The key to modern marketing is staying ahead of trends, or better yet, defining them. Brands are always eager to explore emerging platforms or experiment with approaches to reach cynical consumers who love to avoid ads.
One such case today comes in the form of social media influencers. Influencer marketing is a strategy that has expanded rapidly in recent years, with spending rising from $2 billion in 2017 to $10 billion in 2020, and spending projected to reach $15 billion by 2022.
But is influencer marketing right for your brand?
Before jumping on the trend bandwagon to redirect your marketing efforts and budget, it’s important to understand how to start a strategy behind this marketing trend, identify its suitability for your business, and ensure that your company is properly prepared to get the most out of it.
What is Influencer Marketing?
Though influencer marketing campaigns come in many shapes and sizes, the basic concept is consistent: you partner your brand with an online personality who possesses an established following, and usually within a niche demographic or subject area that aligns with yours.
Influencers grow and maintain social media accounts (most commonly on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok) ranging from a few thousand followers (micro-influencers) to a few million (mega-influencers).
A social media following is generally cultivated through common interest, entertaining content, or affectionate devotion to a charismatic influencer. By enlisting an influencer to promote your brand or products, you not only gain access to their audience but the endorsement of a trusted figure delivering authentic non-invasive content that will be voluntarily consumed.
To retain the loyalty of their audiences and preserve their authenticity, influencers need to work independently through creating content that is primarily their own but incorporates your brand or product promotion. Such arrangements can be foreign to many marketers who are used to creative control and it requires both trust and caution – especially for brands with delicate reputations.
Additionally, monitoring the reach and impact of influencer advertising can be challenging. Accurate viewing metrics can be hard to validate, while goals like “brand awareness” and “enhanced trust” are difficult to measure. Marketing teams will need to set up systems and use tools that come with important features that allow them to track partnerships, manage collaborations, and marketing budgets, making it easier for them to measure ROI and overall impact.
Is Influencer Marketing Right for Your Company?
It goes without saying that different products require different approaches to marketing. Cologne, Loreal, Kool-Aid, and Lego all target very different types of consumers, but in an age when society itself and media consumption are increasingly fractured, it’s more critical than ever that companies identify optimal advertising niches.
With 63% of consumers trusting influencers more than traditional brand advertising, influencers represent an appealing marketing channel for most industries. But whether they’re right for your brand will depend on your service or product, your target audience, your marketing goals, and your competition.
Consider your Service or Product
Given the casual and yet kinetic nature of their content and the platforms they dominate, it’s not surprising that influencers primarily promote products that are visually appealing, easily demonstrable, and have sales driven by popular buzz. Does your brand fit these categories?
A Look at Visual Appeal
Instagram was the platform that originally gave rise to influencers, with beautiful photographs that inspired and motivated others to own, taste, and experience the same experiences depicted on the platform.
Food and beverage influencers are very popular in this regard, as are travel influencers that compel us to copy their adventurous, and fashion influencers who make the latest styles and trends come alive. If your product has eye-popping qualities, showing it off in the realistic setting of influencer content is far more convincing than a staged studio shoot.
Find What’s Easily Demonstrable
Popular influencer content often involves demonstrations, reviews, and tutorials of the products they’re endorsing. The social proof conveyed by a trusted influencer is invaluable in improving your brand’s authenticity and thus moving viewers towards a purchase once they have seen how a product works.
If your product is more appealing in use than it is in a photo, let an influencer prove it.
For products that are new to the market and need to catch on quickly as a matter of survival, word-of-mouth enthusiasm can help create that buzz. Or for products that carry a price-point that’s prohibitive until a customer trusts the deliverables (tech, fitness, auto), spreading the word via a trusted source who loves your brand or product is a great way to overcome resistance.
If your product fits any of these categories, it might be a great fit for influencer promotion. However, remember that influencer content tends to be authentic, unvarnished, and promoted with the truth rather than with slogans or ready-written content – so honestly assess whether you have a good product with features that will help the influencer bring it into the spotlight it deserves.
Reach Your Audience
With influencers largely tethered to social media, it’s important to determine whether your audience actually uses these platforms. Social media users tend to be younger with moderate disposal income, so luxury products, larger investments, or services tailored to an older crowd may not be best suited to this type of promotion.
Likewise, if your customer base or brand identity is more on the conservative side, then the free-wheeling guerilla marketing approach of most influencers may not work.
Conversely, if you’re looking to put a more vibrant face on your brand or seeking to expand your market penetration into a younger demo, employing the right influencer might just be the ticket. Don’t simply consider who your audience is – but who you’d like them to be.
Apply Your Marketing Goals
Influencer marketing campaigns have proven highly effective, but are more tailored to raising awareness and shaping perceptions than generating direct sales.
Ideally, entrusting influencers (and their followers) to generate content can deliver fresh brand messaging to targeted audiences while bypassing blocked ad channels with authentic material. This heightens visibility, increases credibility, boosts organic engagement, and improves overall SEO performance.
If these are goals that vibe with your overall marketing strategy, you should strongly consider connecting with an influencer. But if mass direct sales or strictly controlled messaging are important to your business, then traditional channels may be a better fit.
Assess the Competition
If you’re still undecided whether influencer marketing is right for your business, take a look at what your competitors are doing. With 79% of marketers increasing their spending on influencer marketing, odds are that some of your competitors have already enlisted influencers and have committed to the approach.
After doing some digging into your competitor’s strategies, you may find that they are already one step ahead of the influencer game, but the revelation may also supply strategic insight on how you can differentiate yourself in a crowded market, give you an awareness of how it works, and provide you with the courage to finally take the plunge into the influencer pool.
Is Your Company Ready for Influencer Marketing?
Once you’ve decided that influencer marketing is the right strategy for your brand, it’s time to ensure your company is prepared to handle influencers.
Just as the method of marketing is unconventional, so too are the infrastructure and preparations necessary to best leverage this approach. Here are some preparation strategies you can implement to get yourself ready and in the best place to optimize this type of marketing.
Identify the Best Influencers to Represent Your Brand
The most important element of successful influencer campaigns is finding the right influencers who align with your message and brand. The wrong choice can be counterproductive, embarrassing, and a waste of resources. Scour social media, monitor other marketers in the field, and/or enlist a dedicated service to find the optimal voice and demographics for your business.
Develop a Holistic Strategy
Your strategy should incorporate the independent vibe of the influencer, align with the authenticity of their posts, be flexible enough for other marketing channels, and maximize the deployment of additional assets that will be created.
Decide on Appropriate Goals and Metrics for Your Campaign
Recognizing that traditional measures like clicks, sales, and views are far less relevant to influencer marketing than engagement, earned publicity, brand awareness, identity perception, and secondary traffic will help you create realistic goals and expectations before launch.
Ensure your social media account is ready for an influx in traffic
Generating buzz on an influencer’s account will do little if the portal to your brand is outdated or messy. Make sure your links work, update your website, coordinate your cross-platform strategies, get your front-end content such as IG highlights ready.
Be Prepared to Collect New Data Provided by Your Potential Customers
Don’t allow potential customers to visit your account and website without providing them with opportunities to stay in touch with your brand. Collecting email addresses and developing an email list is crucial.
Being able to reach and engage your audience with email marketing remains one of the best marketing strategies to use today, according to Toronto-based online marketer Gary Stevens of Hosting Canada, who says “many pundits have claimed that email is dead.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
According to countless studies, email marketing is still more effective at engaging and converting users than any social media channel in existence, and when you have the right tools at your disposal, email marketing is actually pretty simple.”
Secure a Healthy Budget and Ongoing Commitment
Invading digital space with organic messaging is rarely an overnight viral success, but a gradual evolution geared towards building awareness, credibility, and loyalty. Done right, influencer campaigns will pay off in the long game, but demanding instant results may undermine them from the start. So be sure that you can commit to the campaign by allocating a healthy budget.
For some businesses, it may mean a complete rebranding in order to stay relevant and move away from traditional marketing strategies to introduce new approaches, which isn’t easy. But if you can implement these recommendations effectively, you’ll be ready to incorporate influencer campaigns to your overall marketing strategy.
Influencers deliver fresh content and instant credibility to trusting targeted audiences outside the traditional pipelines of digital ads. The authenticity and inherent social proof such content can provide is unachievable via legacy marketing methods, but also isn’t suited to every industry.
If your product is visually alluring and demonstrably engaging, and if your brand has the vision and strategy to capitalize on an organic expansion of brand awareness, then entering the influencer game might be the best marketing move you can ever make.
About the author: Nahla Davies is from Brooklyn, New York. Since 2015, she has worked with enterprise clients around the world developing RegTech protocols and best practices. She shares her insights at nahlawrites.com. Follow Nahla on LinkedIn.