For the last few months, marketers have become enamored with something called “influencer marketing”. They are attempting to figure out how they can utilize influencers. You’ve heard the hype, but what’s it all about? Can you use it, and should you?
The first thing that you need to understand about influencer marketing is the philosophy. In other words, we know influencer marketing works, but why?
You may have heard that the most powerful form of marketing is “word-of-mouth”. Word-of-mouth marketing is hard to track. But anecdotally, you can surely think of a few times you looked into a product after hearing about it from a friend. On the other hand, how often do ads move you to buy a product? While personal recommendations don’t happen as often, they’re much more powerful.
With the rise of social media platforms and internet video, word-of-mouth marketing is now spreading to the internet through influencers.
What is an Influencer?
In reality, anyone with an online audience can be an influencer. Brands will want to focus on influencers who are already producing content for their industry, of course. Most cosmetics brands are utilizing this extensively via YouTube, Instragram, Snapchat, and more.
The content that these influencers are producing is incredibly powerful because their audiences trust them. This trust is at the core of word-of-mouth marketing, and was incredibly difficult to produce in the past. Before the internet came along, word-of-mouth was unpredictable, difficult to measure, and impossible to control. But now, with the help from a few powerful voices, your brand can become known to millions.
But What’s the Catch?
To take advantage of this form of marketing, there are a few catches.
First, if you are actively trying to get people to talk about your brand, you have to expect that there will be times that people will say things you don’t like. While it’s possible to have some control over the general tone, people have opinions, and some will not be favorable.
Second, your products need to be great if you want to get people talking. If you send a skincare product to a YouTuber, and it doesn’t do what is advertised, they’re probably going to tell their audience not to buy it. Again, there are ways to have some control over your brand. But these influencers value their relationship with their audience, and that’s built upon trust.
Influencers are People
The small amount of control that you have is tied up in your selection of influencers and promoters. Though you can’t control what they say, you can decide who you want to partner with.
However, it’s important to treat each one of these individuals as people, not tools. Despite how it may look, the most powerful influencers are very busy. They will always ask themselves the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) question when they are deciding whose product to discuss in their next video. Because of this, it’s important for you to remember that your product needs to work as advertised if you’re going to make the cut with the best influencers.
From a logistical standpoint, you’ll want to have one or more company representatives dedicated to managing relationships with influencers. These brand reps should be continuously reaching out to new influencers. Your brand should partner with these individuals in a relationship that is mutually beneficial.
How Can You Do This?
- Offer review samples
- Ask how your brand can help them produce content (product descriptions, lists of ingredients, manufacturing policies and processes)
- Ask them what products they are interested in
Importantly, you should never try to control their voice or language. Unless you have a contract, these partners have full control over what is said or not said on their platform. You may suggest that they describe your product in a certain way, or ask them not to speak about a problem. However, sooner or later, there will be an influencer that will not oblige.
Without trust and honesty, influencer marketing falls flat on its face. Whether the trust is lost between you and the influencer, or between them and their audience, your brand will be hurt.
One horrific example of this is the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad from early 2017. In it, Kendall (the influencer) is pictured using Pepsi to apparently fix all the most pressing social issues. Violence, racism, oppression, all vanish with the sharing of a can of soda from one of the world’s largest brands.
To the surprise of Pepsi, this did not go over well. The implications were offensive and polarizing to many who saw the ad. (Some felt the message was anti-government, for example).
The bond of trust between Jenner and her fans was broken. The bond of trust between Jenner and Pepsi also dissolved. Why? This was not the influencer’s voice. Pepsi admitted that she was not at all involved in the creative process. But they wanted to leverage her clout to push their product. Of course, this was a commercial, so it would hardly have been normal to hand creative control over to someone who doesn’t have experience producing or writing advertisements. Regardless, this is the ultimate example of how NOT to use influencers in your marketing.
Your influencers will ideally be creators themselves. When it comes to unpaid partnerships, they must be allowed to say what they want, how they want.
Are there any exceptions?