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How do you solve a problem like... getting your money’s worth from influencer spend?

Every week in How Do You Solve A Problem Like..., we ask readers of The Drum – from brands, agencies and everything in between – for their advice on real problems facing today’s marketing practitioners.

Ever since influencer marketing emerged as a viable channel for brands to reach consumers online, questions have been raised over the sector’s ability to track and measure the impact of advertiser spend.

And with influencer spend climbing in recent years – especially in the past 12 months – those questions will surely be at the forefront of clients’ minds. So, what’s the answer?

How do you solve a problem like... getting your money’s worth from influencer spend?

Hannah Walley, head of media and digital, Kantar

It’s a tricky one. Consumers genuinely value influencers and our data shows their content is the best received out of all digital advertising channels, although ads on traditional media such as TV do score higher. Return on investment for influencer spend can be hard to define. For a start, the audiences can be much smaller and more targeted.

Micro-influencers can have as few as 1,000 followers, so the market is hugely fragmented and diverse. The tools used to quantify ROI are often short-term behavioral metrics – such as discount codes and swipe-ups on Instagram – which don’t paint the full picture. The measure of true value is finding an influencer who has the right fit with your brand, someone who shares your values, who consumers trust, and who genuinely endorses your product over your competitors.

Charlotte Williams, founder, SevenSix Agency

Influencer ROI to me starts with understanding your campaign objectives – is this brand awareness, sales or content-driven? Once you have that, then you can go on to choose your influencers as they will all provide different results.

Some will be great at increasing your following and getting a quality audience to your page – this might convert into PR and partnership opportunities, or sales at a later touchpoint. For specific sales drivers, it’s always best to ask for proof of sales during the recruitment stage, ensuring the influencer’s audience is open and looking to buying products like yours.

Nathan Woodhead, senior director of creative innovation for Western Europe, Virtue

Work with advocates, not mouthpieces, and let them roam wild. Invest the time and resources into finding the right people and you won’t need to micromanage the work you do together. Influencers are mostly used as an add-on to campaigns and, in my experience, this is when the CTAs lose their power. The best thing you can do is think beyond campaigns, find people who truly share your values and collaborate with them long-term. People see right through it when you’re just trying to buy their love.

Scott Harkey, president and chief executive, OH Partners

The influencer world is the wild west of advertising. Facebook and Instagram have not been easy platforms to measure the effectiveness of influencer programs, and there’s often a lack of transparency. I view influencer marketing to be more like public relations – there will always be metrics that are challenged. We can try to measure value by general impressions, engagements, website visits and sales.

I like sourcing micro-influencers and mixing in paid strategies, which allows us to track more data points. There’s no magic solution – if specific metrics are needed, it’s best to do a media buy.

Rosie MacDonald, senior account manager, Jump

Influencer marketing is increasingly becoming a standard line within brands’ marketing plans. With influencer activity’s integration alongside traditional media, excuses of limited ROI reporting capabilities are long gone. Instead, there is an expectation that this activity should be held to the same measurement standards as other channels.

Upfront business objectives ensure the right KPI and measurement in planning and execution, meaning the best use of budgets and minimal wastage. Reporting on impressions and CPMs for a conversion-based objective does not demonstrate success.

With the trend towards more performance-based influencer marketing, long-term strategies are key to optimization and cost efficiencies, connecting influencer campaigns to broader marketing KPIs and a clear indication of budget spent.

Natasha Hulme, strategy director, Seen Group

As the influencer landscape becomes more fragmented and audiences more focused, brands need to think about whether it’s right to measure all influencers’ ROI with the same metrics when they bring different things to the table.

A great partnership between brand and influencer not only helps reach new customers but adds value by affirming a brand’s philosophy and bringing humanity to ideas. Brands need to rethink how they measure value and look beyond reductive metrics. Reach and engagement don’t truly consider why brands want and need endorsements. Brands should ask themselves what’s valuable to them as a business and whether the influencer reflects that.

Skylar Jackson, vice-president of content strategy, Digitas Health

Stop buying impressions and start investing in relationships! Excellent influencer marketing prioritizes meaningful engagements over time instead of the ’bullhorn approach’ pursuing impressions.

For example, instead of creating one spot with a celebrity influencer, co-create multiple content pieces with a nano-influencer. Fostering long-term relationships with emerging content creators with deep brand connections builds relatable campaigns that grow the brand and influence. Developing nano-creators into brand personalities also increases the number of touchpoints and strengthens consumer trust – and provides a consistently reliable, action-driving engagement channel for your brand.

Next time, skip the A-lister (they probably don’t care about brand success, anyway).

Dafydd Woodward, global managing director, Inca

To accurately gauge the value of influencers, it is important to first define the desired goal for a campaign and then build customized KPIs to measure against.

This could include core campaign metrics such as reach and engagement, but also business objectives such as consumer perception and sales attribution. It’s only through an evaluation framework with set objectives and relevant performance indicators that marketers can make sure influencer activations deliver the best outcome for the brand.

Joe Mowles, director of celebrity relations, Connects

Here’s our two-pronged, fail-safe influencer marketing strategy: take a data-led approach and look to integrate wherever possible. Start by choosing influencers properly; making sure they’re authentic, their engagement is high and they’re archetypally aligned to your brand.

Next, set out your KPIs and establish what success looks like to you. That information can then be used to determine realistic benchmarks. Plus, by starting at the ’end’ and working ’backwards’, you can develop the rest of the campaign accordingly. Finally, push content far and wide; think paid, PR, physical billboards, traditional media and so on.

Oliver Lewis, group managing director and founder, The Fifth

Firstly, influencer marketing should be approached with a partnership mindset, not a transactional media lens. Invest in the relationship, be open to feedback and share what success looks like for the brand.

Know and respect the value of an influencer’s work and talent and pay them fairly; this will be returned in organic content and added value. If you undervalue creators, you will receive the bare minimum in return.

Finally, ensure you have direct access to the talent’s data. Unless you authenticate the audience you can’t be confident it’s relevant, real and engaged, or measure the true impact of engagement.

Richard Thompson, chairman, M&C Saatchi Talent Group

Be clear on what your key objective is for engaging with influencers. Short-term or long-term association, exposure or sales? If it’s the latter, understanding the influencer’s audience’s buying habits is just as key as pulling traditional data around influencer demographics.

Any insights into click-through rates and sales through affiliates will enhance your decision making. Assessing what content the influencer creates works best, and on what platform, is much more useful than just calculating average views – content might have hit algorithms, received platform exposure or spend behind it. These can all lead to a false reading of predicted content performance.

Antoine Gross, general manager for South East Asia, Impact

Put simply, by ensuring you’re clear on the desired outcome from the campaign and have the ability to track and optimize performance.

The days where likes and comments were considered the best way to measure success are long gone – and with it the risk of fraudulently inflated metrics and a lack of transparency.

Instead, the technology now exists to track conversions and other performance metrics at scale via partnership automation technology. Brands like Razer, Coda and Canva use it to free-up staff and gain a clear insight into influencer performance and how it contributes to real business outcomes.

Andy Kayama, regional account director for Japan, Collab Asia

When engaging influencers, brands should do due diligence in ensuring they are partnering with the right personality: one that is relevant to their industry and can connect with their audience. Measuring partnership success extends beyond reach and impressions, but includes how creative the output is and whether the messaging is aligned to their values.

To get the most bang for your marketing buck, the cost-per-view and creative development costs from the output should be measured against the market standards. Both brand and influencer should also ensure they are on the same page in terms of desired output and objectives. That way, both parties benefit.

Feel like joining the debate? Email me at sam.bradley@thedrum.com to be included in future editions of this series. And you can see our readers’ solutions to more of the industry’s dilemmas over on our How Do You Solve A Problem Like... hub.