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A more intelligent approach to influencer marketing

COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio - The Philippine Star

Celebrities drive recall, influencers build understanding. They play different roles. They have different strengths.

Influencer marketing is the process of determining, investigating, involving and maintaining the people who create and sustain high-impact conversations with customers about your brand, products or services. It gave way to the age of deference — or putting people on a pedestal of high esteem. It will continue to grow in importance as a tool for the marketing communications industry, as the sector seeks new and inventive ways of creating third-party advocacy for brands, organizations and people.

Today, people are putting their confidence and loyalty in each other. Endorsements from friends, family members, and colleagues drive the digital economy. McKinsey, a worldwide management consulting firm, believes that marketing-inspired word-of-mouth can generate more than twice the sales of paid advertising, and those targeted clients have a 37 percent higher rate of retention. It’s in this framework that influencer marketing has surfaced, as marketers pursue alignment programs for their brands with people whose mindset runs parallel with them.

“But when it comes to strategy, our approach to influencer marketing has often had to rely on a combination of reach and gut feel. Even Malcolm Gladwell’s attempt at a model misses the point: Influence = Audience Reach (number of followers) x Brand Affinity (expertise and credibility) x Strength of Relationship with Followers,” McKinsey shares.

In partnership with Google and Nielsen, Carat, a media and digital communications agency, set out to identify a more intelligent approach to influencer marketing to help marketers establish a clearer link between decisions around the practice and business results. The study digs into a deceptively simple question, which to date, nobody has answered with conviction: Who (profile of YouTube contributors) influences who (profile of their followers you can identify within your panel data across different client audiences) to do what exactly (measure impact along the consumer journey to understand whether influencers can)?

The contracted study is a pioneering effort. It provides marketers and communicators an understanding of why and how influencers drive brand impact, and critically, what kind of impact they create and build. The study was founded on interviews with 12,000 people, aged three to 13, in two major markets — US and the EU; and over 500 videos were tested across over 20 categories, delivering new insights across the full range of influencer content formats and brand integrations. The research provides a more intelligent, strategic framework for marketers to apply to their influencer marketing approach. The following are the major insights and key learnings that emerged from it:

Celebrities drive recall, influencers build understanding. Many a headline-writer has announced influencers as the new, global superstars. But influencer marketing should not be confused with celebrity endorsement. They play different roles. They have different strengths. When it comes to pure recall, celebrities still have the edge. But the data shows that influencers have significantly more impact on brand familiarity (where the effect can be as much as 50 percent higher), advocacy and driving brand interactions. Importantly, it appears that these effects can vary widely between categories.

Deciding on an influencer partnership can often come down to gut-feel or a perceived “affinity” with the target audience. Influencers work beyond intuition. But across audiences, categories and attributes, our preconceptions about influencers are not always borne out in the data and there is significant scope for marketers to apply a more informed, intelligent approach

Influencers are not all about millennial audiences. The study uncovered a positive response to influencers among older audiences too, though it was by no means universal. Think beyond the clichés. It’s equally powerful for other audiences — so long as you’re clear on what you’re trying to do!

Attributes of influencers must be familiar to you. Influencers who are perceived as funny, successful and having social media savvy tended to perform equally strong across all demographics — regardless of gender or age. But all influencers are not the same. Critically, certain influencer attributes are highly predictive of specific brand key performance indicators (KPIs).

The impact of influencer marketing is well accepted in many categories. Great examples are the beauty and gaming sectors. The research likewise showed that apps, toys, movies and television can also benefit, with brand lift and brand recall significantly improved. Importantly, certain influencer attributes are highly predictive of specific brand KPIs across these sectors. Judge numbers on action (what people do) rather than exposure (how many people you can reach). Test what works for your category and brand goal. The study found that successful content and format varies considerably by sector

 It’s not just the “who”; it’s the “how.” It’s not just the choice of influencer type that will impact different brand goals, the choice of content and format also matters, with three types of content consistently working best — and effectiveness being particularly marked in specific categories: Custom integration, where content is unique, exclusive to the brand and fully integrated with influencer content, e.g., “Slow Mo Guys” getting overalls dirty in slow motion and using Tide to clean them; Best for Gaming, Movies & TV Brand integration, where content may include other brands (e.g. a “Toy Influencer” doing a doll review and including the new Barbie); and Best for Apps Advertiser content, where content is created by a brand, featuring an influencer (e.g. “Priceless Surprise” content with Justin Timberlake).

Starting with real people is key. Determine at the onset: who do you want to influence and why? Be mindful that influence is a means to delivering results, rather than an end to itself.

Influencer marketing is getting things to work in synergy: engaging the appropriate influencer, creating the right creative and format, and consuming the right media. Once your brands have established a suitable mix, they are guaranteed to deliver more rewarding partnerships and results.

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