Common Challenges with Influencer Marketing

This is a response to Avinash’s newsletter post on influencer marketing. Yes, none other than the father of digital marketing analytics. I’m looking forward to the day I can personally thank him for inspiring me and many others throughout my career.

But.

This doesn’t stop me from disagreeing with his views on influencer marketing.

First off, to be completely honest, this is not just about Avinash but many marketers who see Social as a predominantly Paid medium. I think that’s fundamentally wrong. Ironically, the ones who have contributed the most to this change in attitudes in recent years are the platforms themselves. Remember when Facebook was all about building and nurturing a community? I think even Zuck understood the mistake.

That being said, this post is actually about solutions to common challenges with influencer marketing. Let’s get started.

The Challenge of Reach

If you’re reading this, I’m assuming it is of no surprise that achieving the scale of a message is important. Makes sense. Byron Sharp has a strong argument on Reach being one of THE most important measures of marketing.

In influencer marketing, we can achieve substantial Reach by either a) employing a lot of influencers or b) amplifying the content of a few.

Personally, I think the first is just really hard. To a point, it puts in question influencer marketing, to begin with. Usually, you will see authenticity being sacrificed because having 10,000 influencers in a marketing program requires real manpower, excellent workflow and tools. Even then, you are still not likely to pull off a Daniel Wellington in 2019. Lean marketing and agency teams are not cut for it.

Some middle ground solution between the axis of personal ←→ scale can be considered if your customer lifetime value does not “allow” for a highly personal approach (if you are an FMCG marketer for example).

Which basically leaves us with (b). The good news is that marketing has always told the story of a few to as many as possible. Our teams are designed to do that because it’s really hard to scale creativity to a point it’s meaningful and believable.

Hence, I would argue that it would make sense to change our mindset to think of influencers as creatives. But this also means you start a relationship with a distribution strategy of your own rather than expecting organic reach to deliver a Christmas miracle because it won’t.

Questions worth asking ourselves:

  • How do we let influencers experience the best of our products?
  • How do we incentivize and let our influencers create as freely as possible?
  • How do we as a brand co-create with our influencers?
  • Why should their audience care, participate and share?
  • How do we measure influencers’ creativity?
  • How do we amplify the best influencer content with Paid?

These are some of the questions that will lead us to the direction whereby influencers become our extended partners in helping us tell valuable stories to our users. And remember adding a Direct Response (DR) layer to your campaign is significantly easier than finding good storytellers.

Brand vs Direct Response

Similar to Social, in general influencers too can be engaged for brand and DR objectives.

By the way, when I say brand, I mean storytelling that is taking the user on an emotional journey rather than a campaign whereby we simply decide to measure “brand lift”. Here is a recent favourite by Samsung’s Bixby, and one from Amazon’s Alexa. Authentic, emotional and personal experiences. This offers good reasons for users to care and help marketing investment work harder.

Personally, I think most influencers suck at DR. It’s not something that is important to an influencer when building an audience online. At least not at the start. Usually, it just comes off as inauthentic at best. Kendall Jenner can afford to just mention a brand, and her audience will proactively find out more without giving much context.

What about the 99.9% of brands?

Focusing on the influencer’s brand fit, storytelling and delivery (qualitative metrics one could say) when evaluating who to work with, will change the dynamic and campaign outcomes drastically. Create a distribution strategy similar to any other campaign. And, add a DR layer to the campaign that generates leads, drives traffic, converts and sells. Re-purpose creative assets and make sure you have all the necessary rights associated. Start working with a few worthy influencers versus many.

Unbox Therapy is a channel and perhaps a media company in itself. They neatly focus on storytelling, yet add sponsored content at the end of the videos to drive DR objectives. The best influencers and YouTube creators deliver great learnings if we care to look.

Unbox Therapy vs Tech Advisor.

Who is a better storyteller in your opinion?

More Than Creatives

Influencers can also help us reach an audience we don’t have credibility with.

Going back to marketing science – penetration is correlated with profit growth. In other words, growing the category and reaching new audiences is incredibly important, while not letting yourself be fooled by the allure of loyalty marketing.

Influencers can help us find that suitable tone of voice with new audiences, that we either:

  1. …don’t have brand equity with today (eg think of Persil reaching dads*)
  2. …don’t have brand equity + don’t have credibility (eg think of Red Bull reaching seniors. How about some help from Korean grandma?)

Most companies are masters of a few skills, even though we might think big brands can do everything well. Influencers can help tell our brand story in more relevant ways.

*dads should totally do their half of household chores

Ad Fatigue, Blockers and Fraud

We all know ad fatigue, blockers and fraud are real issues in marketing. In my opinion, these are somewhat “counter-movements” of consumers being increasingly annoyed by ads. No matter what Zuck says, I strongly disagree with users liking relevant ads. Most ads are annoying even when targeted well.

In fact, more than that, people would not care if 77% of brands disappeared tomorrow. Humbling to think about.

I’m not saying influencer marketing is Thor’s hammer, but it should certainly be seriously considered. Why? Users love to engage with real people versus companies.

Creative freedom

Influencer marketing is a two-way street.

If we, as marketers, treat our influencer partners with commands, then they will deliver accordingly.

Caption: HypeAuditor analysis report. -24% of drop between the influencer’s general Engagement Rate vs Engagement Rate of branded posts.

Opening up to the potential long-term relationship takes courage and possibly swimming against a quarterly performance review cycle. However, we know that only 29% of influencers are asked for their opinion on the content direction. And more than half (55%) of brands admit that by the time they engage influencers, the campaign direction is set.

Start sharing marketing challenges with influencers rather than prescribing every detail of what their post should entail. Instead of dictation, think co-creation.

Creativity = Engagement

Throughout my own analysis, I have consistently seen (similarly to Avinash) that adding up all costs related to an influencer campaign shows a poor CPM vs Paid benchmarks.

In other words, it would be substantially easier and cheaper to do a simple Paid Social campaign than influencer marketing IF Reach alone is the objective. That being said, CPE (Cost per Engagement) can yield a much better result vs Paid.

Creativity is rewarded in Social because that’s what the audiences crave. Entertainment, something to talk about and share is valued. And in turn, higher engagement makes your marketing investment work harder. Sometimes up to 14x.

Life is fun,

Disclosure: BrandHero has nothing to sell you at the moment. We are working on an online influencer marketing course (sign up to the newsletter for updates), but it will always be vendor and solution agnostic. If influencer marketing didn’t make sense, we would not use it ourselves, let alone recommend.