Will influencers be more than just ‘guns for hire’ in 2018?

Marketing experts reveal the pros and cons of influencer marketing and how it’s shaping up for 2018

Marketers need to rethink influence marketing in the new year if they want better marketing outcomes and more authentic experiences, otherwise they run the risk of wasting money on simply a ‘gun for hire’, several experts agree.

“Influencer marketing is one of the most disastrous trends to have hit businesses,” Growth consultancy Penso CEO, Con Frantzeskos, said. “For brands to give money to random people to generate low quality, low reach, low reliability outcomes is a complete waste of time and money.

“Influencer marketing is largely low reach, it does nothing to create and reinforce brand memories, and is mainly based on flimsy, if not downright false metrics for success. The wheels will fall off this elaborate con-job industry in 2018 and it’ll go the way of Second Life: teaser campaigns and virals.”

For Jaywing managing director, Tom Geekie, influencer marketing has still been something of a blunt instrument in 2017, with numbers of followers and celebrity status still regarded as a reasonable measure of influence. This is set to change in 2018 as consumers demand more authentic brand experiences.

“But in 2018 with better data-led techniques, marketers who are able to understand more about their customers, their networks and the detail of the things they talk about will be far better at influencer identification and marketing," he claimed.

“This will enable them to spend budget more wisely and find more authentic influencers who will be true advocates, have greater genuine reach and move beyond being an obvious ‘gun for hire.’”

LogRhythm senior regional director for APAC and Japan, Joanne Wong, stressed that while there is still value in it, marketers need to understand that influencer marketing is not only about the reach.

“You must work with influencers that provide value to your customers and that is where content trumps reach,” she said. “As marketers, we would all love to control every aspect, but there is value in letting our influencers convey our messages in their own voice.”

Transparent, accountable

HooZu CEO, Nathan Ruff, is another who believes marketers need to rethink influencer marketing this year if they want better marketing outcomes and more authentic experiences. And this is exactly what’s happening, he explained, as influencers are becoming better at producing authentic branded content, and improved data tracking that ensures audiences are relevant and engaged. 

“Influencer marketing has become far more effective, transparent and accountable, while consumers are more engaged in digital communication platforms and influencers than ever before. Meaning, influencer marketing has already become an essential component of successful marketing strategies,” Ruff said. 

“Finding an influencer [via their audience’s data] to create and promote content means that brands have access to, and can resonate with, target audiences on a personal level. Consumers follow social talent because they are interested in what they do, what they use, and where they go.

“Identifying the right influencer and working with them to develop authentic content generates engagement from the influencer’s followers. This not only helps spread brand awareness, but also often results consumer action by way of sharing the post, word of mouth appraisal or becoming an end user.”  

Comparatively, television commercials designed for mass reach are expensive to produce and book, fail to connect with audiences personally and can’t be shared, Ruff said.

Overall, influencer marketing been a successful marketing strategy - so much so that beyond running brand campaigns, Ruff said HooZu now works with acquisition marketing teams to deliver monthly sales targets.

“Influencer marketing capitalises on the one-to-one connectivity created through social platforms and uses the tone and network of carefully chosen influencers to target and engage specific audiences. It is cost efficient and facilitates topical and timely brand messages that generate conversations and interactions among key target markets,” he said. 

“However, influencer marketing’s primary value is also its most notable risk. Instead of a brand and an ad server creating and distributing the content, it is a human. The personal connection and word of mouth nature of influencer marketing is what makes it effective, though it also opens brands up to certain risks. For example, the talent’s phone could get stolen, their dog might die, or their post may miss the brand’s vision entirely.”

To combat this, HooZu has spent the last three years eliminating the traditional risks associated with influencer marketing for its clients, Ruff claimed.

“As a rule, we use data matching and technology to select influencers with relevant and engaged audiences, which ensures they are real, as opposed to fake accounts and bots, are located in Australia, are the right gender and demographic, and have genuinely engaged followers that are likely to take action," he continued. 

Additionally, no content is shared without a client’s approval beforehand. The company also has strong contractual relationships with its talent to ensure there are no conflicting brand issues; provides tools and guidance to the talent to ensure they generate optimum performance, such as animation; and provides backup coverage in case ‘human’ problems arise.

Closing the ‘trust gap’

Also highlighting some of the positives of influencer marketing is director of digital delivery for J. Walter Thompson Sydney, John Tozzi.

“One of the real key value adds with influencer marketing is that it helps close the trust gap issues that some consumers have with brands, and starts to shift their trust," he told CMO. "Since the nature of these channel ads are native, it creates a more conducive decision making environment, something that brands often need help with right now.

“However, there is a bit of authenticity lost nowadays as influencer posts are typically labeled as ‘sponsored’ or ‘paid sponsorship’ which begs the question of how well that influencer fits the brand. Or are they just someone with a big following that can help achieve a particular KPI?”

Tozzi said consumers are becoming more immune to traditional channels, especially with the myriad content sources consumed on a daily basis on various platforms.

“2017 saw the first big spike in influencer marketing budgets in the US, where they increased almost 60 per cent from the previous year, which I believe stems from the proof of effectiveness that other brands experienced with earlier investments," he said.

Moreover, Tozzi claimed influencer marketing has been a successful way of making brand communities more interconnected by creating platforms from which different content can be consumed in a much quicker fashion. But brands need to do their homework before jumping on the influencer marketing bandwagon.

“If you are looking for the answer to classic ROI question, then we need to be very clear about what we are trying to measure. Are we looking for impressions? Are we trying to drive website traffic? More e-product downloads? It is imperative brands do this homework before their expectations are skewed.”

Tozzi advised brands to continue to explore influencer marketing by keeping a few things to keep in mind for 2018. For example, it's important to think about where influencers can make the most brand impact, such as the decision phase versus customer advocacy. Importantly, the type of content that works best to accomplishing this must also be top of mind. 

“Another new trend for 2018 is a shift from tactical campaign work to an ‘always-on’ strategy with influencers who will hero that brand through a longer lifecycle," he said. "This, in turn, helps to fast track the digital transformation. This has sprung up some new terms like ‘influencer relations’ or ‘influencer managers’ who will be responsible for keeping these relationships as more of a partnership than an outlet.”

The rise of influencer marketing technology

Given the current momentum influencers are bringing to the marketing mix, big technology companies are starting to lend assistance to the customer journey in the form of technology solutions. Amazon and Shopify, for example, have started to create influencer inspired products to help grow and scale e-commerce products from sponsoring brands.  

“This year, there will be a focus on tackling authenticity from the consumer’s visual perspective and how well we pair certain brands/products with very specific influencers," Tozzi said. "We need to start looking more into the data of these massive hubs of people to decide which influencers can better help us connect with the right people that support our KPI goals. We also need to change how consumers are viewing the authenticity side of the experience and break down the barriers of ‘paid sponsorships’ by better pairing the right influencer to the right campaign objective.”

Ogilvy PR Australia digital and social strategy director, Daniel Young, believes tackling authenticity is the key. Continued growth in the industry suggests marketers are satisfied with influencer marketing as a source of brand engagement, high quality content and referral traffic – in-store and online.

“In my experience, brands aren’t questioning the value of influencers but rather they’re asking: How can we better align influencers with our business objectives in a way that is authentic but also measurable? They’re looking for smart solutions that close the gap between social reach/engagement and measurable action within branded environments,” Young said. 

As a result, it’s important marketers go beyond the vanity metrics to get a real insight into how this type of work is performing.

“For example, there’s a large delta between total followers and true follower numbers in the right location for individual influencers. Brands will see the best results when they can establish ongoing partnerships with influencers who have a genuine passion or investment in the brand," Young said. "These partnerships should be underpinned by a strategy that is based on data and audience analytics.”

Over the next year in influencer marketing,  Young also recommended clients invest in brand advocacy strategy rather than tactical or transactional engagement.

“To support and enable this, they need to build out a digital infrastructure to support integration and tracking while retaining a focus on partnerships, co-creation and value exchange,” he added. 

Amplifying ‘unique content’

LG Electronics Australia is one example of a large brand praising the benefits of influencer marketing, as corporate marketing manager, Parvinder Gill, explains it has “definitely contributed to the success” of the company’s overall marketing strategy.

“In 2017 we were able to reach new audiences including in the premium market space. We launched the LG Signature range in 2017 and this required finding influencers who could create authentic content and speak to the aspirational features in this range,” Gill said.

“With our brand transitioning more and more to the premium market space we found influencer marketing an important driver in shaping the consumer perception around our premium designs. Through our own social channels we’ve been able to amplify some incredibly unique content created by influencers involved in our programs.”

With the landscape changing so quickly, Gill said it’s important to learn fast and then evaluate how the company will invest in influencer marketing programs.

“Back in 2016 we thought we could only achieve engaging content by reaching micro-influencers with smaller followings. Our 2017 programs reached a variety of tiers through both paid and contra negotiations. What we found is we achieved the strongest cost per reach (CPV) and engagement rate from higher tier influencers that were carefully selected by our PR agency.

“Ultimately, when it comes to producing authentic content for your brand, we’ve learned to first and foremost be clear on your objectives, then determine your audience; and finally choose influencers who target these audiences. It’s important to spend the time meeting with each influencer to brief them on the brand and be clear on what they are also trying to achieve. That way the results will be mutually beneficial for both parties.” 

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu

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