Influencer Marketing — Fad or Future?

There’s no doubt that having a successful influencer marketing campaign is one of the most talked-about marketing trends of recent years. But with the rise in recent years, is it just an over-hyped fad, or does it have longevity as a tactical marketing medium like social media overall?

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A lot of people are saying that social media influencer marketing is an over-hyped fad. That it’s going to disappear. That there’s no ROI.  They also might have said that about social media marketing, or even social networks like Snapchat or LinkedIn or even other digital marketing strategies like SEO overall a while back too!

We want to share our thoughts and experience working with many influencers with large followings and niche micro-influencers alike on their strategy, on the common questions and flags that are raised around the influencer marketing strategy and our reasoning on why the industry is growing, and will continue to do so as more and more people connect with micro-influencers, local influencers and more – going far beyond just celebrity endorsements and free products.

BRANDS PAY MORE THAN 10X WHAT THEY WOULD PAY TO REACH THE SAME NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN TRADITIONAL OR DIGITAL MEDIA BUY

In a Forbes article it states: “In today’s market, many influencers are convincing brands to pay more than 10 times what we’d pay to reach the same number of people in a traditional or digital media buy.”

INFLUENCER MARKETING: A DIFFERENT TYPE OF MARKETING

We don’t believe you should directly compare influencer marketing spend to a traditional or digital media buy, the top two reasons being:

  1. When you work with influencers you are not simply buying reach towards a target audience, you are asking an individual to solve a creative problem for your brand and asking them to produce and distribute content. In most cases, all content produced comes with licensing rights, which is hugely valuable.
  2. Reach is not just reach, it also helps to build trust. Instagram influencers accumulate their followers from submitting hundreds or thousands of posts and know better than anyone what works for that specific subset of Instagram users. When you sponsor the same image to 10 million users on Facebook you can easily match the reach of an influencer marketing campaign, but you’ll never get the same engagement or ad-recall.  So it is important to also find the right influencers for your brand in order to get a strong return on investment.

46% OF MARKETERS BELIEVE INFLUENCER MARKETING SHOULD BE PART OF THEIR MARKETING PLAN, HOWEVER ONLY 19% HAVE BUDGET FOR IT

With brands continuing to drive efficiencies with their marketing budget, they will look to different sources for creative content. Influencers are the gateway to creativity. Making a huge pool of smaller content creators available to marketers is a powerful thing. The authentic tone, creativity and visuals make for fantastic marketing collateral. It also often results in more creative content than would otherwise be produced. Combine this with a low CPE (when compared to social media advertising) and it’s clear to see why marketers will take more interest. The quality content creatives provide a great deal of supply to the market of content.

Traditionally, you’d have to pay for content to be created by a creative agency and distributed by a media agency. Now, you really get two for the price of one and a more integrated marketing tool overall. Over the next few years, we are confident that influencer marketing will become a $10billion industry and the budget will gradually increase. We see influencer marketing growing and evolving far beyond just subscriber/follower count and viral video content, as it will become a bigger part of the marketing mix.

CHALLENGES BEHIND INFLUENCER MATCHING

THE PRESSURE TO LAUNCH AN INFLUENCER CAMPAIGN OFTEN MEANS THAT CAMPAIGNS HAVE LOOSE METRICS. INFLUENCER MATCHING CONTINUES TO BE A HUGE CHALLENGE FOR MARKETERS. NO TOOL HAS BEEN ABLE TO SOLVE THE MATCHING PROBLEM

This above mentions two separate points:

  • A) PRESSURE TO LAUNCH CAMPAIGNS RESULTS IN LOOSE METRICS
  • B) MATCHING BRANDS WITH INFLUENCERS IS A CHALLENGE NO ONE HAS SOLVED

a) As with everything, if done under pressure without adequate planning you’ll get sub-par results. That does not only apply to influencer marketing campaigns. Takumi has run c. 2,000 campaigns for global and local brands alike and each one has been run with a clear goal, whether that’s related to content marketing / production, reach, engagement or tracking direct business goals like sign-ups or sales.

b) We’ve seen a few approaches when it comes to matching up with new audiences and some definitely work. Two key risk factors here are that you are getting the wrong person with the wrong audience, and second is that you are simply getting a fake audience. Social media platforms do a good job of minimizing each risk. They have processes and tools in place to onboard only the top influencers with real audience and engagements. At Takumi, we only accept 7% of applications, and regularly review all profiles. Furthermore, we have recently adopted a new three-step matching process where 1) a targeted group of influencers see campaign opportunities, 2) influencers express interest if they align with that brand or product, and 3) Takumi works with the brand to select the final list of campaign participants.

NINE OF OUT TEN INFLUENCERS SAY THEY MUST ALREADY LIKE A BRAND TO ACCEPT ITS SPONSORSHIP, AND THAT BRAND AFFINITY MATTERS MORE THAN MONEY. BIG PROBLEM: BRAND AFFINITY DOESN’T PAY THE BILLS

A genuine endorsement is key for any type of influencer. As consumers become savvier to influencer marketing, influencers who accept sponsorships which aren’t authentic to them will only erode the trust of their followers. Additionally, followers won’t trust an influencer who posts about products or services that are not relevant to their channel or content. Influencers need to stay authentic to their audience and show to their following a true emotive human story — therefore brand affinity is key to the success of an influencer.

71% OF INFLUENCERS’ INCOME IS ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY FROM SPONSORED CONTENT, VERSUS MORE TRADITIONAL AD STREAMS LIKE DISPLAY ADS, AFFILIATE LINKS AND E-COMMERCE. IF YOU WANT TO MAKE MONEY, YOU HAVE TO PARTNER WITH BIG BRANDS

Influencers don’t need to partner with big brands in order to make money. Brands are harnessing influencers to power their advertisements across paid social, commercials, and even billboards, to great measured success and this is providing an extra avenue of income for the influencers. This type of content typically outperforms brand or agency-created content on social.

Secondly, as the industry continues to mature, brands/agencies will be seeking long-term partnerships with influencers, to create brand ambassadors. These sustainable long-term partnerships naturally yield better, more organic content and opportunities for the influencer in the long run.

BAD MATCHING = MORE BRAND CONTROL = FAKE POSTS. 80% OF INFLUENCERS SAY THEY ARE DETERRED TO WORK WITH BRANDS THAT CONTROL THEIR CONTENT TOO MUCH. INFLUENCERS WANT TO CREATE THEIR OWN BRAND, NOT MIRROR SOMEONE ELSE’S BRAND

This all comes down to alignment between the brand and the influencer. Brands need to understand that the influencers know best with what resonates with their followers and that interaction with followers is more important than just the number of followers. Something we learned early on is that the more open you leave campaign briefs, the better results you get. Writing campaign briefs is almost an art in itself. You want to provide the influencer with a canvas that ensures they relay a certain message for the brand, but in their own style and voice. If you miss this point, you might just as well be sponsoring your ad on Instagram and making your own Instagram posts  — the reach is cheaper

CONSUMERS ARE TIRED OF SEEING FAKE POSTS — FAKE POSTS = LOW ENGAGEMENT FROM CONSUMERS. WHAT IS AN ABOVE AVERAGE ENGAGEMENT RATE FOR AN INFLUENCER POST? 4%!! SO, WHAT DO CONSUMERS REALLY WANT?

It’s true no one likes a bad influencer/brand partnership, we’ve all seen when this goes horribly wrong. But again, this can be avoided by ensuring you have the right people working with the right brands, and you give the influencers enough freedom to be creative.

When done right, brands realise they get much higher engagement rates on their messaging when working with influencers vs what they get on their own channels, and that comes from the strong relationship influencers have with their followers. What we’ve also seen is that the content influencers produce often achieves higher engagement rates than what brands produce internally or via their agencies. At Takumi, we’ve done several A/B tests with this form of marketing where we run digital ads powered by influencer content vs traditional content and every single time the influencer content performs better. And we believe that through trial and error influencers have found what type of content people engage with.

CONSUMERS ARE ALMOST TWICE AS LIKELY TO CONSIDER A PRODUCT RECOMMENDED FROM A FRIEND RATHER THAN AN INFLUENCER. 61% SAY THEY’D BE MORE LIKELY TO RESEARCH A PRODUCT OR SERVICE RECOMMENDED ON SOCIAL BY A FRIEND VERSUS ONLY 36% FOR INFLUENCERS

As various sites try to increase brand awareness in their marketing channels and target markets via discreet methods that resemble word-of-mouth marketing and organic outreach, consumers tend to use social channels to learn about a brand and for inspiration — using influencer content as the source. In our whitepaper research — The Takumi Influencer Index (released Sep 2018 with YouGov, polled over 500 online Instagram users) found that a quarter of Instagram users in Britain have made a purchase because of the social network, either buying directly from the app or in-store at a later date. It found that purchase behaviour is significantly higher among millennials and genZ, particularly 18–35s, with 32 percent having bought a new product or service they’ve seen on the platform.

We know that sometimes a purchase might not be immediate, but influencer content can contribute to the potential customers purchasing decision and with the recommendation from a friend this adds to the final decision.

N.B. The points raised in this article were referenced in a Tweet discussing the model of influencer marketing and its flaws.