Brands Cannot Be Silent and Ignore Injustice

While some brands may be reluctant to enter political discussions, the state of race, racial violence, and police brutality in America is more than politics. And your consumers and employees care deeply about combating violence and racism.

Following the horrific death of George Floyd, which sparked protests not only in the U.S. but around the world, countless influencers and celebrities spoke out across social media and online platforms to fight racism and support the Black Lives Matter movement.

While some brands may be reluctant to enter political discussions, the state of race, racial violence, and police brutality in America is more than politics. And your consumers and employees care deeply about combating violence and racism.

One brand that continues to demonstrate bravery when it comes to addressing race relations is Nike, who released a new ad across its digital channels. The ad featured plain white text over a black screen stating:

For once, don’t do it.

Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America.

Don’t turn your back on racism.

Don’t accept innocent lives being taken from us.

Don’t make any more excuses.

Don’t think this doesn’t affect you.

Don’t sit back and be silent.

Don’t think you can’t be part of the change.

Let’s all be part of the change.

Nike doesn’t shy away from taking a stand on issues of race, evident from their Colin Kaepernick ad in Sept. 2018. There were many other brands that made statements on social media in response to the tragedy, including the NFL, Netflix, and Ben & Jerry’s, to name a few. Following its original May 30 post, Netflix shared the following on June 10, letting followers know of its intention to highlight Black storytelling:

There also have been brands that have pledged significant donations to related organizations and initiatives, including Warby Parker and Peloton.

Standing up and addressing societal issues isn’t a new concept in marketing. Marketing leaders have been talking about and advising brands to be brave and bold for years. But there are still some brands too hesitant to speak out and take action. Why?

You don’t need significant resources to communicate your support and condolences, but you must be genuine and authentic in however you share your message. Accept that you can’t please everyone and there will be critics, but sharing your support and values is important. When speaking out about social issues, consider the following:

  • Talk to your employees: Use internal channels to reach employees and initiate a two-way conversation.
  • Think about the appropriate channels: Social media can be an ideal place to join the dialogue, but you may have a good reason to email your subscribers.

And where it’s possible, find ways to align with a cause that complements your brand’s values and focuses on supporting racial and social justice.

Consumers and employees want to know that brands are paying attention and will not tolerate inequality, violence, and prejudice. Now is the time to make a statement and help facilitate change.

What I Hope to Learn in Orlando’s Magic ‘Data’ Kingdom

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) inaugural 2020 Masters of Data and Technology Conference kicks off today. It will be interesting to learn how brands see themselves transformed by all the digital (and offline) data surrounding prospects and customers at this Magic Data Kingdom in Orlando.

As I get ready to embark to the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) inaugural 2020 Masters of Data and Technology Conference (beginning today), I’m very curious to listen in and learn how brands see themselves transformed by all the digital (and offline) data surrounding prospects and customers.  With CMOs telling ANA that this topic area is a strategic priority, I don’t think I’ll be disappointed this week in Orlando’s Magic Data Kingdom.

Are “they” — the brands — finding answers to these questions?

  • Do they have command of data in all the channels of customer engagement?
  • Are they deriving new sources of customer intelligence that had previously gone untapped?
  • Can they accurately map customer journeys — and their motivations along the way?
  • Are they truly able to identify customers across platforms accurately with confidence?
  • How do data science and creativity come together to make more effective advertising — and meet business real-world objectives?
  • What disruptions are shaking the foundations of B2C and B2B engagement today?
  • Are investments in data and technology paying dividends to brands and businesses in increased customer value? Do customers, too, value the data exchange?
  • Is there a talent pool in adequate to deliver data-derived, positive business outcomes? What more resources or tools might they need?
  • What impacts do barriers on open data flows — walled gardens, browser defaults, privacy legislation, “techlash” — have on relevance, competition, diversity in content and other business, economic and social concerns? How can these be managed?
  • Are “brand” people and “data” people truly becoming one in the same in marketing, and in business?

Admittedly, that’s a lot of questions — and perhaps the answers to some of these may be elusive. However, it’s the dialogue among industry peers here that will matter.

The mere emergence of this conference — “new” in the ANA lexicon — is perhaps a manifestation of where the Data & Marketing Association (acquired by ANA in 2018) hoped to achieve in its previous annual conferences and run-up to acquisition. The full promise of data-driven marketing — and “growth” in an Information Economy — can only happen when brands themselves (and, yes, their agencies and ad tech partners, too) have command of data and tech disciplines, and consumers continue to be willing partners in the exchange.

Imagination lives beyond the domain of the Magic Kingdom (where we all can take inspiration from Disney, nearby). Likewise, aspirations can be achieved. Let’s listen in and learn as ANA takes rein of this brands- and data-welcomed knowledge share. Growth is a beautiful thing.

 

1 Year Later: Gen Z College Students Weigh in Again on Personal Data Collection

Last February, I reported on some of the things my Gen Z students wrote in response to an assignment about who gains the most from the value exchange of convenience-for-personal-data. A year later, I gave the same assignment with the same supplemental readings to students, and the results were notably different.

Last February, I reported on some of the things my Gen Z students wrote in response to an assignment about who gains the most from the value exchange of convenience-for-personal-data between consumers and marketers.

A year later, I gave the same assignment with the same supplemental readings to a similar group of 40 students from Rutgers School of Business Camden, and the results were notably different.

Last year, I wrote, in “Gen Z College Students Weigh-in on Personal Data Collection — Privacy Advocates Should Worry”:

“Some Gen Zers don’t mind giving up their personal data in exchange for the convenience of targeted ads and discounts; others are uneasy, but all are resigned to the inevitability of it. However, the language they use to describe their acquiescence to data collection should be troubling to privacy advocates.”

This year’s students are far more concerned about the collection and sale of their personal data, but they are just as resigned to the inevitability of it. At the same time, some bask in the advantages it brings them and they’re sympathetic to the needs of marketers to provide a personalized data-driven experience to consumers.

The privacy concerns of the current group are more pronounced than the previous group.

“I used to believe that the consumer benefitted from the perks of technology. But more and more, I believe that marketers benefit more. Social media, search engines, TVs, refrigerators, Alexa or Google Home, Kinsa Thermostat are all ways that marketers can reach the consumer with things we use in our everyday lives. Some people don’t even realize they’re feeding right into it just by providing some information about yourself.”

Another wrote:

“Privacy has almost become a thing of the past. Places like our kitchens, bathrooms, and bedrooms have transformed from places behind closed doors to areas that are willingly shared with thousands of others on the receiving end of the data being collected for business purposes.”

Yet, like last year’s group, they are resigned to giving up personal data for access to information and services.

“Consumers are beginning to realize how often what they do, speak, and read are all being recorded. Personally, I’ve been more aware than ever of what is being tracked. I’m more aware of every ad I look at and every website I clicked on. This lifestyle is something that can’t be avoided.”

A common complaint involves the lengthy user agreements that consumers must accept to use web-based services and Internet-connected devices:

“This type of ultimatum often means that consumers regularly grant permission on their personal devices, rather than lose their access to a particular product.”

The proliferation of the Internet of Things may be behind much of the change in attitude since last year. (Caveat: I confess that I’ve warned about small sample sizes in the past [“Beware the Small Sample”]. I’m not drawing quantitative conclusions here, but rather reporting on a trend from qualitative research done with 40 students each year).

“Some people who purchase these tech-savvy devices often don’t understand the policies of the product. Understanding the policy and happily opting-in for your information to be used is one thing, but complying because you’re unsure is another. Did you know that brands can start tracking your information at the age of 13? How can a child understand the policy and process of how this works if a grown adult cannot?”

Another stated:

“The terms of agreement can exceed 10,000 words and not be accessible unless the consumer searches the web for it. Consumers don’t get the full story of how much the companies invade their personal lives. Even aspects like your political preference are being monitored and can aid in influencing your votes.”

One student is mounting a fierce resistance:

“I am one of those people that have a Post-it over the camera on my laptop. I shut off the location on my phone, even though I feel like it is being monitored without my consent a lot of the time. My smart TV is not connected to the Internet, and I rarely use streaming devices, such as Netflix or Hulu — if I do, it is usually on my computer. Devices like Google Home and Alexa completely freak me out and I do not believe I would ever purchase one for my home. Even some of the newer home security systems — like Xfinity Home or the video doorbell, Ring — introduce new ways for people to hack in and monitor your personal activity.”

Data leaks and potential misuse are another concern. One student worried about home assistant devices mishearing innocuous phrases as legitimate commands to record and send private conversations:

“Families could be going through a family matter and these devices are listening and recording what is being said. Next thing you know, it is being sent to your boss or colleagues who did not need to hear or know what is going in in the comfort of your home. Also, the refrigerators that know exactly what is inside can share this information with marketers who then share it with insurers who can possibly charge consumers more for unhealthy diets.”

But it’s not all gloom and worry. One student who recently booked a trip to Disney World was delighted by the collection and use of her personal data:

“Being able to get discounted magic bands and Disney exclusive accessories catered for my needs has been a huge bonus. This also benefits Disney, as they are getting my credentials and can alter their research based on my specific data. A part of the reason they are so successful is because of how personal they make the process feel. Even from the first search, they are there to help guide you and aid in your conversion to purchase. (They) get you to come back, because they have that initial information and the personal details of your preference.”

(BTW, how great is Disney? Offering discounts on those magic bands that they use to track your movement and purchases throughout the park. They not only get you to agree to it, they get you to pay for it and be grateful for the discount).

So the time may be right for privacy advocates to gain a foothold among the generation whose members have gone so willingly into the world of sharing personal data.

Branded Content: Possibilities, Pitfalls, and Predictions

Branded content business models are evolving and it’s important for publishers to stay on top of brand expectations in order to stay competitive. Moreover, with audience control shifting from content creators to walled gardens, paid distribution of the branded content needs to be baked into the plan from Day One.

A seismic shift happened in the 2010s: Platforms took control of audiences away from publishers and brands. The result is the need to pay-to-play, which comes with a host of challenges. Brands need to find ways to efficiently expand their reach, while publishers need to create sustainable revenue streams that don’t fully rely on volatile organic traffic sources.

Enter branded content. Not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination, but one that is increasingly becoming a key pillar of revenue for a lot of publishers.

On the surface, branded content is a win-win for all sides. Publishers use their core skillset (storytelling and content distribution) to give brands reach that they can’t achieve on their own. In return, brands pay publishers for their expertise and access to their audiences.

With that being said, branded content business models are evolving and it’s important for publishers to stay on top of brand expectations in order to stay competitive. Moreover, with audience control shifting from content creators to walled gardens, paid distribution of the branded content needs to be baked into the plan from Day One.

Impressions Alone? 

Publishers use a variety of models to package their branded content offerings. Those can be anything from selling based on pageviews on their site to video views on Facebook. The focus does, however, tend to revolve around soft engagement metrics (views and impressions) across the publisher’s channels. There are publishers who work on lead generation and other concrete goals, but those still tend to stay within the publisher’s ecosystem, rather than working with the brand’s own site.

This is advantageous for both sides: For publishers, it helps maintain their tone of voice and trust among their audience — they don’t need to incorporate a “hard sell” into the content, which can be a turn-off for readers. For brands, there aren’t necessarily any concrete goals, and general “brand awareness” metrics can often be enough. When brands want to measure activity and business goals on their own site, they are generally hesitant to share those metrics with external partners, including publishers.

That’s not to say that sales-heavy content pieces don’t exist. Affiliate content, for example, has been on the rise over the past few years. Publishers showcase a range of products in an article and link to an online retailer, which in turn pays the publisher commission for any sales that result from the referral traffic. Most commonly, these affiliate links lead to Amazon, where publishers get a small cut of the sale. Branded content models are evolving to include this approach as well. For example, Walmart partnered with Popular Mechanics to sponsor an article that featured 15 bike camping gifts for outdoorsmen alongside links to their respective product pages on walmart.com.

Synergy Is Key to Success

When it comes to branded content, synergy is much more than a buzzword. An alignment between the brand and the publisher is absolutely critical for success. Users engage more often when a publisher’s tone of voice meshes well with a brand’s core values and audience. Here are a couple of examples of this synergy in action:

National Geographic with Brita

https://www.facebook.com/23497828950/posts/10156676165733951

 

In this partnership with Brita, National Geographic created a beautiful content experience that educates users about the consequences of bottled water. The piece is fully aligned with National Geographic’s reverential coverage of nature. On the brand side, Brita positions its water-filter products as alternatives to bottled water. This combination creates a value powerhouse for everyone involved and engages Natgeo’s user base in an innovative way with content that is unique and engaging.

Win Schuler’s and Food Network

https://www.facebook.com/FoodNetwork/videos/1220718271463314/

 

In this branded video, Food Network does what it does best: shares a yummy recipe with its audience. Adding Win Shuler’s cheddar into the mix feels natural, and the result is fantastic engagement numbers for the post, bringing value to the publisher, the brand, and most importantly, the user.

Common Distribution Pitfalls

As I mentioned earlier, paid distribution is usually a critical part of making branded content succeed. At Keywee, we’ve worked with hundreds of publishers over the years, helping them distribute their content on Facebook. As a result, we’ve pretty much seen it all, and the truth is that branded content done right isn’t as easy as it seems. Here are a few common pitfalls:

1) Going for the aggressive sell: Publishers don’t always create custom content. Sometimes they post a direct advertisement on their feed. This may fit within a brand’s reach demands, but it doesn’t do much for the publisher’s credibility. These posts diminish trust and are likely to grab more ire than likes or clicks.

Exchanging quality and value in return for a user’s attention is critical to keeping users around. If a publisher doesn’t want to go as far as creating custom content, a smaller-effort initiative like a sweepstakes in conjunction with the brand is a nice middle-ground solution that benefits the user.

2) Over-estimating organic reach: Most publishers commit to a set number of views when selling a content package. There’s usually no separation between paid and organic traffic. When publishers present the results to the brand at the end of an initiative, there’s only “traffic.” It’s not uncommon for a publisher to overestimate its organic reach and then, with a few weeks to go on the initiative, deploy massive paid campaigns to fill in the traffic gaps. The result is a hastily conceived campaign that can quickly become costly.

Fortunately, publishers can easily avoid this with a bit more planning. Whether running their own campaigns or buying through a vendor, it’s fairly simple to work more strategically. If they start executing a conservatively paced and well-planned paid campaign from day one of the initiative, the overall cost and performance will only benefit. The worst-case scenario is that the promised numbers are reached earlier than expected. Even in that situation, there’s a good chance that advertising dollars will be saved overall.

3) Limited reporting: The publisher-brand relationship is very similar to that between an agency and client; there is a customer who is paying for a service and requires proper attention. It’s incredibly common for a customer to want as much information as possible. If a campaign was sold based on impressions, that doesn’t mean that this is the only metric the customer will want to see.

When planning a campaign, remember that the customer will want to see deeper metrics. For example, a publisher could be promoting a video created for the brand. Even if the main metric is an impression, the publisher should keep an eye on the 3- or 10-second view numbers because the client will certainly have an eye on them. Another example is demographic breakdowns. If the publisher committed to a wide array of locations and audiences, and the content is being viewed only by a small subset, then pivoting the targeting strategy becomes critical for success and the brand’s satisfaction.

4) Publisher – brand misalignment: As I mentioned earlier, synergy between a brand and a publisher is critical for success. On the flip-side of this, misalignment can easily turn into a failure on all ends. When putting together branded content packages, the publisher should ask if the content would fit into their editorial vision if it wasn’t a part of the sold package. If the answer is no, then there’s a good chance the content won’t resonate with the user.

Looking Ahead

As long as digital content and advertising prevail, so will branded content. That being said, there are big changes afoot that will significantly impact the brand-publisher relationship.

1) 5G: There have been a lot of predictions about how 5G will affect everything from online shopping to people’s health. What branded content creators should probably keep in mind, at least in the short term, is that video streaming on smartphones will have far less friction than before. 5G is expected to be about 100 times faster than 4G, making streaming on mobile devices easier. Though earlier “pivot to video” pontifications were a bit overblown in hindsight, the strength of improved streaming options shouldn’t be overlooked. Publishers should expect brands to have more aggressive viewability demands as a result.

2) Performance content: Facebook has been encouraging brands to share select performance data with publishers and influencers. For Facebook the value is clear: Performance marketing usually leads to incremental revenue. For brands and publishers, these are choppy waters. Content plays a significant role in the buyers’ journey, but it’s still very difficult to fully attribute it to purchase decisions. A person reading an article about sneakers will not automatically go out and buy a pair. In other words, content consumption does not directly correlate to purchase intent. So far publishers have been hesitant to adopt this innovation, and brand adoption is yet to be seen. That being said, publishers will probably benefit from preparing themselves for a scenario in which brands will ask for more performance-driven metrics.

3) Shop the ‘gram: Instagram is slowly rolling out a new feature that creates a direct funnel to the brand checkout page on the platform. In other words, users will be able to click on a tagged product and immediately be directed to its checkout page. This allows for a seamless user experience and is expected to be a boon for ecommerce brands. Publishers should be on the lookout for requests of this type in the year ahead.

All in all, when it comes to branded content, the bottom line is simple: The combination of synergic content, expectation managing, and proper planning can create a value powerhouse for everyone involved. If publishers stick to these fundamentals, they can easily set themselves up for success.

Discovering ‘FOTU’ in 2020 Marketing and Beyond

While its not hard “see” the above issues as they dominate news channels, it is sometimes hard to see how each may impact the success of our 2020 marketing efforts. At the end of the day, no clever campaign, no amount of social likes and shares, and no volume of media purchases can compensate for FOTU.

Making this post about “seeing clearly in 2020” is nothing short of trite and cliché. However, being  able to see all of the influences, attitudes, concerns, myths, and facts that inform and drive consumer behavior will be the difference between success and failure as we enter the new “roaring” ’20s.

And no surprise or argument here, but we are off to a roaring start. We’ve got an impeachment trial, a threatening war, an economy that is certainly uncertain, a pending election, and growing domestic issues like homelessness that are impacting communities and economies, nationwide.

While its not hard “see” the above issues as they dominate all news channels all day every day, it is sometimes hard to see how each may impact the success of our 2020 marketing efforts. And we need to take a long, deep look: Because at the end of the day, no clever campaign, no amount of social likes and shares, and no volume of media purchases can compensate for the FOTU (fear of the unknown), which is a close cousin to FOMO (fear of missing out).

Just some of the things we need to see, under a microscope, as we move toward perfect vision in 2020 include:

How Political Turmoil Affects Confidence in the Economy and, Thus, Spending

Think about it for a minute. No matter where you stand on current events, a supporter or not, all the negative energy we hear daily gets in your head. You can’t help but feel disgust with one side of the story for what you have learned to believe is “propaganda, contrived, politically motivated, or just plain deceit.” Whether it is or not, it affects you. Your brain gets muddled with harsh words, angry vocal tones, contradictions, and consciously and unconsciously your vessel gets full of chaos.

And when chaos strikes, we slow down, often giving into the fear of the unknown and hold onto what we have. We stop thinking of what we “want” and start focusing on what we need. We spend more on what we want vs. what we need and so when that mindset changes, so does our spending behavior.

Regardless of where you and your customers sit on the political fence, you need to present a brand that can calm the chaos, provide order or realism in a world that seems to have gone too deep into the fake side and chaotic uncertainty. And most importantly, you cannot take sides or you, too, become part of the chaos.

How a New Era of ‘Truth’ Impacts Consumer’s Trust in Society and, Ultimately, Brands

Lies, alternative facts, partial truths, misleading statements, altered statistics, and other little demons of communications strategies have gone from prevalent to accepted. As shocking as it is to see authorities and leaders and consumers and friends in our society defend what once was considered wrong, or still is considered wrong for non-politicians, it is more so, at least to me, shocking to see how many people are fine with it. This leads to a new standard of double standards and right vs wrong vs partially right or partially wrong. These attitudes create a new standard of trust that transcends community and political leadership, and brands. As we accept non-truths or misleading behavior in any aspect of our society, we learn to expect it. So if we accept it on a political and governing level, we tend to believe that everyone is guilty of the same behavior. So we learn to safely believe no one and nothing, including all of those claims of service and product quality, added values, and rewards of membership. We simply don’t believe as much as we used to and have learned to filter what we choose to believe, which is many cases, is very little.

Do a self check. Be honest. Are you more skeptical now than you were in three years ago? Five years ago?

What Consumers Want to Hear, Believe, and Who They Listen to

Even though you are not going to change your truth to fit the emotional needs of your customers, you have to pay attention, and close attention, to what your target audiences want to hear. As I’ve mentioned in my many other columns, we throw out truths, facts, and evidence if it doesn’t fit our construct of the world as we want to see it. What do you customers want to see? Again, don’t change your truth and put your integrity on the line for sales and profits. But do know what those issues are, as it gives you a glimpse of your customers’ values and what messages are likely to resonate with those values. Are they conservative? Liberal? Stay focused on messages that reflect the traditions that guide them.

Regardless of where you see your brand going in 2020,  take time to look deeply at what is happening around your customers, and how those happenings or “reported” happenings affect the mindset of your constituents. Does it add to FOTU, FOMO? Or spark heated debates on Facebook or across the fences? Survey your customers and learn what moves them, what scares them, what inspires them.

Ask much more than the typical NPS question and customer satisfaction questions. When you do, you will not only gain that 2020 vision, you set your brand up to roar in the best of the ‘20s yet to come.

Reputational Risks Brands Face in 2020 and What to Do About Them

The CMO Council touched on many of the reputational risks that marketers need to have on their radar in 2020 and beyond. Below are five brand risks that I believe will be widespread in the year ahead, along with a bit of advice for marketers.

Marketers are responsible for building, managing, and protecting corporate brands. Considering how quickly a brand can go from loved to loathed, being a brand custodian is a daunting task. With a tarnished reputation, companies lose customers, employees, investors, and value.

In a recently released pictogram and listicle, “Bruised, Battered, and Embattled Brands,” The CMO Council highlighted 20 of the most challenged brands in 2019 and 15 of the most critical issues impacting brand perception. The CMO Council touched on many of the reputational risks that marketers need to have on their radar in 2020 and beyond.

Below are five brand risks that I believe will be widespread in the year ahead, along with a bit of advice for marketers.

Privacy and Security Incidents

Trust is fundamental to brand reputation. Companies want their customers to trust them and feel secure transacting with their company. Maintaining data privacy and keeping information secure is a customer expectation, and rightly so. And while privacy and security are not new reputational risks, CCPA ups the ante and no company wants to be the first company penalized and publicized for failure to comply.

Advice: Build alignment between marketing and privacy teams, with a focus on transparency, trust, and preparedness.

Polarizing Politics

2019 brought to light many politicized issues in workplaces, such as the Wayfair worker protest against the sale of beds to migrant camps. As we embark on an election year, companies will continue to be thrust into the political divide, whether they like it or not.

Advice: Companies need to establish their political boundaries and clearly communicate any limitations to their stakeholders; in particular employees, or they risk being the next brand battleground.

Marketing and Advertising Fails

Brand snafus are identified and discussed at an unprecedented rate across social and digital channels. Peloton’s holiday advertisement is a prime example of an ad campaign turned viral branding criticism. The Peloton scrutiny expanded well beyond social, with coverage across national news outlets and even an “SNL” skit.

Advice: Test your marketing programs with a wide audience before launch. Monitor social and digital conversations about your brand. When all else fails, apologize sincerely.

Compromised Health and Safety

PG&E, Boeing, and Juul failed consumers and their brand reputations have taken a massive hit. All three landed on the CMO Council’s list of companies in the crosshairs. A company that is negligent about health and safety will face devastating reputational consequences.

Advice: Hurting people (or any living thing) is never OK. If your company is careless and harmful, get your resume in order, immediately.

Management Missteps

Behavior in the corner office is under the microscope like never before. Executives are (finally) being held responsible for how they treat employees and for their ethics. With CEO turnover at an all-time high, far too many of these changes are being driven by misconduct, as we saw with the abrupt departure of McDonald’s CEO over a violation of company policy related to a consensual relationship.

Advice: View leadership changes as an opportunity to redefine the brand. Follow a clear playbook to reassure internal and external stakeholders.

No Risk, No Reward

There will undoubtedly be brand reputation winners and losers this year. However, responsible marketers understand the risks they may face and can learn from the mistakes of those who’ve suffered before them.

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.

Why Pulling Out of Amazon Is the Smartest Decision for Your Brand

Nike announced that as part of the company’s focus on elevating consumer experiences through more direct, personal relationships, it will stop selling its merchandise directly to Amazon.com. Here’s why Nike made the right decision.

Nike announced that as part of the company’s focus on elevating consumer experiences through more direct, personal relationships, it will stop selling its merchandise directly to Amazon.com. Here’s why Nike made the right decision.

Partnering with Amazon undoubtedly has benefits — namely, a built-in audience and speedy delivery options. However, it’s crucial to consider what you’re jeopardizing in exchange. You’re losing control of how your brand is presented. Even if you’re lucky enough to benefit from Amazon’s search algorithm — another thing brands have no control over — you essentially have no say in how your brand experience is delivered.

Last year, Nike partnered with Jet.com, and given what Jet’s chief customer officer said, I’m not surprised. David Echegoyen told Footwear News, “the way in which people find, discover and use your product is as much part of the experience as the fact that you buy them and use them.” Echegoyen explained that Jet’s focus would be on delivering an experience that would allow both brands to utilize customer insights to enhance their experience. And because Nike products would only be sold direct from the brand on the Jet site, the confusion and brand dilution that shoppers often experience on marketplace platforms would effectively be eliminated.

What every brand should seek in its retail partners — and, really, all partners, to the extent that it’s possible — is recognition of the importance of delivering a cohesive brand experience at every touchpoint, and the desire and capabilities to do so. The advantages of owning your brand experience are abundant.

Control Your Customer Journey

By limiting the channels where your products are available, you’re better able to deliver the best experience to your customers. This includes everything from product recommendations to delivery preferences, the physical unboxing experience, and more. This controlled approach also serves as a preventive measure against counterfeiting issues that could otherwise tarnish your brand’s reputation.

Own Your Data

Amazon traces every shopper’s step, utilizing that data to make product suggestions based upon its own algorithm. These are insights that would be incredibly valuable to brands, arming them with information that can help to deliver a better experience across all platforms, ultimately earning loyal customers. The problem is Amazon owns that data and doesn’t share it with brands. Now, selling direct to consumer on your own channels provides you with 100 percent of your data, the benefits of which warrant its own article. With a compatible, focused retail partner, there may be more room for a discussion about data sharing.

Secure Better Profit Margins

It’s difficult to predict revenues when the sales process is out of your hands. Going direct to consumer gives brands the most control over profit margins. However, as a new or emerging brand, third-party channels are commonly part of the mix. Profit margins are dependent upon the type of partner and the value they bring to the table — or in this case, the cart. Amazon controls the market, so the terms of merchant agreements are almost certainly dictated. However, when you have a like-minded partner dedicated to delivering an experience, the terms may be subject to negotiation.

Shatter the Delivery Myth

Thanks to the “Amazon Effect,” brands and retailers have had to figure out how to meet delivery expectations. My company conducted a 2019 study that revealed online shoppers weigh shipping costs and delivery speed more heavily in their purchasing decisions than ever. Consider that 58 percent of respondents said shipping costs greatly impact their decision to make an online purchase, and 62 percent said free shipping was the most influential factor in their decision to make future purchases. By utilizing sales and transportation data from your fulfillment team, you can map your customers’ journeys and customize shipping pricing and delivery speed to meet their unique expectations.

Selling through partners can be a huge asset, but it means there will always be an intermediary between you and your customer. If your sales channels include third-party retailers, make sure you’re all on the same page. Amazon can bolster brands in the short term, but to build a sustainable business, you must control how customers experience your brand, wherever they are.

Maria Haggerty is CEO and one of the original founders of Dotcom Distribution, a premier provider of B2C and B2B fulfillment and distribution services. 

An Instagram World With No ‘Likes’ — How Does the Test Impact Advertisers, Users?

Instagram made a big move. What’s the official motive behind testing a social media world with no “likes”? The CEO of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, stated in the announcement that the test in the U.S. and Canada was “about creating a less pressurized environment, where people feel comfortable expressing themselves.”

Instagram made a big move. What’s the official motive behind testing a social media world with no “likes”?

The CEO of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, stated in the announcement that the test in the U.S. and Canada was “about creating a less pressurized environment, where people feel comfortable expressing themselves.

For all intents and purposes, Instagram’s latest power move has an alibi: The platform claims to be more concerned with the well-being of its users than with making a profit. Whether or not the company’s true motives are in line with reducing mental illness in its young users — including their stress, anxiety, and depression — the test has certainly changed the way the platform operates.

Diving into the many possible outcomes of this potential change is essential for marketers and Instagram users, alike, in order to best understand what to expect from the future of social media.

Whether positive or negative, the removal of likes has garnered opinions from the masses. Feelings toward the test range from anger to animosity to excitement. The fact of the matter is, likes have been a major catalyst in the way Instagram is used and success is measured, both personally and professionally. For brands utilizing influencers for promotion, likes have acted as a currency by showing how engaged an audience is, while effectively helping brands make decisions on whether or not an influencer should endorse their product or not. Without it, the marketplace will have to be optimized by these advertisers as they uncover what’s to come on the forefront of social media marketing.

Why Instagram Users Are Angry

It comes as no surprise that many of the users who are angry fall under the influencer and celebrity category. For many of them, Instagram likes have completely built their platforms as social media stars. Many of them uncovered the amount of engagement it took from early on and were able to build a fan base of loyal likers in order to gain enough clout to start being paid for promotions. It has been hypothesized by some influencers that Instagram doesn’t actually care at all about the wellbeing of its users. In fact, while its CEO claims the company “will make decisions that hurt the business if they help people’s health,” others are claiming that the test goes deeper than that, and is ultimately in favor of Instagram’s business: It has been hypothesized that this is being done as a means for control.

While influencers do have a home on Instagram, the brand deals and partnerships they forge on the platform do not currently have anything in them for Instagram. Thus, the removal of likes could make it so that marketers opt to spend their advertising dollars directly through Instagram, more heavily utilizing Instagram’s advertising tools. This begs the question(s): Why would they no longer go through influencers? Can they still get a feel for the overall engagement a user has? Unfortunately, because the metrics marketers rely on when selecting influencers will no longer be visible, it may become challenging to obtain real and true metrics, as these numbers can be easily manipulated if sent over from the source.

And frankly, for some losing likes simply means stripping down and removing their online social status, and they don’t like it. The measurement of likes acts as a symbol for popularity and fame, and many have expressed their dislike toward the change because of this. Removing likes will make it harder for users to determine if someone is cool simply by measurement, and understandably, for those for which Instagram has helped shape careers, this poses a threat to their success.

Why Instagram Users Are Excited

More obviously, many Instagram users are excited; particularly younger users and their parents. Having the platform to rely on for social status and humble brags has created uncharted territory in the adolescent social scene. Likes are the most obvious cool factor when looking at a user’s profile. For regular users who peruse Instagram as a social tool and not to create a business, the pressure to depend on likes as a means of validation, a measurement of self-worth, and a ranking of social status, could completely shift the way young users post. This feeling of “not being enough” if you don’t have the most likes in your social circle is exactly what Instagram claims to be tackling head-on with this test.

But this may not just be a positive change for common users; some influencers have actually expressed their excitement and support for the change, as well. As mentioned, Instagram has evolved over the years from a simple photo-sharing tool to a space where people are constantly trying to be the very best on the scene.

Many users claim that a major shift in the way Instagram was used happened when it changed the feed from chronological order to placing the most engaging posts at the top. The reason many influencers rose to where they were when this change occurred was because people genuinely enjoyed the creative energy they were putting into their profiles. When top-engaging posts were the first thing seen upon opening the app, influencers (and regular users, alike) had to evolve with the change, if they wanted to continue to get the attention they were used to. As a result, many sacrificed their own creativity by means of posting something less original that would guarantee high engagement.

For those who have felt the need to conform to the more popular style of posts, removing likes would mean they may no longer feel constricted or bound to posting things that are guaranteed to perform well (i.e. attract enough likes to deem them relevant enough for the top of the feed). This may allow for a more fruitful array of postings from influencers, celebrities, and young users of Instagram, bringing back into the picture a sense of creative freedom and self-worth.

What It All Means for Users and Marketers, Alike

Whether or not the test is here to stay, the statement it’s made so far has shaken many of its users, and most have an opinion. From regular users — particularly those in Generation Z — to influencers and celebrities, and brands that use Instagram as part of their sales funnel, the feelings of frustration and utter glee are certainly worth evaluating as Instagram chooses how to move forward.

Do Marketing Influencers Really Influence? Or Do Brands?

The critical role of marketing influencers on driving sales and loyalty for brands in both the B2B and B2C space is nothing new. We marketers have been “influencing the influencers” for decades. But the game has changed and continues to do so at a rapid pace.

The critical role of marketing influencers on driving sales and loyalty for brands in both the B2B and B2C space is nothing new. We marketers have been “influencing the influencers” for decades. But the game has changed and continues to do so at a rapid pace.

Now, with all of the technology available, anyone can create videos on any topic, spark viral marketing campaigns, and get instant fame, likes, and tweets on social media and start influencing others in some fashion at some level. As a result, “influencer marketing” is much more complex, hard to define, and much harder to nail. Yet it is also painstakingly more important than ever.

To succeed at influencing influencers to influence purchasers, we need to step back and review some of the basic fundamentals:

First, what really is an influencer who is worth is influencing in today’s market, when just about anyone can pin on that name? It used to be we could identify influencers by the numbers of followers they had on social media. Well, that’s not so easy in an age where likes and followers can be bought, and often are. There are now many other characteristics of “influence” that marketers need to address.

According to an Influencer Marketing post from Feb. 1:

An influencer is an individual who has the power to affect purchase decisions of others because of his/her authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with his/her audience. An individual who has a following in a particular niche, which they actively engage with.

Given this definition, who are the top influencers today?

Well, according to MediaKix, an influencer marketing agency that aligns brands with social media influencers ruling YouTube and Instagram, the top influencers in the world are young adults who have mastered the ability to entertain millions of followers by making fun of life as we know it today. They comment on beauty or fashion trends in ways that entertain and inform, or engage followers in game activities. Seriously, most of you reading this post will find little if any value in their trendy, narcissistic, and often meaningless tweets; but somehow, these people are influencing millions daily by just doing nothing but ranting or raving on video channels that anyone can access and use.

Yet these influencers with little talent compared with mainstream entertainers who cross over the big screen to the little screen, sell. MediaKix posts examples of influencer marketing campaigns that engaged these “influencers” in marketing campaigns for clients like Kenneth Cole. The marketing influencers show results that include social reaches of tens of millions, story views also in the millions, high levels of social engagement rates, and, of course, increased sales for sponsoring brands.

Marketing Influencers Seriously Influence Sales

Geometry Global and gen.video released a report in 2017 at VidCon that showed 90% of social media users are influenced to make a purchase after seeing content. Categories most influenced by social media content are consumer electronics, fashion food/beverage, health/beauty, and travel.

Quite importantly, they also learned that social media influencers are now the “most effective and trusted source at driving sales, 94% more than friends/family, and more than six times more than celebrities.

Wow.

When you look at those numbers, its hard not to wonder how traditional broadcast channels are still able to get advertising dollars.

B2B influencers on social media have far few followers than pop culture influencers, who have as many as 80 million followers on Instagram. Yet, the followers they do have pay attention to every word and every idea. B2B influencers ruling social media are those who share their wisdom, ideas, and help others learn from them, without asking for anything in return, other than maybe a follow or like.

By “influencing” others with their intellect and stories that followers can relate to and actually emulate in their own jobs, they have anchored themselves as thought leaders beyond just their tweets or posts. They are authors and speakers. They are executives at companies who are changing the world as we know it, or some aspect of the business world. The leading B2B influencer on social media, Tim Hughes of London, has fewer than 200,000 Twitter followers, which pales in comparison with the consumer influencers who entertain with short, often raunchy, episodes about their daily lives, or jokes about others’ lives. Instead, he tweets his expertise and insights on digital marketing and social selling, and provides tidbits about his personal life. And people look forward to reading everything he says.

The key to a successful influencer marketing campaign for businesses is exactly the above. Make your tweets so relevant and valuable that people look forward to reading your posts and learning from your every word. Another key factor is to spur influence among all areas of your business, not just your leadership. You can light up social media much faster with multiple influencers than just highlighting your leadership and their ideas.

The first step in influencer marketing is to recognize the “influencers” in your own ranks. That’s your staff at all levels, not just the top. Note that many of the top influencers are employees of companies vs. owners or founders. They tweet about what they do, what they learn, and what moves them within the context of their brands and their own personal visions.

Successful employees have a passion for what your business does, and what they do to further your business. And they have intellectual capital and experiences that are worth sharing. As the marketing lead for your company, you can direct social conversations and get people talking about your company, your insights, your value propositions, and even a day in the life of your business.

Here are five ways you can start influencing people at all levels of your industry:

  1. Identify a Theme a month with which you want to align your company’s expertise. Define talking points that support your position, and potential social media themes to help get those talking points read and shared.
  2. Build Relevant Content for your employees to share on their business and even personal accounts. Align the content with what matters most to your audiences and write it in a way that creates anticipation for subsequent posts. It’s not that hard, if you know what’s on the mind of your audiences and have even basic writing skills.
  3. Enable Employees to set up social media accounts, specifically to tweet about your business and industry. Break down those security firewalls and encourage employees to play around on social media on the job and tweet within the guidelines you set.
  4. Set Guidelines about what can be said, and not per compliance and proprietary issues, and ask employees to tTweet about it.
  5. Use the Business Pages on Social Sites to Reflect Your Top Leaderships’ Thoughts and Insights, and post regularly. Encourage employees to share those thoughts with the network they build within their peer circles.

By setting up employees at all levels to be influencers among peers at all levels, the awareness and buzz about your brand will grow exponentially. And as we have learned from recent political elections, awareness gets more attention and action than just about anything else. People won’t necessarily remember every tweet, comment, position you take, or every insight or idea. But they will remember your name when it comes to “voting” for brands or partners to consider for business deals.