Influencers Vs. Celebrities: Who wins?
Every day, new companies are investing in influencer marketing as a strategy to create brand awareness and to increase brand value. How viable is this as a long term strategy, should companies focus more on this or stick on more traditional methods like celebrity endorsement?
Influencer Marketing refers to promoting or selling products through people who have the capacity to influence a brand. It is a strategy being adopted more and more by companies today as a means to effectively reach out to larger audiences quickly. It is mostly done through social media. An example of influencer marketing is a campaign recently adopted by Ralph Lauren to sell their line of Tiffen bags, where bags worth close to $ 3000 each were distributed, prior to their launch, to many famous fashion bloggers. This was a hugely successful campaign that succeeded in generating huge demand for the product even before its launch.
Celebrity endorsement is when a company gets a famous person to endorse their product or brand. This person need not necessarily be an expert in the field of the product that they are endorsing. It is done mostly through multi-faceted Ad campaigns. An example of a hugely successful celebrity endorsement would be Michael Jorden for Hans.
SEO and Influencer marketing-
Search engine optimization is used frequently in combination with influencer marketing to get the best results. Influencer marketing is regarded as a way to up a company's SEO. ‘Identifying your key influencers and making sure that they share your content is one of the most overlooked SEO techniques in marketing' ( Arthur Hilhorst, Onalytica,, February 12,2015 http://www.onalytica.com/blog/posts/how-influencer-marketing-can-improve-your-seo/)
SEO used to be a dark world. Brands, in their race to climb search ranking ladders, use all kinds of fair as well as unfair techniques to boost their visibility. E-commerce site Ovrestock.com, for instance went so far as to create a fake, valueless website just to link back to it's page.
It paid for hundreds of links to its product page and it even offered products discount to Government and Educational institutions in exchange for links of .gov and .edu domain.
Now, today's social media influencers hold more authority than the brand itself. So, if the brand wants to rise in the search rankings, it needs influencers creating authentic content that the followers would like to share. This would increase the page rankings.
But the question is how a company can one find and retain influencers who can have positive impact on SOE? According to the research, here are some ways listed:
1) Identify and vet the influencers- Usually many influencers would be eager to write about one's brand if they pay them but one should only tie up with influencers who align with the brand's identity.
2) Court influencers before extending an offer- Build a relationship with the influencer before teaming up with them. Mention them in the blog of the brand. Write content that resonates with them. After one have made themselves noticeable to the influencer, extend the hands. All they can do is say “yes”.
3) Think win-win- Influencer strategy is a two-way street and thus it should be mutually beneficial. One will have to pay to the influencers but also provide some add on bonuses which would attract them like product samples, air tickets etc.
4) Build relationships for a long-haul- A single post about the brand from the influencer will confuse the followers rather than converting them. But when the mention of brand becomes a usual scenario, followers start trusting the brand. Keeping in touch with the influencer would be a good practice as the company would not have to reeducate another influencer for different product launch. The influencer would be aware of the strategies adopted by the company and the policies it adheres with.
Measuring the effect of Influencer marketing-
1) Influencer engagement rate, measured as the total engagements divided by the total exposure,
Total Engagements = measurable actions taken by readers, including (but not limited to) Sponsored Blog Post comments, rich media clicks, and social engagement measures including re-tweets, likes, etc.
Total Exposure = the number of times an influencer's audience was exposed to a brand's Influencer Marketing program via Sponsored Blog Posts, rich media, and social media.
2) Social Action Rate, calculated by social media engagements divided by social media exposure, where,
Social Engagements = measurable actions taken by readers, including (but not limited to) comments, retweets, likes, etc. exclusively on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, YouTube, and Vine.
Social Exposure = the number of times an influencer's audience was exposed to a brand's Influencer Marketing program on social media platforms
(RhythmOne Influencer Marketing Benchmarks Report, 2015. https://www.rhythmone.com/assets/insights/RhythmOne_Full_Year_2015_Influencer_Marketing_Benchmarks_Report_rev1.pdf)
Strategies to Influence the influencers –
1) If it's free it's for- Popular bloggers are often sent free samples of products and even new subscriptions. Bloggers then talk about the products with their hard-won audience which are ideally around millions of followers. Sites like Cision and Alexa can help find the blogger with maximum traffic and biggest following.
2) Authenticity matters- Influencers have not gotten to the pinnacle of their careers by being pretentious and a message displayer. They are persons who actually prefer authentic professional relationship. They respect and demand originality so do not try to deceive them and hand them worn over products. Treat them with kindness, be considerate about their time and deadlines, talk to them like a friend. This would have a lot of positive impact on the success of the strategy.
3) Segmentation and Personalization- Getting a blogger or speaker to speak about the product or comment on it is useless if that person has no connection with the subject matter. Furthermore, sometimes local bloggers are far more influential than the bigger international faces. Do not put all the eggs under the bigger banner. One can also impress the bloggers by providing them their personalised products and giving add on services like comfortable travel.
4) Influencing is a two-way street- Influencer marketing is just like professional networking. One can get a lot more benefit by connecting people with each other rather than focusing on individual benefit.
5) Be the first one to give influencers the invitation to connect with the brand- Quote them, mention them in the tweets, give them a chance to contribute. Pay it by offering value rather than just money. This would make them feel positive and important. As a result they would more likely get converted into advocates. It is always easier to talk and engage with a friend rather than defend oneself against enemy.
Influencer marketing: The next big thing?
Influencer marketing has been touted to be the next big thing. It is the focus of the millennials. Younger people are more dependent on social media as a source of buying information. This shows that it is likely to become more wide spread in the future as the current users will continue to use and influence other users in the process. The question is whether or not it is viable for companies to invest in influencer marketing today, and what percentage of advertising expense they need to allocate towards doing this.
Why Influencer marketing works-
According to a study by group high, a marketing software platform, 90% of customers trust peer recommendations while a mere 33% trust Ads. (http://www.grouphigh.com/social-media-influencers/) Influencer marketing works more in the form of a peer recommendation. The main attribute is credibility. People believe that the influencer knows what's best and follows their recommendations. Another reason is that the content is generally managed from start to finish by the influencer themselves. This means that they have completely control over the content are not likely to be influenced by the brand, hence the consumer believes them to be more credible.
Extent of Influence Marketing -
Businesses make $6.50 for every dollar invested in influencer marketing, according to a study by Tomoson.
Additionally, they state that influencer marketing is the fastest growing customer acquisition method at 22 % of all methods, followed by organic search at 17 % and email at 15 %.
Effect of influencers-
Influencers are individuals with knowledge and expertise in their respective fields. They are trusted by their followers to provide advice of the best products available in the market. Their reach is more instant. An example of an influencer is Chiara Ferragni, at Italian fashion blogger. She founded her blog ‘The Blond Salad' in 2009, which grew to have 500,00 unique visitors each month, She has 3.4 million followers on Instagram and her company is estimated to be worth USD $8 million (‘How Chiara Ferragni's blog became an $8million business' CBS news, March 23,2015
Downside of Influencer Marketing –
The biggest drawback of influencer marketing is that since the influencers are more often than not, not paid directing by the company, they do not have any legal obligation to conform to the brand's expectation and image that they wish to portray. This means that they could just as easily put forth negative reviews about the product and negatively influence the potential customers, deterring them from purchasing the product. Sometimes the sheer speed of social media is underestimated, one bit of negative news can spread like wildfire. Here is one such instance. ‘J.P. Morgan thought it could engage its consumer base through an enlightening Twitter Q&A session. Except they were completely ignorant of what their brand represented to the trolling masses of the Internet. Even respected journalists joined in on six hours of harassment fun.'- Richard Feloni, , Business Insider Australia, November 25, 2013
Case study of Influencer marketing -
Octagon, a sports marketing agency, supported by Fleishman Hillard, developed an influencer campaign for BMW for the Olympic Games called “Drive for Team USA”.
More than 300 dealerships nationwide and several influencers participated in the promotion, they sent out fliers to prospective BMW buyers offering them a chance to attend a special test-drive event and receive a limited-time $1,000 allowance toward the purchase of a new vehicle. The company had a member of Team USA at each of the events and made a $10 donation to the U.S. Olympic Committee for every test drive taken. The promotion was focused on the company's 3 Series model.
In Times Square, BMW participated in the “The Road to London”. At the event they had cars on display and got Gold Medalist Ricky Berens to sign autographs and generate excitement for the upcoming Games.
The results of the campaign were tremendous. The Drive for Team USA drove more than 20,000 people to attend some 277 events, and BMW converted approximately 25 % of those drivers into buyers of new cars.
BMW also hosted almost 20,000 visitors at the hospitality center. BMWUSA.com saw a 26% increase in site visits compared to the prior 4 weeks; received 14,000 new fans on Facebook and 80,000 video views on its Youtube channel. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/markfidelman/2013/08/06/8-of-the-best-influencer-marketing-campaigns-from-the-8-hottest-agencies/#69ac52433196)
Reasons for success-
The success of this campaign could be attributed to a combination of right decisions. The creditability factor in this situation would have been high as the influencers were regular people who has tested the car out for themselves. Collaborating with olympic medalists was another huge bonus as it drew in more attention from the masses.
Extent of Celebrity endorsement-
According to Wally Tomaszek, general manager at Signarama, 45% of adults believe that celebrities can make either a large, or some positive difference to the issues that they are promoting. The remaining 55% however, believe that they make little or no difference to the product that they are promoting .( http://wallblog.co.uk/2015/05/12/infographic-can-celebrity-endorsements-influence-sales/)
Downside of celebrity endorsement-
In case the reputation of the celebrity is tarnished after the release of the Ad it will have a direct effect on the image of the brand. This brings in an uncertainty factor. In 2007, Nike hired the star Quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, Michael Vick to launch their new ‘Zoom Vick V' collection. The star was then charged with dog fighting and animal cruelty, and sentenced to two years of prison. In 2011, when he had completed his term Nike gave him another chance and signed him on for another deal. This strategy was perceived an unintelligent by many and caused a lot of problems for Nike as many people pledged to boycott the company. ( Bruna Messina, March 19, 2013 , http://fashionbi.com/newspaper/celebrity-endorsement-going-wrong) Another possible disadvantage is what is sometimes referred to as ‘The Vampire effect', where the celebrity is remembered more by the viewer than the actual product or message. The product is essentially over shadowed by the celebrity.
Measuring ROI of Celebrity Endorsement Vs. Influencer marketing -
The return on Investment on Celebrity endorsement cannot be easily measured. Metrics such as Brand awareness and recall, increase in sales and changes in stock price after a celebrity deal, are generally used. The accuracy of these metrics however, is debatable as it is hard to isolate the endorsement as the individual reason for the change in these metrics. They could be due to a number of other factors.
Influencer marketing on the other hand has the capacity to employ more specific metrics to measure the reach. With suitable Data analysis measures it is possible to view the number of clicks on an ad, numbers of shares, likes, for instance. These metrics will change based on the combination of social media platforms that are employed.
Celebrity endorsement case study-
In 2013, a USD $ 50 million deal was made by Pepsi &co. with Beyoncé. As part of the deal, her face appeared on all the Pepsi bottles that were produced at the time. She also performed at the super bowl XLVII half- time show while endorsing the brand. Although the campaign generated huge interest, the sales did not increase after the campaign. She was called out for being hypocritical as just before signing the deal she had been associated with Michelle Obama's ‘Let's Move' fitness campaign. (http://wallblog.co.uk/2015/05/12/infographic-can-celebrity-endorsements-influence-sales)/
Reasons for failure -
There are a variety of reasons as to why it could have failed. One reason could have been that the endorsement was not authentic enough. People like to believe that the celebrity endorsing the product uses it themselves in real life. It is possible that in this case it was felt that she might not. The lack of consistency with her previous endorsements and this one might have been another reason. It might also be the fact that this campaign drifted too far away from the original authentic image that the brand was known for.
Case study of marketing strategy gone wrong -
Reliance, an Indian conglomerate, recently diversified into a new telecom subsidiary providing high speed 4G network across India, titled ‘Reliance Jio'. For their launch, they brought on three celebrity movie actors to tweet about the launch. What resulted was the three actors posting the exact same message about the launch. on twitter from each of their accounts. This was met with instant negative feedback from the public. This could have been that the lack of originality in the influencer's message suggested more strongly to people that they were simply saying what they were asked to, rather than saying what they really thought. The implication could have been a lack in credibility that resulted in the backlash that the campaign received. ( Mahlar Bhai, December 28, 2015 , http://malharbarai.com/2015/12/28/whoops-influencer-marketing-gone-wrong/ )
In this small world of social media, people have started expecting from other consumers to showcase their purchases and share their opinions. Instead of looking at the companies they once looked at, they now look follow their favorite personalities on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube etc.
Today our mothers struggle to deal with our obsession with certain brand names, personalities or even channels. The question is how did these products attain limelight this quickly? The answer is ‘INFLUENCERS'.
Consumers of all age rely on social media to know what is ‘Trending' and what not. And while television and celebrity endorsements were once considered as the best ways to create a ‘buzz' about the product, today people do not want to hear to the paid advertisements. They prefer to listen from real people, who have their own views and judgements, who are more credible and trust-worst and who possess certain knowledge in that particular field. These real people are termed as “Influencers”. They are perceived to be more authentic and credible. Influencer Marketing strategy involves using social media to publish the content. Using social media and blogs, people share their experiences of using the product and how would they rate it. As content from these trustworthy advocates gets shared, it generates tremendous word of mouth advertisement.
IS INFLUENCER MARKETING STRATEGY THE NEXT BIG THING?
INDEED, YES. It's Powerful, It's social and it it's trustworthy.
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