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.