Influencer marketing: What’s the real deal?

A recent Australian cross-industry survey found an average of 38 per cent of total marketing budgets will be allocated to influencer programs this year, with premium fashion retailers dedicating more than half of their budgets to influencer marketing. This is in light of research also showing that nearly a third of online shoppers engage with influencers multiple times a day and 85 per cent have been inspired to purchase based on an influencer endorsement.

The appetite is clearly there, not least helped by the attention put on the marketing machine behind the Fyre Festival, which demonstrated how you can deliver an almighty buzz through influencer engagement (the analysis of the event operations can be left for another day).

However, despite being in its relative infancy, influencer marketing has reached a crossroads in recent months, as brands get to grips with how influencers can really make an impact on their business. Marketers understand that influencer marketing has its merits, but they want more information and insight to get them to sustain – and potentially increase – their investment.

How can the age of “renting” space on a popular personality’s digital network actually make a tangible difference when it comes to driving sales?

Work out the why

There are two key considerations that brands need to consider when they are investing in influencer marketing.

The first is – why? Every week, I see many brands working with influencers who have posted about a brand or product without answering that very question. The result is posts that look contrived and out of place both for the brand and the influencer themselves, cheapening the brand’s reputation and failing to sync with their identity. I’m sure if you scroll through your Instagram or Facebook newsfeed, you can spot something that will make you think “eh?”

Brands need to fully engage any talent they are working with and take them on a journey. What does your brand stand for? Why do people love it? And what motivates them to purchase? If you haven’t got that research, then ask the talent what they think. They are removed from the intricacies and nuances in your brand’s world and you are seeking to tap into their real estate as part of the investment.

A key consideration to bear in mind is that many influencers are just consumers themselves, who, for various reasons, have amassed a following. This is both a challenge and an opportunity.

The challenge is that thinking like a brand and helping to “sell” is not something that is second nature to these personalities. Funnily enough, it’s not training that comes up with participating on The Bachelor or Married at First Sight! So many influencers often need direction to push them that way, but without being put in a position by brands that they are in a bad advert. It needs to feel real.

The opportunity is a reflection of the challenge. Assuming you are working with someone who would be in your target audience, they should think and behave just like your consumers. Use their non-marketing brain to your advantage and you might hit on a way to reach your consumers in ways you had never even thought about before.

They also know their audience very well, but the trick is in how you utilise that knowledge. And it starts with asking the right questions. What do they like? What do they dislike? What inspires them? These are foundation questions where you will start to uncover some very useful insights that will help to make for greater content. Their journey should ultimately mirror the journey that a consumer should ideally take on the way to buying a product.

It’s a powerful platform and this is where the word “influencer” really should do its job in shaping a potential customer’s opinion and mindset. They are your case studies of people championing your brand and product experience in the way you want it to be delivered.

Find the proof

But if they are not fully bought into your plans and are treating it more as a clinical “cash for comment” activity, you might want to reconsider what they are going to actually do for your brand.

This brings me to the second key consideration – proof. It goes without saying, before you buy any service or product, you want proof that it’s worth it. And when there’s a significant amount of money at stake that could also directly lead you to making more money for your business, there’s even more reason why you need to know exactly what you are buying.

More than a third of marketers want to see greater transparency around an influencer’s engagement strategy and more than a quarter want to understand the contribution that influencer content can make to sales through clear and transparent measurements.

A big issue of contention which has also led me to not working with numerous people on behalf of clients is where influencers’ audiences are based. It is an essential question that needs to be asked before engaging any talent to promote your brand.

Personalities and their managers know exactly where their audiences are coming from, but some will not necessarily proactively disclose it, particularly if the highest percentage of their fanbase is not so close to home. Hence, they may not seem as much of an attractive option as talent with a higher local following, who will also naturally have a higher rate of delivering conversion on sales.

Crunch the numbers

As it stands, measurement in this area has often tended to be more parochial and heavily linked to reach and engagement “on the surface” – that is, the numbers that are publicly available on pages showing likes, comments and shares.

But there is a lot of opportunity for a greater depth of insight and for brands and businesses to think smarter with enabling greater levels of reporting. Tracking links to your online store is a good place to start, as well as testing out special offers specifically for an influencer to share with their community. You can then review exactly what that post is “doing” purely from looking at the consumers taking action – how many of them there are, where they are from and what did they end up doing.

While some of this involves working through dry back-ends of websites and dealing in analytics, they may well produce the stats and insights that ultimately could make you the star of the show in your business.

It may not always directly be about delivering sales – no one wants to be actively “sold at” consistently but the more you subtly reel them into your brand world and spend time learning more about your story and products, the better chance you have of getting them to buy from you at a later date.

Influencer marketing has a lot to offer but brands are right to ask the questions. Now it’s time to work more closely with them and open up possibilities that may well have a bigger impact on your marketing strategy than you might have thought.


Adam Freedman is head of consumer at Red Agency and has consulted numerous brands and retailers across Australia and the UK on their marketing and communications strategies.

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