It’s called Influencer Marketing — so why don’t marketers approach it like marketing?
Influencer Marketing is – no doubt – here to stay for the foreseeable future. It also may be the hottest, most trendy topic in marketing: in a recent survey 74% of marketing decision makers state that they have allocated a budget for influencer marketing (source: OnBrand). Yet time and again I hear people — even very good marketing professionals — confuse marketing and sales when it comes to SMI* (and make serious mistakes as a result). That is because they have not thought clearly about their influencer marketing strategy.
As someone who has worked on both the SMI and the brand side, and who has over 20 years of B2B and B2C marketing experience, I’d like to bring some clarity to this topic. For the purposes of this discussion I will focus on micro-, middle, and macro-influencers (and not the Kardashians).
1. “Marketing” …. not Sales
Before we continue – a quick primer on the difference between marketing and sales:
〉 Marketing is all about getting the buyer’s attention and interest. Sales is closing the deal.
〉 Marketing’s task is to prep the prospects for the sales team. It can be through Social Media, advertising, email, and other marketing channels.
〉 Marketing takes the football to the 0 to the 50 yard line, and Sales takes it from the 50 yard line to the endzone.
〉 Marketing = money out the door. Sales = money in the door.
Yet somehow we forget this when it comes to Influencer Marketing strategy. Perhaps because it’s online, we confuse it with sales or PPC and expect to be able to draw a straight line from an influencer marketing campaign to an uptick in sales. But that is not how marketing works.
With that in mind….
2. “Positive Bias”
The idea behind influencer marketing — and really all types of marketing — is to create a “positive bias” at as early a stage as possible (we call it the “priming stage”) of the consumer journey. Working with SMI is a very efficient way to acquire that positive bias and build consumer trust because SMI have already built a strong relationship with their own tribe/followers and they are trusted and credible.
SMI work hard everyday (and often nights too) to create that bond with their followers and, as a result, people LISTEN to them and consider them an authority in their area of influence (which is why they’re called “SMI”). They build influencer marketing community. Understanding SMI this way makes it very clear that working with them is part of an influencer marketing strategy.
3. It’s more powerful if someone else talks about you instead of YOU talking about yourself.
If marketing is about getting attention and interest, what better way to do that than to have others talk about you? We all know that it is always more powerful when someone else talks about you instead of YOU talking about yourself.
But that means actually letting the SMI talk about you. One consequence of forgetting that working with SMI needs to include an influencer marketing strategy, is that people often act as if they’re designing an ad when they hire an SMI. This is the wrong approach. If you try tell the SMI exactly what to post, what you’ll end up with is indeed an Ad — and then you are missing the point and the value.
If all you want is an Ad, then you’re in the wrong place, because Influencer Marketing is NOT advertising. Instead, it’s a new and exciting marketing channel. What distinguishes Influencer Marketing from advertising is that it builds trust in your brand in ways that advertising cannot. It’s all about that third party recommendation!
So, let SMI be themselves — they’re Influencers for a reason
One consequence of forgetting that working with #Influencers is a marketing strategy, is that people often act as if they’re designing an ad when they hire SMI. This is the wrong approach.
4. If it’s Marketing, it should focus on brand, or community building, not product
Almost all #endorsed SMI posts are about the product. That’s understandable because Influencer Marketing is still in its infancy, but it’s a bad approach for brands that want to maximize their return on investment.
I would argue that since Influencer Marketing is “marketing” (and not sales), the focus should be on marketing the brand and its story, as well as influencer marketing community building, rather than product sales. In fact, it’s perhaps best to start the marketing before you even have a product, to get feedback and generate excitement (that’s what Amazon does with its soon-to-be released services).
Once there is an interest in your brand, in your company, in your community — then it is time to call in the sales team close the sale.
Once there is an interest in your brand, in your company, in your community, coming from the #Influencers, — then it is time to call in the sales team to close the sale.
5. Send them inside, not outside.
And so, if we are asking SMI to get people to trust our brands and pay attention to our stories, why would it be a good idea for them to send their followers to your website or Amazon to buy your product? It wouldn’t.
Aside from the fact that people don’t like to leave the social media app they are using to visit an outside link, you’re also defeating the purpose of the marketing campaign and damaging the SMI’s ability to use the trust people have in them to support your branding.
A better idea is for SMI to send people to your brand’s account on the same social media platform that they’ve posted on for you. That should be the CTA (call-to-action) on the post. Your goal is to integrate the SMI’s followers into your community, and go from there.
Your goal is to integrate the SMI’s followers into your community, and go from there. #InfluencerMarketing #DoItRight
6. Those SMI creatives are yours!
As any marketing manager knows, it’s really hard to build a content generating machine that is creative and converts for months and months (even if you have the most creative employees on earth, they begin to think the same way after a while, and it becomes.. boring and homogeneous somehow).
The great thing about working with multiple SMIs as part of your marketing campaign is that you get a lot of varied, diverse, and unique content – all of which supports your branding, but in different ways.
So let SMI create that content for you (see #3 above) and…make sure that the contract you sign with the SMI says that you can reuse the creative anytime, for as long as you want. Better yet, get the raw files of any photos, video or graphics they create for you and the rights to modify and develop them further!
7. Long-term is excellent marketing
It can be tempting to try working with an SMI for a short campaign and move on if you don’t see an immediate result. That’s thinking like an ad executive or a sales person — not a marketer.
In marketing terms, if an SMI has nothing to say about your brand nine months out of the year, and suddenly starts singing your praises one day only, that’s not a good strategy.
Be a good marketer, hire SMI to work long-term: advocacy via frequent posts over time works best when building your brand. #InfluencerMarketing #DoItRight”
8. By any other name…
It is clear that Influencer Marketing is a new, okay an “emerging” branch of marketing. Marketers and SMI alike are still experimenting and learning the best practices for working together.
As with anything new, expect difficulties in explaining yourself to your peers or the decision makers in your company. To help you cross that bridge, I suggest the following words and methods:
Influencer Marketing is difficult to put into a single category or a single budget line. It’s PR, sampling, digital marketing, experiential marketing, and more.
Remember the word “emerging channels” from the ‘90s? Marketers use this term to describe very new channels that we still don’t know how to handle. This is a good way to categorize Influencer Marketing when you need to request a budget for it.
“I’ll bring WoM”
Another way to describe Influencer Marketing is as another form of Word-of-Mouth Marketing. WoM is widely accepted as the gold mine that marketing guru Seth Godin calls “the secret for marketing success” so using that terminology can help it gain acceptance.
“No, not those entitled Influencers…”
I’ve noticed that there are a lot of strange ideas out there about SMI, starting with the false idea that they are just entitled people who want things for free. On the contrary, they are hard working people who have used marketing skills, time, and effort to build a brand and a community.
But if you are facing resistance within your organization to working with SMI, an alternative is to just re-name your plan. No, you’re not looking to hire SMI, you’re hiring:
Key opinion leaders (KOL’s) Testimonial Advertisers WoM (word-of-mouth) Distributors Famous People Online Cheerleaders Emerging channels Advocates Endorsers Ambassadors Content creators Influential Content Creators Digital Creators Content strategists Content marketers with amazing followership "Infs" (my favorite) SMI Etc.
Most #Influencers I know are proud small business owners, working hard, with tons of energy and ideas. Not only do they make great partners, but they also can humanize a large company. #SMB
“Partnering with small businesses”
Most Influencers I know are proud small business owners, working hard, with tons of energy and ideas. Not only do they make great partners, but they also can humanize a large company when they’re part of its marketing campaign. This is another way to “sell” your colleagues on your Influencer Marketing strategy.
Do marketing. Let Influencers create positive bias for you, leverage their amazing creatives, and hire them with a long-term strategy for best results. #InfluencerMarketing #DoItRight
9. Conclusions and takeaways
Of course the goal of marketing campaigns is to leads to sales in the end, but confusing the two undermines the value of marketing. This happens a lot with Influencer Marketing — probably because it is so new, and people are not sure where to put it and how to think about it.
My advice – do marketing. Let SMI create positive bias for you, leverage their amazing creatives, and hire them with a long-term strategy for best results.
SMI* = Social Media Influencers