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  • Will Rix

Ad Week | 5 Ways to Rethink Influencer Marketing and Make It More Effective

Contributing Ghostwriter: Original Article Published in Adweek

The influencer marketing industry has experienced explosive growth over recent years.

Previous projections had it estimated to become a $15 billion market by 2022 and that was before the rapid rise of TikTok and content creation under quarantine. 

However, alongside this growth have been an increasing number of bleak headlines: the influencer marketing bubble is set to burst, influence is phony and influencer fraud is costing companies over $1 billion.

It's been painful reading for those of us wishing to champion the industry, who have seen the incredible value that influencer marketing delivers when done right. But the headlines haven't been without some merit.

The core issue boils down to trust, with some influencers, at the knowing or unknowing direction of agencies and brands, breaking trust with their audience because of collaborations that lacked relevance, that at times were fraudulent and often had superficial measurement. 

Here are five key learnings from the team at Whalar to help avoid the types of unsuccessful influencer collaborations that these headlines refer to: 

(1) Audience Size Should Never Be the First Proxy

Followers numbers don’t equal actual reach, they don’t give any measure of true influence with an audience and, most importantly, they don’t give any insight into the audience composition.

Given marketing is about conveying a message to a specific audience, influencer marketing is worthless if it’s not actually speaking to the desired audience, regardless of how niche or broad that audience is.

If you were selling an everyday cooking product would you advertise in Vogue or Good Housekeeping? If you had a fintech product trying to reach a Canadian audience would you work with a very large tech influencer who actually has less than 2% of their audience in Canada? 

A focus on organic reach and follower numbers above all else would result in answering these types of questions incorrectly. Focus on who you’ll reach.

When choosing influencers don't focus on the quantity of followers, focus on who you’ll reach.

(2) Engagement Doesn’t Equal Effectiveness

Engagement rates have become the most common metric by which influencer comparisons are being made. However, much like with follower numbers, these can be a total red herring and an influencer with the right audience and high engagement can be the wrong influencer.

You have to view influencer marketing as a collaboration between two brands. When brands come together to collaborate, the success is often in large part because of a truly relevant fit. Importantly, contrast is fine, it just has to be relevant in context of the collaboration; be it values, aesthetic, style, aspirations etc. It’s the difference between the wildly cool and successful Louis Vuitton collaboration with Supreme and the Lego collaboration with Shell, which Lego had to end because of misaligned values. 

That’s why the best influencer marketing comes from a data-driven approach to understand actual influence with an audience, combined with human insights to assess brand alignment and cultural relevance. 

Without these, at best you won’t drive strong results and at worst you could see an audience backlash and brand safety problems.

Once you’ve found an influencer that reaches the right audience, turn your focus to brand alignment to ensure relevance.

(3) Trust Isn’t Built in A Single Post

A collaboration that’s a single post, without any obvious or easily explainable alignment, can end up with the audience questioning if the influencer really had a belief in the product. This drives little value for the brand, reduces the audience's trust with the influencer and brings up the question of authenticity.

Brands leading in influencer marketing are making increasingly longer collaborations a big component of their influencer marketing strategy. It allows the influencer to best understand the brand's values and marketing needs, enabling the development of a thoughtful strategy to deliver that to their audience over time.

You wouldn’t debate if it’s more effective to have a mainstream celebrity establish a long term partnership/ambassadorship with a brand. When done right, a long term collaboration has a cumulative effect on the audience both remembering and having the desired emotional response to the advertising.

There are also fairly significant ancillary benefits that come from long term collaborations. Financially there are economies of scale combined with the fact you’re negotiating on a rate today that would likely be increased in the future. Relationship wise you’ll build a far closer connection and understanding that will further strengthen alignment and lockout competitors, whether contractual or not. 

As has always been the case in advertising, authenticity is a huge factor to driving trust and affinity; which is earned over time.

(4) All Messages Are Not Equal

Identifying the right influencer based on audience and brand alignment doesn’t mean there isn’t then considerable work to help each other understand the shared objectives, values, aesthetics, styles etc. The strength of the brief is everything.

Importantly, this doesn’t mean handing over total control to the influencer, nor does it mean dictating everything to them. It’s totally ineffective if the audience had no clue of what the brand was trying to convey and it’s just as bad when the audience doesn’t believe the message is coming from the voice of the influencer. 

When done best your roster of influencers should be a fully diverse & inclusive representation of your customers. It becomes a partnership, giving you a scalable creative production model that, with good communication, can remain fully on brand while talking to audiences on a much more 1-to-1 level.

This isn’t a loudspeaker that a brand rents to shout about their message and it’s also not a funding source for influencers to take money from brands and not deliver on a marketing brief. This is a marketing partnership between two brands.

(5) You Can’t Invest in What You Can’t Measure

Follower numbers, engagements and sentiment analysis are no longer the brilliant basics. Paid social also has an ever growing and almost obligatory role to play—something which brings both deeper reporting, accountability and the opportunity to further scale the reach to relevant audiences for prospecting and retargeting campaigns.

Embrace the tools that exist to enable full funnel measurement:

  • For top of the funnel you’re able to do brand lift studies and get metrics back such as +30% increase in top of mind awareness and measure the emotional responses to the messages with metrics such as +87% emotional intensity and +277% memory encoding.

  • For mid funnel you can get metrics back such as +1,178% in NPS and +66% in search intent.

  • For lower funnel you can measure conversions and add to cart rates. You can get back metrics such as 42% in purchase intent and even measure the increase in the intent to repeat purchase. A retailer was able to combine measurement tools to attribute a 20:1 sale generated return on a seven figure investment. 

To scale you need to prove effectiveness. To prove effectiveness you need to measure. To get more effective you need to optimize. To optimize you need to measure…so measure, because you can!

The growth of influencer marketing has stemmed from the incredible value it can deliver when done right. These five learnings are all rooted in the basic principles of advertising, it’s nothing revolutionary, it’s purely about applying them to make influencer marketing more trustworthy, more accountable, more measurable and, as a result, more effective.

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