Increasingly the red flags of distrust are waving wildly in the marketing community. Most recently, Edelman announced it in their 2017 Trust Barometer at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Populist, non-establishment elections surprised the UK and U.S., further signaling the cynical mindset of consumers. For brand marketers, it is a challenging time. Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg, YouTube’s arguably largest influencer, has been outcast for anti-Semitic remarks. Ad blockers are at a new high. At least 69.8 million Americans used an ad blocker in 2016, a jump of 34.4% over 2015, according to eMarketer. In 2017, that figure is projected to grow another 24.0%, to 86.6 million people. Add in the fake news conversation, and it’s no surprise that trust is at a new low.
In this environment, consumers’ trust in brand advertising also continues to wane. A more creative ad may make people laugh but it is not going to lead to overall trust. Instead, the new marketing world is ruled by authenticity, transparency and credibility, which is why influencer marketing is getting so much attention. According to Inc, 84% of marketers said they plan to launch at least one influencer campaign within the next 12 months. The most credible advertising comes straight from the people we know and trust. According to a 2015 Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising study, 82% of people trust “recommendations from people I know,” the highest level of trust in North America.
So how do you effectively work with influencers in this skeptical culture? Here are five key considerations:
1. Credibility Matters
No matter how many followers a so-called expert has, know who you are dealing with. Are they a professional or some unknown who has risen to social fame without a proven history? There are stories of influencers who manipulate their metrics and use services to accrue fake followers. You might have noticed in your own Instagram feed the odd comments from a follower you have no connection to. That may be a scam service at work. Successful influencers understand what their audience needs and truly earn their followers. And their followers respect them because they add value to their lives. That’s why in wellness and nutrition, our company works with credentialed professional experts whose followers sincerely trust their professional opinions. Sure, that means sometimes our influencers say no to a project for a brand they don’t believe in, but their credibility and honesty are worth it. To be effective, influencers must be perceived as independent, as authentic fans of the brands they talk about.
2. More Followers Does Not Equal Greater Engagement
How do you know the right size of influencer following for your specific program? What’s the right follower base profile? In this new marketing model, metrics of reach and impressions become just one measure of program effectiveness. We have found that at times the most effective programs are partnerships with what we call the Power Middle. These medium-sized influencers, with 50,000 to 150,000 followers, have deeply engaged audiences who value the influencer’s opinion, much more so than connection to social celebs. Then look at the influencer’s content and ask if they are naturally having the same conversation that is important to your business. Is their relationship with their followers based on shared values, and the same values of your brand? The influencer world requires this human touch, not simply looking at reach metrics. Once you’ve identified the right influencer and base followers, engagement as a metric becomes just as—if not more important— than the number of impressions a program delivers.
3. Retain Authenticity. Embrace Transparency
You hired the influencer because of their voice, expertise and visual style. Now let the influencer be him or herself. Respect their credentials. Each influencer knows their audience and how to engage them with a partner brand without turning people off. Trust their judgment to deliver your message in their voice—an essential principle for authentic content. This goes hand-in-hand with transparency. Even if you wanted to, and the FTC allowed it, hiding a paid partnership is simply too risky to your brand’s reputation. Simply put, the FTC requires “effective communication, not legalese.” Influencers have room to clearly disclose any paid partnerships in their own conversational voice.
4. Build Brand Advocates
Ask yourself a few questions that compare the influencer with your brand-equity pyramid. Is the influencer aligned with your principles? If the answer is yes, you’ve found a partner that can tell your brand story in a meaningful way. And, as such, should be considered an advocate for your brand, a partner that is deeper than a one-and-done “pay to shout” transaction. Instead of a simple media buy, you can end up with a community of brand advocates who demonstrate your brand beliefs in their lifestyle. Consider making these advocates a part of your marketing mix throughout the year to reinforce your messaging across multiple channels. For example, credentialed nutrition influencers tend to have the unconditional respect of their followers, so when an influencer partners with a brand, those followers don’t take it casually. The weight of an influencer’s sincere and continued brand advocacy is cogent.
5. Achieving Scale
Historically influencer marketing was not seen to provide enough reach to make it an important part of a brand’s marketing mix. But the consumer-driven push for ad blockers combined with the user growth of social media platforms has changed the playing field. More influencers across verticals reach larger audiences of committed followers, who often get their news and education directly from social media. Improved technology enables effective management and tracking of influencer campaigns, so experienced influencer marketing companies can now deliver larger numbers of influencers, and greater reach and engagement numbers in a more timely and efficient manner. For added scale, the quality sponsored content being developed by credible influencers can be amplified through highly targeted digital and social media channels, providing even greater impact.
This new marketing model has been flipped, with the influencer having the audience and executional levers, a difficult situation for brand marketers not used to ceding control. But with the right influencer vetting, the right fit and the right brand brief, the influencer will earn your trust and, in turn, the consumer’s trust in your brand as well.