Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Mardien Drew will be speaking at IIeX Europe (18-19 February 2019 in Amsterdam). If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX North America. Click here to learn more.
Not too long ago, the discussion that dominated conferences around the globe was that of robots and AI and whether they would eventually render marketers and market researchers irrelevant, useless and take over our jobs. While we have been busy trying to understand that potential threat and have been creating new jobs to implement AI within our companies, another threat may have been looming…
Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that social media influencers (also referred to as content creators) are now part and parcel of most corporations’ advertising strategies. According to Amber Venz Box, a former influencer who created RewardStyle which allows influencers to monetise their content through its marketing platform, 86 percent of marketers had an influencer budget in 2017 (Cityam.com).
While some marketers are still trying to get their heads around content marketing and deciding whether to invest in influencer marketing, the influencers are moving on and are no longer just dominating the social media platforms on small screens. They are ambitious, noticed by thousands of people and are using their digital savviness to explore other ways of making money besides brand endorsement.
What constitutes an influencer is changing at speed too. A few years ago, brands that worked with influencers were big household names who chose to work carefully selected influencers with a large following. These days, big brands like Boden work with influencers who ‘only’ have 4000 followers as often these smaller accounts have much higher engagement and thus more ‘influence’ on buying behaviour. Small, young brands follow in their droves to work with influencers to get more exposure and increase growth.
Of course we are familiar with many influencers who, instead of advertising someone else’s product, have started their own brand and used their own social media presence successfully to shift their newly created product(s). The entire Kardashian family is just one example of this new business model. But it doesn’t stop there.
Influencers like Amber Venz Box have spotted opportunities in the marketing industry. And Amber is not the only influencer turned marketing entrepreneur. There are now many influencers who have found a way to monetise their newly gained social media knowledge and skills. Many of the small, young brands they work with have social media accounts that could do with an influencer waving their magic wand over it, increase their following, engagement and ultimately sales. Many influencers (some with only a following of around 10K) have started to provide consultancy services to brands which includes creating content, managing social media account on behalf of the brand, how to obtain growth organically and even reporting on metrics.
Marketers are also finding that having to work with several influencers as brand ambassadors, takes up a lot of time. Especially if you have not worked with influencers before and need to find relevant influencers, negotiate and set up contracts and figure out success metrics. While there are now tools out there to help marketers do this at scale, including the reporting, influencers now often offer similar services. They know other influencers and are hired by brands to source and negotiate with influencers on their behalf as they understand their language and are trusted within their circle. They also have reporting tools to their disposal, as there many apps out there that provide insight into social media account growth.
Marketers and market researchers who have been in the industry for years are suddenly up against influencers providing similar services at relatively cheap prices.
So what makes influencers so special, and does it make them marketers?
- They tell great stories (they are creative, know how to stand out from the crowd). As Seth Godin discusses in ‘All marketers tell stories’, marketing is storytelling. The internet as a medium and particularly influencers are great in telling more complex stories faster and more effectively than television commercials. An image says more than a thousand words!
- They often are seen as more authentic, that trusted advisor role to followers helps to sell.
- They know what will work well and how to measure success, metrics like followers and engagement alone aren’t everything…
- They already have a targeted audience at their fingertips who trust them
- They stick together (the more shown the better you will sell)
- They use digital tools to their advantage, early adopters. They know how to use social media features such as Instagram Stories and TV to their best potential. This means there are multiple touchpoints within one platform.
- It also means they get instant customer feedback through comments on posts, messages and polls on Stories! They know what customers like. Fast and cheap market research.
- They educate, at scale.
- They deliver the goods for others such as social media takeovers, content creation, etc.
- They provide a personal touch to the customer (in a high-tech economy, customers want high touch and personalisation – Marketing 4.0, Philip Kotler), they know how to deliver this for brands helping to humanise brands.
To summarise, influencers are such successful content creators because they still inherently perform the role of the customer. They promote brands that fit their aesthetic, beliefs and needs. If they wouldn’t buy the product, they won’t promote it. Because they are customers first, their strategy is ‘Customer First’. This means their message provides information that the customer wants to use to achieve their own personal and professional objectives. This is content marketing (Marketing 4.0, Philip Kotler). Whereas brands often advertise the information that the brand wants the customer to know. The two are often miles apart, the customer is the one buying so it pays to listen to what information they want to make their purchase decision.
The lesson for marketers here is to not forget they are customers too. The role of marketers, according to Marketing 4.0, is to guide customers throughout their journey from awareness and ultimately to advocacy. And while there are more opportunities to work with influencers in various ways as outlined above, it is up to marketers to complement their strategy by working with influencers during one or some of the stages of the customer journey.
There will still be room for more traditional forms of advertising such as TV (who could imagine a world without the big budget Christmas TV ads?). But much like AI there is a need for marketers and market researchers to continuously learn how best to connect with consumers on their terms and be ready to explore different ways of working that can complement the more traditional. Only then can you successfully analyse potential behavioural changes. Influencers aka content creators, create content, it is still up to the marketers and market researchers to understand what consumers buy and why.