Vox Pop: 'Influencers' and their 'influences'

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

In today’s marketing speak, influence can mean a number of different things for advertisers. It can mean influential emotion, content, video or it can relate to an actual person or community who can directly communicate with consumers on behalf of brands. Influencers are the vloggers, bloggers and artists who can manipulate our audiences easily. How can they do this? What does the word ‘influencer’ mean in 2016 and what can they do for us marketeers?

Rebekah McKay Miller, managing director, trnd

An influencer is not necessarily someone with thousands of followers on Twitter or YouTube. Bloggers, vloggers and artists have the reach, but it’s regular consumers – the everyday influencers – that pose the real opportunity for brands. A recommendation from someone you know is still the most trusted form of advertising. Consumers who actively want to be involved with your brand will be happy to recommend products they love to their friends, distribute product samples, or share behind-the-scenes information that creates social currency or a feeling of being ‘in the know’ about a brand. Using their influence among their friends and peers – your future customers – they have a direct impact on the success of your business.

Smart brands are using branded communities to identify and connect with thousands of these everyday influencers who can spread the word about their products, or provide valuable insights into product development, or even share ideas for new products. Interactions on an owned platform means the brand will own the data, and can feed that back into a CRM system, to build the relationship with each influential consumer even further. To do this effectively, marketers must make genuine connections with their consumers. This takes human interaction – people talk to people, after all – and a brand to genuinely care about what their users think. This is not a one-way street. Build a meaningful relationship with your consumers, and they will naturally use their influence to benefit your brand.

Ross Taylor, account manager, Cult LDN

With the rise of social media, anyone can be an influencer. All you need to do is pick your passion, and create content that resonates with a key demographic in society. For brands, these modern day celebrities provide access to a ready-made audience through a trusted and valuable medium. Working with influencers can be much more effective than using your own channels alone - 92% of individuals trust recommendations from other people over brands, and 88% trusting online recommendations as much as trust those of their personal contacts. This powerful word of mouth marketing is best used when working with influencers that match your brand - there is no point using an influencer for influencer's sake, particularly when it does not feel natural for them to endorse you. One great case study from Cult's work with Barbour was partnering with Adventurer of the Year, Sean Conway, for the brand's AW15 Heritage of Adventure collection - the perfect storm of brand, campaign and influencer working together.

Whilst working with influencers increasingly becomes more expensive, brands should be analysing their content and followers to derive exactly what they can achieve. In some cases, the reach and engagement that influencers provide can vastly prove their worth - particularly in today's pay to play landscape, where it costs to have your content seen. In short, successful influencer partnerships can create new customers, more engaged customers and more valuable customers.

Charlotte McMurray, digital performance director, Silverbean

The most important thing to understand about influencer marketing is that it’s not just celebrity endorsement for the social media age. While influencers can put your brand in front of huge audiences, the rules of marketing in the age of the consumer still apply - if brands don’t deliver value, they’ll be ignored. Influencer marketing might be a novelty at the moment, but as it grows audiences will become accustomed to being sold to, and switch off.

Influencer marketing isn’t necessarily right for every brand, and even those who could benefit need a carefully tailored strategy. They need find the right influencers (not necessarily the biggest ones) for their brand, build relationships with them in the right way and then conduct the right activities to provide value to their audience. Working collaboratively with influencers to develop campaigns or messages is key to achieving this in an authentic way.

While influencer marketing isn’t as simple as it might seem, the good news is that the right approach opens up a whole host of benefits, not least from the influencers themselves. Outside of brand exposure and trust building, influencers have the potential to provide unique insight into your audience and its needs, as well as a fresh perspective on new products or developments within your brand, providing value far beyond simple product placement.

Paul Betteridge, digital marketing specialist, Thinking Juice

As a marketer, understanding what ‘influences’ contribute to our audience’s emotional awareness and what or who inspires them to take the next step is a crucial insight in our marketing mix. Targeting influencers and understanding what ‘communities’ already exist for our brands is a great opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals who have already formed engaging relationships with our target market. By identifying and collaborating with these influencers, we can interact on a human level (people buy from people) with people who have a marketing channel that is trusted and has a voice in our market. Ultimately it’s a great opportunity to attract and engage with an already primed community, who are already influenced and keen to seek clarity about our brand and its relevance. Our advice would be to broaden your targeting efforts and befriend your brands influencers, vloggers and bloggers who can influence your audiences and stimulate positive outcomes.

Tracey Greer, marketing manager, Mando Group

Twenty years ago, an ‘influencer’ would have been Kate Moss in a paparazzi photo with a brand’s latest handbag on her arm in the ‘red tops’. Then along came social media and stretched this influence beyond all previous recognition. I think the traditional definition of ‘influence’ for a brand still stands at a basic level – the right people saying the right things about your products.

It’s just that the ways to access this group have now exploded. As marketers, influencers are one powerful weapon in our armoury. With instant access to celebrities touting every kind of product imaginable, added to the mass of ‘regular Janes and Joes’ who count themselves as bloggers and vloggers, everyone’s an influencer. The powerful effect of vloggers and bloggers can be seen when you look at the huge audiences they attract.

Two vloggers that can’t be ignored (even if you are firmly in the Generation X camp) are Zoella and her boyfriend Alfie Deyes - between them they have 11 million subscribers on YouTube - that’s almost one sixth of the UK population. At the end of the day, customers build your brand reputation – you can put a shape in place, get your product range right, get a top TV ad spot and excel at CX, but ultimately customers are going to fill this structure with their own influential opinion.

Sheri Matthews, account manager, Digital Visitor

The word ‘influencer’ – or, rather, its meaning – has changed substantially over the past 5 years. With consumers becoming increasingly savvy to blogger/brand partnerships, influence has less to do with so-called ‘vanity metrics’ in 2016. We now understand the importance of true engagement, and not simply numbers. For that reason, an influencer doesn’t have to be a vlogger or blogger; an influencer can be anyone with a relevant following.

A case in point is the rise of Iceland to its current status of ‘buzz’ destination. It’s no coincidence that many of the leading travel blogs were writing about the Nordic island’s virtues directly before it hit the big time. Ensure your product is in vogue with some of the biggest influencers around and you can be sure of an up-tick in sales. Conversely, keeping a close eye on those most influential can help marketeers spot important trends. Lakeland and the popularity of spiralisers comes to mind. Of course, influence can work both ways and isn’t always positive. As a certain agency found out recently, treat your influencers poorly – hassle them for content or renege on agreements – and it could be the end of you. It’s a sign of the times and the burgeoning power of influencers.

Aaron Bali, senior data planner, Hugo & Cat

With the growing importance of paid influencer outreach and advertorial content, it’s easy to focus on the new kids on the block and forget about the real core of who influencers are: word-of-mouth advocates for your brand or service. So more than just those who will accept some cash to showcase your products in an Instagram picture or a blog post, your brand’s influencer network is significantly wider than that. It includes people who tweet praise about your brand, leave negative online reviews, or (perhaps terrifyingly for data-driven marketers) talk about it down the pub on a Friday night. These organic influencers may not have as large a reach as paid influencers, but they have drastically more impact on their individual networks. I don’t need to rehash the statistics, but word of mouth (in its various guises) is still by far the most powerful method for increasing the reach of your marketing activity. So how do we optimise for that? By making sure that we focus on creating quality products and services that are (to borrow a line from Seth Godin) remarkable. If we take the time to make and promote things that are worth engaging with, worth raving about, and worth sharing, you’ll see influencers suddenly become the channel that pushes your marketing activity further than any other. It’s a model we’ve seen work for all kinds of business - from venerable streetwear brands like Palace and Supreme, through to massively-scaled startups like Uber or Dropbox. By focusing on product and communications quality, we can create advocates at every brand touchpoint - rather than just those that we have to pay for.

Hayley Stovold, copywriter, Kolab Digital

Most YouTube stars come from humble beginnings, with many filming their vlogs in their bedroom with an old video camera. Today, these vloggers are celebrities, taking on huge roles in the public eye. Their power to shift products is undeniable. In 2014 YouTube star Zoella released her book, Girl Online, and it became the fastest selling book of that year. Zoella and Alfie Deyes (another ‘social influencer’) even have their own waxwork model at Madame Tussauds. Many brands are now looking to cash in on the power of bloggers, by striking up lucrative brand partnerships or paying for one-off advertorials and sponsored videos. Whilst some think this can blur the lines between advertising and genuine content, I think it’s a necessity for marketers today. The fanbases aren’t being shown an advert they don’t want to see, they are actively seeking out new content from these influencers, so they’re automatically engaged. Many vloggers not only talk about products, they show their audiences how they incorporate them into their everyday lives and this can be invaluable for brands. Although there are guidelines that state vloggers and brands need to clearly state when they’re working together, putting ‘ad’ at the end of a video (so far) hasn’t impacted viewing figures. So, if done in the right way, I think influencer collaborations can provide a huge return on investment for marketers today.

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