With apologies to Weiden + Kennedy, whose Nike spot featuring Colin Kaepernick was no doubt the most talked-about spot in 2018, my choice for marketer of the year reflects a strategy that is older than marketing itself and yet has now reached such a critical mass and level of sophistication that it’s difficult to point to anything else that is as effective.
I’m talking about influencers.
Influencers, of course, have been around for a long time. Asking your friends and neighbors for a recommendation on a plumber or cat food or a financial planner, that’s leaning on them as an influencer. We use social media tools today to solicit those recommendations – responses to our posts on Facebook and Twitter invariable point us in the right direction. And why? Because we are relying on people we trust, people who have had first-hand experiences, to give us honest feedback on their own purchasing experiences.
A host of other online platforms serves the same purpose. TripAdvisor and Yelp, Angie’s List and Amazon Reviews and other sites like them give us feedback from those who are in the best position to opine on products, services and travel destinations. And while we don’t know these reviewers personally, given the breadth of the database of users, we can get a fairly confident sense of the community’s assessment of the collective buying experience.
Truth be told, I am not one of those who tends to ask others for this kind of feedback, but I now regularly check out product reviews before I pull the trigger on anything, especially products that find their way into my Facebook feed. Over the past few weeks, I was all set – enthusiastic even – to go ahead and purchase a trio of products that promised to make my life so much better: bottles of green detoxing elixir, a tube of facial ointment and these little brushes guaranteed to make my teeth much whiter. But before I put those products into my online cart, I did a search of customer reviews about them. Sadly, to my disappointment, based on actual customer feedback, I was not after all likely to get six-pack abs, look 10 years younger or have teeth that look like Beyonce’s. Thank you, influencers – whoever you are – you saved me from my gullible self…yet again.
Big Bucks for Big Influencers
Then there are the self-appointed influencers, the folks you are likely to find on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, podcasts and other social platforms. Some of them are expert at not only promoting themselves, their opinions and their brands, but they are leveraging such skills into a pretty substantial income stream. Bloggers and video influencers – those who have more than 500,000 followers – can make as much as $5,000 per post, with Instagram influencers pulling in as high as $3,000 per image. Kylie Jenner, with her 112 million Insta followers, reportedly earns $1 million per post (up from a measly $400,000 last year). Selena Gomez (139 million followers) is pulling in $800,000 per post, and soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo (137 million Insta fans) is not far behind at $750,000. MSNBC reports that the influencer market is a $1 billion industry, and get this, it’s supposed to double in 2019.
A Case for Micro-influencers
And don’t count out the micro-influencers, those with as few as 10,000 followers. Forbes reports that followers have a much higher engagement rate with micro-influencers, no doubt feeling a greater sense of trust with and connection to someone who is not a big celebrity but whose life likely has some commonality and shared interests with their followers, whether it be fashion or beauty or fitness or whatever. And those connections often lead to purchasing decisions. Two in five Twitter users say that they have made a purchase as a direct result of something that was tweeted about a particular brand.
Subject Matter Experts
At Hodges, the influencers that we have most focused on are derived from what we call subject matter experts. These are the folks inside a company or organization who have a detailed understanding of the products and services that are enhancing the lives of their customers. They could be the engineers or scientists that have often have the technical expertise to explain how products work. Or they might be members of the sales team whose interactions with clients give them an intimate sense of the problems that the market is facing. We count on SMEs to provide us with insights and storylines that form the basis of blogs, videos and articles, and then we strategically post that content – along with some targeted advertising – on online platforms to reach audiences that are most likely to be influenced by that content.
There are two key components to this strategy: (1) creating content that positions our clients as problem-solving experts, and (2) putting that content under the noses of our target personas, usually through Facebook and, increasingly (especially with recent changes), LinkedIn. Kylie and Selena don’t have to be so precise in their targeting but doing so makes up for our more modest reach.
We’ll no doubt see more and more brands embracing this strategy in 2019 and beyond. They are way more likely to include an influencer strategy long before I get six-pack abs.