Most brands have jumped on the influencer marketing hype train in some form or fashion. In fact, according to a recent study by Linqia, 81% of marketers say they’ve used the tactic, with 51% finding it more effective than branded content. The study also shows 39% of marketers intend to increase their investment in this area.
However, when we ask current or prospective clients about what they’re doing with influencers, the all-too-common and unenthusiastic answer is, “We’ve done a bit but haven’t seen great results.”
So what’s up? How is this one of the fastest growing digital marketing channels, yet many marketers are finding themselves in the trough of disillusionment when it comes to using influencers?
We truly believe in the power of influencers and advocate for them to be a part of your overall marketing strategy. As a brand, it often feels like you're just yelling. But when there are trusted voices echoing you, you gain invaluable social credibility. To help those disheartened by their experience to date, we’ve identified some of the most common reasons influencer programs fail and what you can do about it.
Because people have relationships with people (not brands), influencers provide a much-needed personal touch.
Often times brands approach their influencer program with a one-size-fits-all approach. But not all influencers are created equal. Beyond the obvious differences in topics, follower size and engagement, each one has their own personal goals and aspirations.
As you do with your customers, it’s helpful to segment your influencers into tiers, or even create influencer personas.
For example, your “top tier” influencers are the ones who best fit your brand and have the highest follower quality and reach (and over time, deliver the strongest results). Treat these individuals more like a partner by developing a co-branding style of relationship. Give them special access and influence. Let them help you build the brand.
Beyond the top tier, other influencers play a role in content creation, amplification and affiliate marketing programs. The key is to take the time to think about what these segments are, how they’ll support your overall strategy and build programs (and budgets) specific to each tier.
If your influencer program conversations revolve around the question “What celebrity can we get?” then you’re missing out. Although celebrity influencers may play a role, many brands continue to overlook the power of the “everyday Joe” who has a solid social following and a lot of credibility.
In fact, studies show micro-influencers’ social engagement outperforms that of celebrity influencers. These individuals inject a degree of humanity into their content that's often missing from the “a-listers.” Finding the influencers who can authentically incorporate your brand into their viewers’ feed is critical to a successful influencer program.
The third-party credibility influencers provide is a big reason influencer marketing is so effective. However, when influencers are asked to create content that feels like it’s coming from the brand, that credibility and authenticity are lost.
Take the case of influential rock climber Alex Puccio, who worked with Michelob ULTRA. That sponsorship was off-brand for Puccio, with the over-produced photography and messaging feeling like it was straight from the brand. Compare that with content for Trigger Point Therapy, another brand she promoted, which felt much more authentic.
Take the time to think about what content, and what message, is best delivered by influencers and what is best left for the brand.
For example, content aimed at brand building is often best left to the brand. Whereas content aimed at showing how your product or service fits into your customer’s lives or topics like trends, tutorials and recipes are perfect for influencers. The execution of influencer content is key as well - ensuring tone and voice and visual aesthetic is authentic for the influencer. Taken together, they both work to build the brand, drive sales and foster loyalty.
Not defining what success looks like upfront is the death knell of many an influencer program (and marketing initiatives for that matter). If you haven’t defined your goals, not only will it be challenging to select the right influencers, it will also be difficult to create the contract, manage the relationship, get access to the data you need and measure results.
Be it driving foot traffic, online sales or other measurable “conversions” - you need to demonstrate how your marketing investments are leading to increased revenues or decreased costs. Influencer content is no exception. Adding specific calls to action within influencer content, making their posts shoppable and tracking conversions are all something we expect to see more of as influencer marketing matures. As long as it feels authentic (see Fail #3), don't shy away from using affiliate links. They allow influencers to make money recommending products they love and incentivizes them to drive sales.
We’re evangelists of the test-and-learn approach to marketing. And there’s nothing wrong with “piloting” your influencer program. However, too often, it’s treated as a one-off project.
Successful influencer programs are not a short-term play.
It is also not a stand-alone channel (yes, we think of it as its own channel). Instead, think of your influencer program in the context of your overall marketing mix and campaign strategy. It needs time to gather data to be optimized, just like any other channel. And it needs to be scalable, which will likely involve technology investments.
Most importantly, because influencer marketing involves people, a brand’s ability to foster long-term, “always-on” relationships is critical. The two-way dialogue with influencers, and their followers, provides valuable insights and feedback to the brand.
Under Armour is a great example of a brand integrating influencers into their ongoing digital marketing strategy. They’ve developed long-term relationships with both celebrities like The Rock and micro-influencers. They’ve also reached beyond the bounds of their category, partnering with influencers like Ambitious Kitchen.
So the next time you approach an influencer marketing project - we suggest getting started quickly, then learning and adjusting on the fly...all while keeping the long view in mind.
As platforms continue to change their algorithms, and it becomes increasingly more difficult (and expensive) to get in front of the right audience, influencer marketing is even more important. So if you’ve tried and failed, now is a good time to press reset and consider how you might adjust your influencer program as a critical part of your digital strategy and campaigns. Treating influencers as a channel, taking a strategic approach and investing in relationship building will help you see better results.