Why Influencer Marketing Is Going From Fad to Marketing Trend

I have a prediction for 2020. I think 2020 will be the year when influencer marketing becomes a “big time” tactic. A confluence of factors are driving influencer marketing, including the supporting trends of historically low brand trust and the growing difficulty in getting meaningful brand exposure.

I have a prediction for 2020. I think 2020 will be the year when influencer marketing becomes a “big time” tactic.

A confluence of factors are driving influencer marketing, including the supporting trends of historically low brand trust and the growing difficulty in getting meaningful brand exposure.

Along with this prediction, I would like to make three recommendations for marketers to consider:

  • First, recognize that influencer marketing is still just an ad channel with good and bad exposure opportunities.
  • Second, Influencer takes discipline to manage. Most brands will want to work with multiple influencers to target a broader audience and the process can get unwieldy, quickly.
  • Finally, Influencer marketing will be hard to measure, but measure it you must.

Why I Think Influencer Marketing Is Here to Stay

We are spending an enormous amount of time on our smartphones and the bulk of that time is spent consuming entertaining or informative content. As a result, marketers have been pumping billions into mobile adverts.

One way that marketers have tried to reach consumers is through mobile banner ads. Every advertiser knows that most clickthroughs are accidental outcomes of trying to close the ad.

While video ads have better luck, it is still not stellar. IPG Media brands Media Lab published findings in 2017 that 65% of users commonly skip video ads.

Personally, that number feels low. When legitimate brand exposure does occur, it is dampened by the historically low levels of brand trust. That’s something that I describe as a silent tax on brand exposures.

The solution to this crisis is finding quality exposure. Brands can build trust with content providers, loosely called influencers.

Why Brands Still Need to Be Careful

Before we all start an ad bubble (and it may have already started), there are many reasons to be cautious of influencer marketing.

  • First, not everyone with compelling content is an influencer. But they are all called influencers. Some content providers just have “train wreck” value, and followers see them as part of a digital menagerie — with no credibility.
  • Second, it is also possible that influencers have artificially inflated their follower count. Most social platforms, so far, are not interested in policing follower counts beyond weeding out bots.
  • Third, influencers may not have a relationship with their followers. This limits their ability to influence on behalf of brands.

The full list of cautions around influencer marketing is longer. The larger lesson is this; Influencer marketing is a big opportunity, but it is also full of low-quality opportunities.

Now for the Good News

Influencer marketing works very well when influencers are carefully selected, and the brand content is authentic.

A 2019 report by Mediakix states that 80% of marketers found influencer marketing “effective” or “very effective.” However, to achieve good results takes discipline. This includes a willingness to mine social and other online data to understand the influencer’s own brand and history. Some influencers are not well-known beyond a core following. They sometimes have taken positions or done things that may not associate well with your brand.

A key step should be testing them for brand fit. Good judgment is important, but not enough. There are a growing number of tech and data-driven approaches to scan social history and bring forward potential issues. Making sure you understand how unintended brand traits may transfer onto your brand is also important. A good brand fit study is critical; especially if big dollars are involved.

Once you are comfortable with the brand fit, then comes the fun part. How do you leverage the influencer’s credibility in a way that feels authentic? There are many models for how this is done. One involves sponsoring content with a simple acknowledgment from the influencer. A better model is having the influencer interact with your brand and make it part of their engaging content. For this to work, brands have to cede some creative control to the influencers. A smart influencer will be attuned to actions where they might seem disingenuous — or worse, look like a shill. The advice most successful influencer marketing pros will give is to let the influencer be themselves and don’t over-prescribe.

Influencer Marketing ROI

Finally, we come to measurement. And it is the biggest challenge facing influencer marketing. Not only are the number of views, likes, and followers often over-reported, they are also weak measures of engagement and tough to link with real financial value.

The right approach means making measurement and analytics considerations a part of the content design process.

When thinking about content, everyone should seek out opportunities to make it digitally interactive. Unlike the commercials of old, digital channels provide many opportunities to interact with content, such as forwards, downloads, comments, and shares. These deeper engagement measures tend to be less bloated and better reflect viewer intent.

As a result, you are better able to measure campaign success. I have also found that they correlate better with financial outcomes.

Taming Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing today is often described as the “Wild West.” Anyone who has heard this analogy knows it really means chaos with immense potential.

The good thing about this channel is there are literally thousands of small influencers with whom brands can experiment to uncover that potential.

3 Sustainable Ways to Build a Customer-Focused Content Strategy

Learn how to create a branded content strategy that not only produces quality content, but also takes into account what your customers really want.

We’ve all seen umpteen studies proving (correlating) that the more content you publish on your blog, the more visits and leads you get. Marketers take this finding at face value and race to publish more (and more visible) content, with “experts” and “thought leaders” spewing advice on the latest tools and technology that will purportedly have your audience consuming your brand content with tears in their eyes.

The result is that every day, over 3 million blog posts are published, not to mention the countless social media updates posted. While there’s a lot of well-researched content in this haystack, much of it is conjecture and outright replication.

In order to stand out from the overflowing stream of new content, marketing teams often fall into the trap of chasing every tactic that comes their way or “borrowing” from the content created by famous brands or industry experts, and “adapting” (read, rehashing) it to fit their own content strategy. Instead, they should be gleaning lessons from big brands’ innovative content strategies and keep looking for ideas — from the most commonplace to the most implausible sources.

Let’s discuss a few ideas to ensure your content strategy never goes out of style, while matching the pace of your content production with your audience’s propensity to consume it.

Collate Industry Data and Visualize It

From a used car salesman to an apparel website, everyone has to resort to statistics and facts once a while. This was earlier done with presentations, charts, and tables. However, we’ve long needed respite from these boring and confusing ways to present numerical data.

Thanks to Edward Tufte and his four classic books on data visualization, data and visualization came together like two long-lost brothers uniting after a long time. Tufte had faced many problems in his career, because of poor data representation tools. So he revamped data presentation by adding images to data. The New York Times called him the “Leonardo da Vinci of data” while Business Insider referred to him as the “Galileo of graphics.”

Interestingly, research by Nielsen concluded that readers will pay closer attention to relevant pictures included on the page, as our eyes are naturally drawn to images. However, they will ignore visuals included just for the sake of imagery.

But it wasn’t until the availability of infographic-making tools that this method became mainstream. Today, visualization is the basis of content marketing, and not going away any time soon. Whether it is social media posts or blog articles, the simplest way to catch your customer’s eye is with pictures and videos, which get far more engagement than text-heavy content. This holds true across all digital and traditional platforms and channels.

A survey by Venngage built upon this, with empirical evidence that engagement depends on the type of visuals used in the content. Infographics and original illustrations perform the best, followed by charts and video. “Trendy” formats, stock photos, and memes actually receive the lowest amount of engagement.

content strategy graphic
Credit: Venngage.com

The lesson here is that numbers are boring, but you can’t avoid them forever. Content marketers must take a cue from Edward Tufte’s data visualization strategy and revamp their content to include lots of graphics — even better if they are animated or interactive.

Share Success Stories

The best lessons are learned from other people’s experiences. Strangely, many marketers ignore this fact, even though every customer knows it.

Very few companies package their successes into case studies that they can easily use to appeal to a wider audience and acquire more customers.

Don’t make this mistake. Always be on the lookout for case studies — they don’t necessarily need to be yours, if you don’t have enough or relevant experience. Analyze industry examples thoroughly to gauge your potential customers’ intent, challenges in targeting them or doing business, and how these challenges can be overcome. Don’t frown upon any content format — be they detailed whitepapers, listicles, or good old FAQs. Make sure your content marketing plan provides solutions to all of your customers’ woes with actionable advice.

E-commerce platform BigCommerce has dedicated a whole section of its website to showcasing retailers’ (in both the enterprise and SMB sectors) success stories, as well as case studies. The best of the best get their own feature pages, but the showcasing doesn’t end there. (Hey, this is the best in digital merchandising we’re talking about!) BigCommerce even hands out its own annual awards to the merchants who provide a great user experience and innovative eecommerce solutions to their customers.

content strategy screen shot
Credit: BigCommerce.com

These case studies are sorted by industry or topic, and include advice on entrepreneurship, retailing, advertising, media, and pretty much anything related to doing business online. This content has no obvious CTA or tangible conversion value that you might expect. But, despite that, it is worth its weight in gold, due to the brand credibility it portrays and information it delivers to the audience.

Just as in B2C, 65% of B2B marketers believe in the effectiveness of case studies as a content marketing tactic (after in-person events and webinars). People trust real examples more than branded content. Most people (and by extension, organizations) will look at what others are doing and how they are doing it before they make a final decision. Use this psychological tendency as a base on which to build heaps of helpful content.

Combine your case studies with visual testimonials to drive home the value of your product. Video is a great way to deliver a memorable message about the joy your product brings to the lives of real users, while demonstrating to others how it can help them make pressing problems go away. Video conferencing tool Zoom used this strategy to feature one of its largest clients, Zendesk:

Instead of using a quote from the top management, like most testimonials do, this clip features sound bites from people across the organization. It shows the product in actual use by people in different roles and how every one of them is happy to do so.

Focus on Educational Content

CMI’s “Content Marketing Benchmarks” report for 2019 revealed that 77% of the most successful B2B content marketers nurture their audiences with educational content. An overwhelming 96% believe that that building trust and credibility is what qualifies them as thought leaders in their industry. Therefore, delivering useful information to your audience, leads, and customers is easily one of the most effective ways to succeed with content.

Google Analytics is so ubiquitous with website analytics that you’d think it didn’t have to care about acquiring or retaining customers. After all, we all live and swear by GA, right? But Google does not take its position as the market leader in web analytics for granted. With a dedicated Google Analytics Academy that offers how-to guides, training courses, and even certifications to existing Google Analytics users, Google holds its users in an iron grip.

content strategy from Google
Credit: Google.com

The biggest advantage of customer education is retention (which again drives sales at the lowest costs). Another market leader that takes customer education (and retention) seriously is IKEA. From alternate uses for its products to showcasing how customers have creatively used IKEA products to take their lifestyles to the next level, IKEA’s Inspiration section is a design buff’s delight.

content strategy from IKEA
Credit: Ikea.com

Over to You

Drawing and keeping your customers’ attention in this fast-paced marketing age is difficult. Whether it’s your product or marketing that is great, there is someone out there who is doing it better than you and vying for your share of the market. You must constantly attempt to stand out and remain relevant, by relentlessly improving the usability, quality, and effectiveness of your content.

Riding current trends could get your content some short-lived buzz, but it is important to stay focused on pursuing long-term relationships with your customers by creating and publishing content that speaks directly to them.