This year, nearly 70 percent of brands with 100 or more employees expect to partner with influencers for paid and unpaid campaigns, according to eMarketer. That’s a curious stat when you measure it against the tens of millions of people who have taken deliberate steps to make sure they’re not exposed to ads through ad blockers that are so sophisticated, they even help you skip pre-roll YouTube ads altogether.
If people hate ads so much, why do they love influencers? Why does influencer marketing even work on smart consumers?
Short answer: It’s the presentation. For brands, the value of the sponsored content they get from influencers is all in the delivery, the timing, and the context (we keep trying to tell you about that context, man!). And above all else, social proof reigns supreme, and in most cases, social proof is a valid part of influencer marketing, as most influencers decline more partnership opportunities than they accept.
In this post, we want to take an honest look at why influencer marketing works and give you some tips on how to build strong influencer campaigns.
Seriously, Though… The Influencer Marketing Detractors Do Have a Point
When COVID-19 first hit, brands and marketers wondered how in the world influencer marketing would recover from the halt of sponsored content. Brands weren’t spending money on ads and consumers were extremely critical of influencers who posted sponsored content, even knowing that many influencer make money to feed their families by pushing products.
No one was in the mood for a pretty picture and a product post when people were dying and it was next to impossible to find basic cleaning supplies and toiletries. We were all bracing for the worst because we had no idea if we were experiencing it or if the worst was yet to come.
The pervasive thought was that a hit like COVID, that changed how people spent money and how they engaged online, could level the influencer marketing industry. People wondered if influencer marketing was dead. The truth is, influencer marketing had some real problems long before we were fighting our way through a pandemic.
Fake Followers and Fake Engagement Make it Tough to Trust Those Pretty Pics
An AdAge article (gated content) reported that roughly 78 percent of the accounts following an influencer hired by Ritz-Carlton for a campaign were fake. Do you remember this post? It was one of a slew of articles that came out a few years ago that questioned the legitimacy of brand-influencer partnerships as a viable marketing strategy.
Fast forward three years, and we’re so used to hearing stuff like this that knowing an influencer has a bunch of fake followers doesn’t even shock us anymore. What would be shocking right now is finding out a big brand is still unable to detect when 4 out of 5 every account following an influencer is fake. Seriously, we did a whole, big post on how we use data to weed out influencer fraud before we even stick an influencer in a roundup!
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Does Influencer Marketing Still Work? Uh, yeah. Here are 6 Signs Influencers Are Still an Effective Way to Reach Your Marketing Goals
How many brands do you know that highlight the flaws in their products or services?
That’s right — none.
You can’t help but have a sense of disbelief and distrust for an advertisement that’s only going to show you the positives.
Today’s consumers are savvy — they conduct a lot of research before making a purchase.
And a part of this research includes looking for social proof, which is a form of word of mouth marketing. Online reviews can literally make or break a company because it helps consumers make purchasing decisions.
And it’s the same with influencer marketing.
When an influencer promotes a product, they’re doing it from the perspective of a consumer. They’re going to demonstrate their experience or tell you about it, giving you the good, the bad, and the ugly.
This gives a sense of transparency you just don’t get with branded adverts. And it helps to build trust. Most consumers trust recommendations from people they know (including influencers) over branded ads. But this isn’t the only reason why influencer marketing works.
#1 Influencers Are Highly Responsive
While some wondered if influencer marketing was over, influencers actually kind of had their “knight in shining armor” moment at the onset of the pandemic in the United States. Influencers were the first to effectively pivot their content strategies and they did so by polling their followers and finding out exactly what their audiences wanted to see from them.
For most brands, it takes so long to get buy-in from all the marketers, sales people, and C-suiters that pivoting from a pre-determined strategy usually can’t happen in a timely enough manner to make a difference.
We’ve referred to influencers as “professional temperature takers” during the pandemic and they essentially led the charge to keep social media users informed, engaged, entertained, and even distracted (in both good and bad ways) from what was going on in the world.
And make no mistake about it – a lot of audiences still wanted to see sponsored content and style posts – just in a different way.
Consider a partnership between an influencer and a sunscreen brand wanting to get in front of the spring breakers. Then COVID hits. So, maybe instead of posting all those pictures of the influencer being slathered in sunscreen by hubby on a beach vacation, the influencer could give their followers a laugh by recreating the beach vacay in their living rooms and posting the original vacation photo next to the quarantine stay-cay photo, with the words “22 days later” superimposed on the second image.
Instead of being slathered in sunscreen, maybe she’s being covered in finger paint by a toddler with a caption like “Btw… the box says this finger paint washes right off…” An idea like that which kinda of pokes fun at a situation anyone can relate to, becomes a source of joy and not a grim reminder of what we lost. Then having the post sponsored by XYZ Sunscreen would actually seem pretty cool and not like that brand is woefully out of touch with reality.
The big takeway here is that influencer marketing works because influencers understand how to gauge their audiences and create content that will resonate with them, regardless of what’s happening.
#2 Influencer Marketing is a Form of On-Demand Advertising
Influencers are really good at letting the consumer choose the content they want to see. They decide when to go on Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, or wherever else their favorite influencers hang out.
There are no intrusive pop ups that invade your screen each time an influencer on Instagram publishes a post. Instead, the consumer chooses to check the feeds of their favorite influencers to see what they’re doing, using, eating, and whatever else they embark on in their daily lives.
You can look at it as a form of on-demand advertising.
Who’d a thunk people would actually go out and look to be promoted to after doing everything within their power to block ads?
Well, it’s our reality.
How else would you explain the fact 71 percent of marketers agree on influencer marketing being an effective method for attracting quality customers/traffic (compared to other sources)?
It’s also because the ROI is better than other channels (according to 89% of marketers). I’d say a $6.50 return for every $1 spent is definitely a reason to celebrate influencer marketing.
This just goes to show why there’s such a high demand for influencer marketing. And why 17 percent of marketers will spend more than half their budget on influencers.
So the question now is:
How do you make influencer marketing work for you?
Quick hint: It’s all about the content.
#3 The Best Influencer Partners Know How to Create AMAZING Content (for less than what a content agency will cost you)
It takes more than a quick 15-second review on a product to convince consumers to buy it. This is why commercials rarely do anything more than send people to their computers to do actual research.
Influencers who have the best content are experts at packaging content in a way that appeals to their target audience. And if you let them do what they’re great at doing, they’ll help you build a catalog of really great content that you can reuse.
Now, there are various ways they can do this:
- Real-world product demonstration (a show-and-tell for the product)
- Unboxing videos (see them open the box and use the product)
- Review of the product and the results (after using it for several days, weeks, or months)
- Tips for how to use the product (makeup tutorials, styling/fashion tips, etc.)
- Taking glam shots wearing the product (bikini on the beach, night out on the town wearing heels, posing with a purse in front of the Trevi Fountain)
It’s about being creative (and at the same time authentic). The imagery has to be quality and eye-catching. This means the color scheme, setting, and lighting have to be on point.
Otherwise, you’re dealing with a so-called influencer in their basement talking about your product with a plain white background.
Nothing appealing about this. So users will continue scrolling along.
Now, we’re not going to say that shiny, glittery things will capture consumers to your branded posts. No, there still needs to be something authentic behind all the fluff. Otherwise, it’s just…fluff.
Users want a heart-to-heart with influencers. They want to know what they think about the product. Not just a list of features they’re reading off a brochure.
The most successful influencers are telling relatable stories. It’s the key to getting consumers to care about your product.
It needs to feel like it’s a friend-to-friend conversation. Something adverts fail to accomplish. Influencers share content that’s revealing, inspiring, and authentic, which is how users connect with them in the first place.
This way, when they do a promotion, it’s easier to trust.
#4 Influencer Content Continues to Outperform Branded Content
Influencers are people, and their followers connect with them on many different levels, which usually makes them more relevant and more trustworthy than brands. Sorry, but brands don’t battle with self-perception issues or other human struggles.
When measured side-by-side, influencer content consistently drums up more engagement than branded content. Influencers can give you reach and engagement numbers that would typically cost millions to achieve on your own (referred to as earned media value). Using the help of multiple influencers, you can get better content out at a quicker pace than you would on your own.
That alone is priceless. Especially with users consuming 11.4 pieces of content before finally making that decision to purchase.
#5 You Don’t Need Mega-Influencers to Win. Hyper-Targeting Works Wonders
The idea of paying a Kardashian to promote your product would get any small to medium business owner’s panties in a bunch.
The good news is you can relax — because you don’t really need mega-influencers with millions of followers to win at social media marketing, which means you can affordably reach your target audience by partnering with small, niche influencers.
Numbers show that people trust smaller influencers more and have a higher inclination to purchase products they recommend. And it makes sense.
Mega-influencers are now becoming the new television/radio/magazine ad. They’re obvious product peddlers and most don’t fall for their gimmicks. Not to mention, these influencers feel out of reach (likely because they are).
With the micro-influencers (10K to 100K followers), you have a tight-knit fan base that interacts with one another in a genuine way. These clicks are better to target if you’re looking for higher engagement and conversions.
Just ask the 46 percent of brands that agree micro-influencers offer better returns than the celeb influencers. And what’s even better is micro-influencers don’t cost nearly as much.
With the imposter epidemic going around, you want to be wary of dealing with fake mega-influencers who bought their way to the top. It’s a lot easier to spot a genuine micro-influencer because their numbers aren’t ridiculously high. And the engagements are relevant (not those odd comments from paid followers from countries you’ve never heard of).
#6 Then There’s the Momentum Effect
When a consumer embarks on the voyage across the webosphere to find the best product and finds a solution — they’re thrilled.
It’s like finding a golden nugget after days of digging. And they want to be the first (or at least among their social group) to acquire and flaunt it.
They get this level of satisfaction each time they find a must-have product an influencer recommends. It’s literally discovering something new and exciting that’s already been validated worthy from all the comments, likes, and shares.
This phenomenon was coined “The Momentum Effect” back in 2008 in Jean-Claude (no not Van Damme) Larreche’s book (The Momentum Effect).
It’s a process that feels rewarding to consumers (much like those notifications and pings we get on our smart devices). It’s instant gratification at its finest.
Ignore Influencer Marketing at Your Own Peril!
Other brands (likely even your competitors) are already using influencers (or planning to in the near future). If you’re targeting millennials and older Gen Z shoppers, then it’s something you need to do as well.
There’s nothing more effective than social proof to help convert shoppers into buyers.
But now that you know this — what’s next?
We recommend educating yourself on everything to do with influencer marketing in 2020 and finding an agency that can help you with planning and executing your campaign.
If we’re throwing names around, then we recommend giving The Shelf a call to see how we can help.
Otherwise, we highly recommend consuming some (or all) of our roundup posts to see how right influencer marketing is for promoting your brand.