What is Influencer Marketing? Lets start with a few popular influencer marketing examples…
The Land of Nod is a US-based children’s furniture, storage, bedding and accessories retailer. Their marketing mix includes showcasing their products on an exclusive Pinterest board named Oh Joy for Nod that’s run by designer, blogger, food enthusiast, and a mom of two Joy Cho who is quite a Pinterest star with several highly followed niche blogs.
Just for your information, her Oh Joy for Nod Pinterest board alone has 8791000 followers. It’s a marketer’s dream come true. Imagine getting almost 9 million guaranteed eyeballs on every single product pic you post!
When Lord & Taylor came out with its Design Lab Collection, it posted Instagram pics of 50 hand-picked (and paid) influencers (Rachel Martino, Cara Van Brocklin, Jessica Ricks and 47 other fashionistas) all wearing the same dress from the collection.
The instant message sent out and received by the fashion followers was that this was the must-have dress of the season they had to have in their wardrobe. The dress was sold out by the next weekend and the entire target audience knew that the Design Lab Collection had arrived. With a bang.
Cadbury’s UK ran a pre-Halloween social media campaign to zero in on which old and dead brands to resurrect for a limited edition reissue. People were given an option to choose between Cadbury’s Marbles or Cadbury’s Fuse.
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The campaign accelerated massively on the third day when Big Brother presenter and X-Factor contestant Rylan Clark-Neal entered the campaign as an influencer and tweeted his preference. The influencer magic touch worked, votes started pouring in and the campaign became a huge success.
Every time Apple launches a new gizmo, it reaches out to tech journalists who are interested in the product and are eager to review it. When these reviews and recommendations make their way to influencer’s social media platforms, mass market is automatically attracted and convinced that the next big innovation has arrived. No wonder, people pay handsomely for the privilege of owing the latest iphone or mac.
Maybelline Malaysia launched a new lip balm brand named Baby Lips Electro Pop for tween and teenage girls last year. To raise brand awareness and to bring in buyers, they relied on influencer marketing. Maybelline Malaysia partnered with 9 Malaysian Instagram influencers and placed brand content in their posts under #DareToNeon on their Instagram accounts.
These influencers included models and brand ambassadors Andrea Tan, Kok Annie, and May Ho. Result? #DareToNeon campaign reached 300,000 people and 128,000 actually engaged directly with the campaign!
If you are wondering where these examples are leading, let me tell you straight up. I am honestly not leading you down the garden path. These honest to goodness, real marketplace examples are showcasing a great new promotional trend called influencer marketing that’s emerging as the highest growing marketing channels for companies.

So what’s this new strategy on the block called influencer marketing?

There are several high brow, fancy definitions floating around for influencer marketing. A leading marketing guru defines it as, ‘Influencer Marketing is the practice of engaging internal and industry experts with active networks to help achieve measurable business goals.’

The Forbes defines it as,
‘A nonpromotional approach to marketing in which brands focus their efforts on opinion leaders, as opposed to direct target market touchpoints. ‘

To define it in simple, everyday words,

“Influencer marketing is getting influential people to take your brand’s message to the people you want to turn into your customers.” (James Waddington, Vizified) 

This message-bearing is usually done through social networking platforms such as Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Linkedin, blogs, vlogs, and Snapchat etc where your ‘influencers’ are popular, followed and listened to.
You must have heard of word-of-mouth marketing where someone’s verbal recommendation brings in business for a brand (A friend says, “we dined at Restaurant ABC last Sunday and their steak was to die for.” And you book the same place for your next big date because you trust the person who has made the recommendation!)
Influencer marketing is the same in essence and spirit. Of course, it’s a three-party communication here – brand to influencer to audience. The mediums are the ubiquitous social platforms that almost everyone has on their fingertips through their smartphones these days. And last but not the least, the recommendation ambit is much bigger than a one-to-one chat between two people who know each other. Here, the influencer and the audience may or may not be known to each other on a personal basis.

Why do brands need influencer marketing?

Think of it this way. To get people to purchase your product/service, you first have to make people aware of it and create a desire for it. Then you have to sustain that level of brand awareness and purchase desire as other competing brands are also pushing in their messages and fighting for the same slice of the buyer’s budget.
To do so, you need to get them to listen/read/view your message again and again (for example: my brand’s cream removes pigmentation twice as fast as any other brand/ my footwear brand makes you feel sexy as a kitten/ my airlines provides meals with gourmet taste etc). The more attention your target audience pays to your brand message, the deeper the impact and the higher the recall and more the chances of a purchase materializing.
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In the pre-social network era, marketers created sleek ad campaigns for print and TV, hired top models, contracted celebrity brand ambassadors, bought expensive space in most-read publications/on most-watched TV channels and bombarded their brand message all over with the hope of catching eyeballs of some of those they were targeting. In the digitally connected world of today, this method is losing its effectiveness and fast.
Let me explain.
The digital era is here. Your targeted buyer now has too little time and too many messages vying for her attention. She is bombarded with messages from numerous marketers and it is all a big jumble, a cacophony, she would prefer to tune out of.
She no longer impressed by the celebrity endorser featuring in your ad. She knows that you have paid him or her fat sums to parrot out your message. Plus, she dislikes the interruptions your messages cause in her experience. She blocks out all ads, often watches shows and movies on the internet (long live Netflix!) and reads books on Kindle. In other words, your buyer has nominal ‘meaningful engagement’ with your carefully prepared brand message.
So how on earth do you catch her attention?
After all, to get into her pocket, you first need to get into her mind, and for that to occur, you have to get into her sight!
Well, as they say, where there is a will, there is a way. Smart marketers have found a way around this puzzle of ‘how do I get my customer to pay attention to my brand’s message when she is not willing to listen to me’.
You simply send your message through a third party source she likes, trusts and is influenced by. When your message comes from someone she follows, trusts and respects, she grasps it. This new way of getting your message imprinted on the customer’s mind is called influencer marketing.

How does influencer marketing work?

Influencer marketing works by bypassing all that the buyer does not like about traditional marketing and reaching the forum that she seeks to pursue on her own. The key here is weaving your brand message in your chosen influencer’s content. In a nut shell, it works by making your message an indivisible part of the organic content your buyer is influenced by.
For example, let’s say you have a hair de-tangler spray brand and you would like to mount an influencer marketing campaign to promote it. Your first task is to find people on social media who write/post/pin/tweet about hair/beauty/personal care topics. These people could be well-known makeup artists, stylists, models, beauty enthusiasts, or even busy moms or executive who are rushed off their feet and are looking for time saving, convenience enhancing products .
They should have a following (actually as we will see ahead, both large and small followings work) i.e. their message should be seen/read by a decent number of followers who are your targeted customers and who trust your influencer. Now get these influencers to include your brand message in the content they are sharing and recommend it too.
Presto! Your message reaches their sphere of influence where many of your targeted buyers will read it eagerly and as they trust their influencer’s recommendations, will be positively predisposed towards your brand.

Here is a bird’s eye look at the entire step-by-step process –

• Know your brand inside out. Ascertain your brand’s key benefits, competitive strengths and target audience. Be sure of what you want to project. That’s the only way you will know who to tie up with.
• Identify influential individuals in your business niche/ sector who are hits on social media platforms. These could be journalists, industry experts, experienced enthusiasts, or celebrities. Evaluate their following, quality of followers, and social influence scores etc.
• Prune the list to select to find a few select influencers that best complement your business and brand.
• First, connect with them to build rapport and mutual trust.
• Later, partner with them in creating, promoting and endorsing your brand message.
You will agree that this is ‘quality over quantity’ approach as a micro-influencer with limited but attentive following can actually bring in better results than a macro-influencer with a huge but inattentive following.

So how do you find best-fit influencers for your brand?

This is the all-important part – how to zero in on those key influencers who will be the best in carrying your message straight to the eyes, mind and pockets of your target audience.
Well, finding the right influencer is sometimes the case of ‘if Mahomet won’t come to the mountain, the mountain must go to Mahomet’. You may have to run a careful analysis to find a good match for your brand and then approach the chosen ones to cut a promotional deal.
Fortunately there are plenty of companies offering influencer measurement services (over 70, as per the Wikipedia). There are many easy-to-use tools out there as well who help locate the best folk for your influencer deal. In the digital world, it is rather easy to keep track of who is getting how many views, likes, shares, mentions, retweets, re-pins and followers.
You can even measure the quality of followers with these select tools.
As we have discussed, in influencer marketing, quality often rules over quantity. An influencer with a small but dedicated following can be far more effective in creating new buyers than an influencer with a huge herd of uninterested followers that may not lead your brand anywhere in terms of responses or brand awareness.
Here are some of these popular tools that measure ‘social influence scores’ or ‘social authority scores’ of those active on social media platforms:
All these tools basically pull past data from social platforms and use an algorithm to collect the influence scores. The higher the influencer score, the more the outreach of the influencer.

Can you outsource influence marketing?

Yes, absolutely.
There are plenty of digital marketing agencies (some specialize solely in influencer marketing) out there who are expert at mounting campaigns that deliver. Many of these have already cultivated solid relations with influencers to cut down the pre-campaign, ‘getting to know each other and establishing mutual comfort level’ time. For more information on some such leading agencies, read here.
There are also ebay style, online influencer marketplaces where you can find several influencers listed with their rates, followings, and expertise niches clearly mentioned. You can post a project, give your specifications and get offers from interested influencers.

How do influencers weave your brand’s message in their content?

So you have fund your set of influencers. So far so good. Now the next step is to get them to promote your brand. This can be done in the following ways:
• They can put up a guest post on their forum that talks about your brand and showcases its benefits and competitive strengths. You get to showcase your product expertise, the influencer adds her credibility to the message and you make inroads into your target audience.
• You can interview the influencer and share it on your blog/forum/site where you will get visitors from your own reader bank as well as those searching for your influencer’s opinions. Goes without saying that the influencer in question will also promote the interview by putting up a URL on own page.
• You can get the influencer to include your brand in a demonstration or a tutorial. For example, you are selling extra virgin olive oil and have short-listed a home chef YouTuber with a huge following as your influencer. Get them to display your oil’s bottle in their videos, put in a good word about how good they find it to be and also give additional references on how it can be used in their recipes. All those who view the video will see and hear about your brand.
• You can get an influencer for a review of your product or service. Of course, influencers are influencers because they have built strong credibility value among their followers by being honest and accurate. So do be sure that your product actually delivers the benefits you are promising. A negative review can actually do untold damage to your brand. An influencer who is happy with your product will endorse it on the review they post on their platform and you will get added credibility and expert recommendation.

So what are the benefits that influencer marketing brings to the brand table?

Till now we have been talking about the benefits accrued by influencer marketing in a limp sum way. Let’s take a look at the finer detail:

1) It costs less, way less, than traditional marketing and delivers high ROIs

Influencer marketing campaigns are cost effective as you don’t have to create ad campaigns or buy media space. Of course, you will probably pay the influencer but it will be much, much less than getting a celebrity to be your brand ambassador. Then there is the delightful matter of low input and high output.
As per influencer marketplace Tomoson’s latest poll report, Influencer marketing is yielding $6.5 in revenue for every $1 put into it on average. 7 out of every 10 businesses using influencer marketing earn $2 for every single dollar spent. 13% businesses actually earned $20 for every single dollar spent.
This is massive return on investment (ROI) your brand can’t afford to miss out on. In case you are interested, this study also found out that influencer marketing is growing at a phenomenally high pace leaving other strategies such as affiliate marketing or paid searches or paid advertising lagging far behind.

2) You bypass ad blocking

Consumers ignore ads because of the noise, clutter and interruption caused by them. Many consumers are now opting for ad blockage to bypass all ads altogether.
Do you know in US, ad blocking grew by 50% in 2015?
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Adobe has forecast that ad blocking will grow by 41% per annum across the globe.
Influencer marketing works around this by getting into contact your consumers is seeking from those she trusts and relies upon. Your influencer weaves your brand message in their organic content. There is no app that will block it!

3) You amplify your brand content

One influencer pin is re-pinned by many followers. Ditto with facebook posts and tweets. This is spreading your idea, creating message chains that can go on and on and on. Think of it, one single well-placed brand message in a carefully chosen influencer’s content can create a ripple effect all around. Influencer marketing wins hands down at this front!

4) You get ‘meaningful engagement’

With traditional marketing that’s mass media-oriented, you are never sure that your message has made an impact in the right quarters. With influencer marketing, you attract and engage the right audience. You get heard, read, seen and trusted. After all, people trust people not ads.
One worthy influencer recommendation is worth a hundred ads in terms of impact. When influencers speak, followers listen. Your buyer believes them to be unbiased third parties and hence, more trustworthy. That’s half the brand battle won already. Your buyer is willing to follow your chosen influencer and that’s why your brand message goes home and rings cash registers.

5) You boost brand credibility

Traditional or new age, marketing is all about winning your customer’s trust.
Do you know that in USA,

  • 92%customers (more than 9 out of every 10!) put their faith in recommendations coming from others rather than in ad claims?
  • 70% (7 out of every 10!) consumers own up to paying heed to online reviews as their second most-trusted source of product information?
  • 47% follow blogs to stay in touch with what’s hot and what’s not.

A McCarthy study found out that 83% millennials dislike advertising! Naturally, their dislike gets translated into lack of faith in your product as well.
Your influencer, on the other hand, is trusted by your buyer because they have well-established credibility and the buyer is genuinely interested in the influencer’s opinion. Some of this credibility is automatically transferred onto your brand when you form a relationship with the influencer and your message becomes a part of their content.
As per a study by The Shelf, 92% consumers have more faith in recommendations from other people, even strangers, rather than those put up by the brand itself.

6) You reach those out of reach

Do you know a lot of Millennials no longer follow conventional media?
They do not switch on the telly, they do not read newspapers or magazines. Instead they get their news and views from social media and that’s exactly where influencer marketing fits in beautifully. Through it, you take your brand message to those who fit your buyer demographics but are not accessible through traditional marketing communication channels.
You accomplish many goals in one go – Influencer marketing is your ‘one shot gets them all’ style of marketing. With it, you can:
o Raise brand awareness
o Gain leads
o Build larger mailing lists
o Amplify content
o Increase website traffic
o Counter negative publicity

Is influencer marketing a passing fad?

Not at all. Influencer marketing is not going anywhere in a hurry.
Last year, The Adweek called it the ‘Next Big Thing’ and this year’s trends are supporting this forecast. As traditional marketing loses steam and digital marketing picks up pace, this is the niche where most of the focus is happening. Actually as per the influencer marketplace Tomoson’s study, this is the fastest growing online customer acquisition channel.
As per The Shelf, 65% of brands are using influencer campaigns. 59% companies have acknowledged that they would be upping their influencer marketing budgets. In contrast only 10% companies were contemplating bringing it down.
Influencer marketing is actually a win-win situation for all the three parties involved – the brand, the influencer, and the buyer. The brand reaches out to prospective buyers it could not have reached through any other marketing channel. It also obviously rides piggyback on an influencer’s credibility and the ability to be welcomed by the buyer. The influencers benefits sometimes by getting paid, and more often by being a part of the content so valued by the buyer. The consumer (the real royalty here) gets authentic and quality content.

Still thinking about it? Get on the bus right now.

Face it, we are living in the communication revolution era. The digital media is not going anywhere in a hurry. Accept the fact that your buyers have changed. The old methods of convincing do not work any longer. The best way to get your message across is to send it through someone your buyers trust aka influencers.
Say hello to influencer marketing. Or be ready to make peace with a drop in sales and profits.