Influence marketing seems like a winning combination: brands pay influencers—people (not necessarily celebrities, but often well-known and respected individuals with a large following)—to talk about their products, drive sales and win new customers. It is a popular approach to marketing, with 68% of global marketers seeing influence marketing as a lead generation and customer acquisition tactic and 74% of global marketers reporting they will use influence marketing as part of their marketing strategy in the next 12 months.
But not every company is sold on the idea. It can be very expensive to use influencers in your marketing even for a short period of time. But changing your thinking about what, exactly, influencers are and how to use them can bring benefits to your marketing strategy, both in the short term and into the future.
1) Get to know your influencers.
When your influencers are more than your sales people it can be hugely beneficial for both of you. Kia Motors built up a two-way relationship with bloggers and online influencers through its Kia Social Club. By building long-term partnerships based on shared passions such as parenting, safety, adventure, or lifestyle, Kia has enabled bloggers to generate meaningful content around subjects that matter to them. The results are impressive: Social Media Examiner reports that Kia Social Club reached over 198 advocates, received 24,000 social endorsements and resulted in more than 30 million engagements.
Kim Kardashian might charge $25,000 to mention a brand in a Tweet to her 18 million followers but does this really reflect well on your company, or does it run the risk of backfiring, like Lebron James’ Instagram photo of his Nike sneakers with the caption, “These are simply the best!! Ultra comfy and can wear them with anything. I’m ordering 100 pair right now. #kicks #Nike #family”?
His 2.2 million fans could clearly hear the thunk of an awkwardly-dropped endorsement and didn’t react well. Not only that, but trying to pass off an endorsement as a celebrity’s own words without full disclosure can contravene the Federal Trade Commission’s regulations on advertising.
So the advice here would be to allow your spokespeople to be open about their relationship with your brand, but give them the space to talk about their experiences with your products in their own voice. It will appear more natural and will keep you out of trouble with the regulators.
3) Take the time to choose the right influencer.
The best influencer relationships work when the spokesperson is a natural fit for the brand. Actress and singer Jessica Simpson is the current representative for Weight Watchers, having successfully used the plan to triumph over her own weight battles. Jessica has inspired many others with her story, which is the ideal outcome of a brand-influencer relationship. Weight Watchers has had great success over the years with the people it has chosen as the faces of the brand. Advocates who have shared their own dieting struggles have been hugely popular with customers who identify with their experiences. This is more than a celebrity endorsement: this is about putting in the effort to find spokespeople who really are passionate about your brand ethos.
4) Bring them on board.
If you’ve picked the right influencers then they probably already love your product—so why not make them part of the wider process? Verizon Wireless introduced an annual influencer summit, an all-day event to interact with marketing teams and products firsthand. Beth Tourek, Social Media and Integrated Marketing Manager at Verizon, found the experience very positive for everyone involved, “The face time with people you normally ‘talk to’ online was so rare and having all these powerful influencers in one room set the hashtags on fire!”
5) Think long term.
It’s important to know the difference between influencers and advocates. Too many companies are still thinking along the lines of ‘celebrity endorsement’ rather than finding the right influencers to build a long-lasting relationship into the future. These might not be the people with the highest number of followers or the biggest names, but they will be passionate about your brand. If you put in the effort to get to know your advocates and your spokespeople, include them in your pre-launch process, give them the VIP treatment, and involve them alongside all marketing campaigns, then your influencers will become a better part of your team than one-off novelties.
Originally published Jul 25, 2014, updated May 24, 2021