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Vox Pop: How can we make the most of influencers in advertising?

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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?

Dan Deeks-Osburn, strategy director, Impero

When considering an influencer campaign, the critical question is “why?” Why do you want to work with this person or these people? It is because they’re a solid, cheap way of expanding the reach of a brand message? Are you part of the 73% of British marketers who expect influencers to participate in brand campaigns for free in exchange for product or credit (Takumi study, 2016)? Are you trying to get around the ASA guidelines and make it look like this wildly popular individual just so happens to love your brand of butter more than the other, leading brands of butter?

If so, you’d probably better not work with influencers. Influencers provide one of the most powerful (and sometimes wild and unpredictable) forces in marketing – good old fashioned third party endorsement.

The most culturally relevant influencers deal in more traffic than the old guard of glossy magazine titles, but a large social following doesn’t make just anyone an influencer. A true influencer’s power has a supernatural ability to make people across countries, cultures, and languages feel connected to them and their lives. For that reason, it’s important to realise that the real, genuine influencers are professionals, and treat them as such. Don’t ask them to simply peddle product. Don’t try to beat them down on costs. Don’t pitch them something you wouldn’t want to read or double-tap on Instagram yourself. And don’t get into channels you don’t completely understand as a great fit for your brand. Every single poor concept influencer outreach programme diminishes the tactic for all of us in marketing. Like overly populous, interruptive, and badly designed as units, if we rush to slap branding on every surface and space in influencers' lives we're going to piss off consumers, and actively tank the audience that these people have spent so long building up.

Kirsty Sharman, head of operations, Webfluential

Ask not what the influencer can do for you, but what you can do for the influencer. That seems like an odd response but let me explain my thinking. After running hundreds of campaigns at Webfluential we’ve uncovered a formula that works. If you think of the perfect campaign as a triangle, there are three corners. At the top is the audience, and at the bottom two corners sits the influencer and the brand. In order for the triangle to be perfect, all three sides need to be in balance.

To balance, and achieve true influence, we need to answer yes to all these questions. The brand wins because the campaign meets business objectives (yes), the influencer wins because they are proud to post the content (yes), and the audience wins because they enjoy the experience (yes). A campaign where everybody wins is what you should aim for. The perfect influencer marketing triangle. I'd like to propose a new way of looking at the relationship between marketers and influencers. One where influence can only really be achieved through a perfect triangle. So the question should really be:

Influencers; how can marketers use them to create the perfect triangle?

Gracie Clemens, marketing executive, Hi Mum! Said Dad

The word influencer means someone who communicates with a social following with genuine intent. It’s important for marketers to acknowledge that bloggers and online influencers do not just sell to readers; they create content with passion and honesty.

Every online influencer is a self-marketed brand. They have a target audience with similar values, who trust each influencer enough to listen to what they have to say. That is how they ‘influence’; by giving their audience content with true value and as we know a relationship is built on trust.

Therefore, online influencers must always be honest and keep the needs of their readers at the forefront when choosing products and brands to associate with. Brands should also be aware of this and approach relevant influencers to promote for them so they are reaching their desired audience. It’s key for marketers to seek online influencers and bloggers that genuinely align with their brand objectives and values. If the campaign you’re running with a blogger gives zero value to readers, or if it’s too sales driven, the trust will be broken and the audience will stop listening.

The ecosystem of online influencers works and consumers connect better with online influencers because they feel they are real people, rather than just a business. Marketers should understand that this new ecosystem and the era of digital artists – it’s not about manipulating your audience(s), it’s about connecting with them; online influencers today can help you do that in the most personal and honest way possible.

Lidia Lüttin, CMO, Bynder

Building brands for today’s savvy and highly selective youth market is a tall order for marketeers. Especially in an age where social media stars are becoming celebrity brands in their own right, with huge loyal followings. And with 62% of millennials saying they trust brands less today, brands are starting to see the need to leverage the influence of vloggers, bloggers and artists to be heard and stay relevant.

However, influencer marketing in 2016 will be less about shameless product placements on YouTube videos and more about brands and influencers working together to create relevant and authentic content. When done right, brand messaging by influencers is seen as more organic and subject to less scrutiny, meaning more engagement and brand lift. Brands need to find an influencer the matches their brand and most importantly be willing to relinquish creative control. As popular YouTuber, Alex Scott, said at Advertising Week Europe, “people will watch hours of branded content if it fits the style of the influencer.”

While influencers can help B2C brands amplify social reach and engagement, the same doesn’t apply to us B2B marketeers. In the B2B landscape, particularly in the tech industry, you have to be the influencer. When you look at the biggest B2B tech brands in recent years such as HubSpot and Moz, they have become influencers by consistently producing helpful content, and have created communities around their products.

Katy Howell, CEO, Immediate Future

Let’s face it, influencer relations are often conducted with the wrong goals in mind. Focused on reach, it has become a commoditised affair, aimed at spamming as many ‘influencers’ as possible in order to get ‘coverage’. Yuck. Having started working with influencers 12 years ago (when it was all about MySpace influencers!), Lucie Kerley brilliantly demonstrates two points that in our experience brands should focus on – if they want to make the most of the influencer opportunity.

Firstly, that the true value in working with influencers is in changing audience behaviours (and not reach). To be influential is to be able to have impact on an audience. To change perceptions, buying behaviours, messages, ideas and so on. Influencers are not vehicles for brand advertising, but instead, they present incredible opportunities to affect and shift audiences. It is a subtle, nuanced, form of marketing that in today’s open and transparent world needs honesty and integrity.

Secondly, brands should not want to connect with hundreds of influencers. The modern social influencer is often ‘of the moment’, not always operating in volume and scale, but instead affecting change in a community or specific audience segment. Moreover, influencers are not an amorphous blob of young millennial Instagrammers, Youtubers, Snapchatters. Lucie makes it clear. Influence is about passions, interests, drivers that are personal to that influencer. That means brands need to establish relationships with influencers - they need to get close, collaborate, co-create, and connect deeply.

And it works. Audience attitudes and opinions can change, even flip. Brands that include influencer programmes as part of wider social activations (a more layered approach) are able to amplify and drive more impactful reach through direct social channels. So my advice to brands is to have the right approach to building influencer relationships and set the right expectations internally so that you can work together with those that can potentially change your audience in your favour.

Tala Byrne, social media manager, Dog

Influencers have been around for a while, but the game is constantly changing and the level of influence they wield, always on the rise. We now live in a world where Kendall Jenner can demand up to a whopping $300k per post to her 56 million Instagram followers from brands - an idea which was alien a couple of years ago. ‘Influencers’ themselves have changed too; old school bloggers and even admins of popular forums used to be the key influencers for brands to impress, but in 2016, carefully crafted blog posts mean little to marketers unless they’re backed up with some serious social media clout.

But why the sharp increase in influencer value? As social media platforms move towards being more and more ad-heavy, audiences become jaded and crave brand content which is more ‘authentic.’ They want recommendations on the next must-have product from the experts they trust – influencers who have tried and tested many like it. Meanwhile, brands struggle to retain the organic reach they used to have with target customers, and stand out from competitors, as social media gets more brand-saturated.

So how, as marketers, do we make influencer marketing cost-effective when the price-tag of top tier influencers is sky-rocketing? The key is to choose influencers wisely. A larger influencer following often means a wider, less targeted audience. Instead of aiming for top influencers, identify those who are up-and-coming and meet your target audience criteria. Consider experimenting with influencers from a few different niche groups – their word will likely drive more action with a dedicated group of target customers, and be far more cost-effective.

Anna Michna, digital PR, Caliber

Personalise your brand - a familiar influencer can add a human element to your brand message, an element that consumers trust. Increase sales – consumers are more likely to take action based on reviews from trusted sources above all other forms of traditional marketing. Educate - influencers can provide helpful advice on how to use your products, or inspire them to try new things with them. Start conversations - influencers can facilitate and guide conversations about your product. This allows consumers to talk to your brand through a recognisable person that can speak to them on their level.

And what can you do for them?

Let them do their part – they know their audience better than you. They have worked hard to build a relationship with them. Tell them what your brand wants to say, and give them the freedom to say it in a way they feel is authentic to them and their audience. Compliment them - compliment your influencer on what you think they are best at. Be genuine - fake compliments can do more harm than good. Be honest with them - remember that on the other side you are dealing with a human being, so be nice and honest. Don’t make them feel as if they were just another marketing tool.

It's crucial to find the right ones. It is a natural temptation to go for an influencer with the biggest number of followers, but you need to look at how engaged the influencer is with their audience. It doesn’t matter if someone has 100k followers only if a tiny percentage with their audience engages with the content.

Luke Regan, managing partner, DAC Group

The influencer sphere remains immature. Popularity continues to be conflated with genuine influence and as such, many campaigns show little correlation with hard metrics like sales. Brands need to avoid being drawn into a volume game and instead focus on finding those with genuine influence and authority over their audience. Handily, this very frequently coincides with topical relevance for SEO purposes. None of this is easily measurable and there are no shortcuts but understanding genuine influence is the first step.

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