influencer activities for brands and will keep playing a role in creating attractive content and engagement strategies.
However, as influencer relationships are getting more mature and strategic, organizations have started to bring influencer management capabilities and expertise in-house. Some brands have already started to request from their partner agencies that they use their influencer management platform providing visibility on engagement and independent measurement on success.
A major difficulty for brand organizations is to acquire talent and develop internal competencies in influencer management. The trend to recruit influencers themselves to manage influencer programs has accelerated with a view that such influencers will bring their own network and understand the codes of the community to the benefit of the brand.
The new “influencer manager” on the other hand needs to fully represent the values of the brand and have a deep understanding of its history. He/she will also need a deep understanding of the organization to coordinate the interactions with influencers throughout customer service, marketing or PR.
Influencers want to relate to brand representatives on a personal level and have access to internal experts that can bring their specific knowledge into the relationship. Gaming influencers want to engage with experts of a specific game, not with a generic communication person.
With brands engaging across multiple communities, identifying and training relevant internal contacts for each influencer archetype is a huge challenge and will require a specific approach and process coordinated by the HR department.
With influencer investment planned to increase significantly (see below), CMOs are asking to move up key performance indicators on influencers to the overall marketing dashboard.
Advanced brands are moving away from vanity metrics such as overall reach or from misleading indicators inherited from old-school PR such as EMV (Earned Media Value) to concentrate on metrics that truly reflect the brand's performance. Such top level KPIs typically include activity indicators (number of engaged influencers by tier for example), measures of output such as brand mentions or share of voice and success metrics such as engagement data.
Lastly and most importantly the main and 10th takeaway from the report is the rise of technology. Integrated, collaborative Influencer Relationship Management solutions will enable organizations to improve the impact of their program, to generate efficiencies and to pilot their activities based on consistent data and information.
Influencer marketing is becoming one of the key drivers of digital transformation in organizations. Make sure it is on your change management plan.
Most charts are extracts from the original research recently published by Traackr, TopRank Marketing and Altimeter. The full report is available here.