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Essay: Investigate the benefits of using influencers as a marketing technique.

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  • Published: 22 April 2023*
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Introduction

“The marketing concept holds that achieving organisational goals depends on determining the needs and wants of target markets and delivering the desired satisfactions more effectively and efficiently than competitors do.” (Kotler et al, 1996 p.15)

Society today is becoming increasingly dependent on digital technology with most of the population having access to smartphones or tablets at the touch of a finger. This one touch society has access to the internet on the go now, without the need for a dial-up connection as seen previously and so can carry out all manner of tasks more efficiently and quickly. These digital advances have made businesses have to reassess the way they carry out their marketing strategies with more emphasis put on digital marketing than ever before. This has caused a significant shift in the paradigm of the marketing world. This advancing society also become increasingly reliant on the opinions of their peers and so the use of online influencers has come to fruition. This study hopes to gain insight into the effectiveness of using online influencers as a marketing strategy.

According to Carson et al (2001), there are two perspectives of marketing research; the academic perspective and the practitioner perspective. The academic perspective is a more scientific perspective of marketing paradigms. Hunt (1994) had noted that the academic perspective is that of a researcher who places emphasis on knowledge, as opposed to a business person. The practitioner perspective places more focus on an understanding of the market, progressing along with it and creating relationships. McKenna (1986) was offering a different approach, as a consultant with business perspective. Although both perspectives are very different, it can be appropriate to use both in a study to give a greater insight into the research, a view which was also expressed by Borch and Arthur (1995).

Saunders and Lewis (2018) have indicated that there are five research philosophies which apply; positivism, realism, interpretivism, postmodernism and pragmatism. Positivism is used in natural sciences to provide accurate, unambiguous results. Realism is more of an explanative philosophy for understanding events which can be observed and analysed. Interpretivism brings forward a necessary intent to understand social differences, while postmodernism seeks to provide a voice for different views from the generally accepted way of thinking. Pragmatism dictates that the research questions are the most valued part of research projects and aims to provide practical solutions from the results. This project will focus on several different aspects of these philosophies as they can be closely linked despite their differences.

Rationale

Early research into the subject has indicated that there have been mixed views on how the use of online influencers impacts on a business’s success. This study hopes to highlight and inform on the effectiveness of this type of marketing from the viewpoint of a consumer.

An influencer is a person who has established credibility in a specific field or has a popular public image on social media to be able to change and mould people’s opinions and choices through their follower groups. (Marwick & Boyd, 2011, Freburg et al. 2011) According to Wright et al., influencers are considered to be masters of persuasion who have the ability to lead their followers effortlessly and make everyone want to follow them (Wright et al, 2017).
Past literature on online influencers has indicated that there are two different types; a market maven or an opinion leader (Trusov et al. 2009). Market mavens are happy to publish opinions on many kinds of products and experiences whereas an opinion leader has a more specific niche for their recommendations (Solomon, 2015). It can be easy to confuse online influencers with celebrities or ambassadors, but online influencers tend to incorporate the products or services in a more organic way into their interactions and the relationship between the brand and the influencer is usually mutually beneficial. (Ryan, 2016)

Online influencer marketing can also be referred to as Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM) and according to Neilsen (2015), is a way for marketers to utilise consumers reliance on other opinions and experiences to their advantage. WOM marketing has been defined as “any positive or negative statement made by a potential, actual or former customer about a product or company, which is made available to a multitude of people via the internet.” (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2004, p. 39). The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) has published five main indicators for successful WOM marketing. These include identifying people with the potential to share your products, providing education about products or services, providing easy ways to share opinions, responding to supporters, neutral reactions and detracting statements, and studying where, how and when views are being shared and publicised. (Tuten, 2015)

Online influencer marketing is a relatively new phenomenon in terms of research, specifically relating to social media influencers (De Veirman et al, 2017). Online influencers have proved to be most popular using social media sites Instagram, Facebook and personal blogs via Youtube. (Linqia, 2018). Businesses have now discovered that the use of online influencers creates a bigger impact by reaching a wider audience, with the potential for their posts to go viral. Viral posts create high levels of interest through being shared many times across different platforms and receiving a large amount of traffic on the post in the form of likes, comments and shares.

This study hopes to provide more information on how using online influencers can be beneficial for the businesses and provide insight into what consumers are looking for and feel they can engage with.

Aims and Objectives

Research Aim

To use consumer opinions to establish the effectiveness on online influencers as a marketing strategy.

This study will use the opinions of consumers to establish the effectiveness of using online influencers in the hope that it will provide greater insight for businesses using this marketing strategy into what consumers feel they connect with. The objectives shown below will indicate in more detail reasons why the author intends to conduct this study.

Research Objectives

Objective one: Investigate the benefits of using influencers as a marketing technique.

With all marketing strategies, there are factors which can both benefit a business or detract from the business. One of the key objectives of this study is to highlight what factors are considered successful by consumers and why they feel this way. This aims to help businesses make more relatable decisions for the consumers based on the data which will be gathered for this study. This study will not only show the benefits for businesses but also show the drawbacks which can be associated with online influencer marketing too.

Objective two: Establish if this improves customer relationships.

The relationships which consumers have with businesses is vital to the success and survival of businesses as good relationships will lead to repeat custom and in todays society particularly, good reviews. It has been shown that Word of Mouth marketing is becoming increasingly popular so this will mean that good feedback will hopefully lead to growth in the knowledge of a business’s products and encourage others to try the products for themselves. By using online influencers, consumers may feel that they can relate more closely to a product or experience through someone who is considered both credible and authentic. It is hoped that this study will indicate if the consumers feel they can relate more easily to a business through use of online influencers and their opinions.

Objective three: Establish if brand awareness increases through use of online influencers.

Brand awareness is a huge part of successful marketing strategies. This study will investigate if online influencers are a useful tool for increasing brand awareness. The popularity of brands can also be dependent on the generation which are being targeted by a business through a particular type of online influencer. Brand awareness leads to general associations being made, for example; washing up liquid is commonly referred to as Fairy liquid regardless of the brand being made because the brand awareness for Fairy liquid is so well known. By creating this kind of brand awareness, these associations become second nature, so this study aims to investigate if the use of online influencers can help with the increase of brand awareness.

Relevant Literature

The parent literature which will be studied for this project will be around digital marketing. This refers to the general topic of research for background information. Core literature which stems from the parent literature will incorporate subjects such as branding, consumer behaviour and customer relationship marketing (CRM). These are topics which the author has deemed most relevant to the research subject and hopes to gain further insight into these fields.

Digital Marketing

“Digital marketing describes any aspects of the web, mobility, data or social that has an impact on marketing operations or customer experiences.” (Kotler et al, 2016, p 116)

Word of Mouth (WOM) marketing has been found to be one of the most trusted marketing methods in recent times according to Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising research in 2015, with 83% of respondents saying that they trust recommendations from people they know (Wright and Snook, 2017) (Nielsen, 2015). The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) has produced information which highlights 5 key factors to WOM marketing on its website. These factors include; creating education about products and services, provision of sharing tools, identifying key audience who have greatest likelihood to share opinions, monitoring where, how and when opinions are being shared and not just listening to but also responding to all types of critique, positive, negative and neutral. (Tuten, 2015)

Using online discussions, social networks, blogs and other online media, businesses have the potential to become more productive with their marketing strategies and create a noteworthy relationship with customers. (Ryan, 2016) This allows businesses to gain more meaningful insight into the perception of products and services, as well as enabling the customers to interact and contribute to the businesses in ways which were never possible before. It has also been noted that digital marketing allows businesses to keep their finger on the digital pulse and remain relevant with their strategies and reaching consumers.

Social media has changed the way people interact with brands, by creating a way of having two-way communication and creating a level of empowerment for consumers which was never possible before (Rowles, 2017) Within digital marketing, there has become a greater need for understanding of social media which has meant that the target audience are no longer considered to be an audience, but active participants in the business success who remain in a debate with their peers which is constantly evolving (Ryan, 2016). From a business perspective, using social media as a marketing tool is convenient, easy and can have incredibly powerful results.

Branding

“Branding is defined as the name, term, design, symbol, or any other features that identifies one sellers’ goods or service as distinct from the other sellers” (Rowles, 2017 p47)

The brand of a business is essentially the personality of a good or service and digital branding gives the ability to more easily understand true personality of a business (Rowles, 2017). A brand should be striking so that there is an automatic association with a business by creating an indelible impression. One example of this effective branding is Michelin, the French tyre company who have Monsieur Bibendum, who is essentially the face of the company. (Clifton, 2009)

The positioning of branding is also essential to successful marketing and has been described by Clifton (2009) as being so powerful that it owns a territory not just in the audience’s minds but also in the marketplace. Brand positioning needs to be relevant but have an element of differentiation to make it stand out while remaining credible with the audience it is targeting.

Relationship Marketing

“Relationship marketing identifies and establishes, maintains and enhances and when necessary, terminates relationships with customers and other stake holders, at a profit so that the objectives of all parties involved are met through mutual exchange and promises being fulfilled.” (Gronoos, 1994, p4)

The Six Markets Framework is used to address relationship marketing on an organisational level. The purpose of this framework is to identify participants and segments in the market, review the current and proposed emphasis in each market, design a relationship strategy and determine if formal marketing plans are appropriate and necessary and research to identify the needs and expectations of the key participants. (Peck et al, 2004) An illustration of this framework can be seen in Figure 1.1.

Some areas of the six markets framework which the author intends to focus on are the influence markets and the referral markets. This will provide information on how the influence markets create and maintain relationships, while the referral markets will incorporate the word-of-mouth marketing strategies which are significant to this research.

Figure 1.1 Six Markets Framework Model (Peck et al. 2004 p3)

Consumer Behaviour

“Consumer behaviour is the study of processes involved when individuals or groups, select, purchase, use or dispose of products, services, ideas and experiences to satisfy both needs and desires.” (Solomon, 2018 p28)

There are several theories which relate to consumer behaviours. The oldest theory is the Trickle-Down theory which indicates that the lower classes often emulate the behaviours displayed by the higher classes. Another theory to be considered is the Two-step flow of communication which states that the opinion leaders or influencers are the direct receivers of information from advertisements and that they transmit and interpret that information to others via word of mouth. A final theory for consideration is the multistep flow of communication which means that the information flows directly to the different types of consumers including the opinion seekers, receivers and the opinion leaders themselves. (Blackwell, 2006) The author has identified that the multi-step flow of communication is the most applicable theory for the present digital world, everyone can access the information themselves, but the online influencers can then use their credibility as a step to further to marketing of a product or service.

Today, consumer behaviour has evolved in that around 95% of millennials will consult with their peers before making any decisions regarding purchasing. This relates back to the importance of the word of mouth marketing.

The literature review for this study will be much more in depth and make use of academic and scientific journals as well as textbook resources to gain further insight into the subject.

Proposed Methodology

This study will incorporate both qualitative and quantitative research into the investigation. Both methods of research carried out will be primary research and hopes to provide data to provide insight into the impact of online influencers on consumers. The research project will use abduction to incorporate both the deduction theories and induction theories to back up research and give the study a direction to follow. (Saunders and Lewis, 2018) This study aims to be both explanatory and descriptive, bringing forward accurate representations of people and relationships with online influencers.

Qualitative Research

The author intends to carry out qualitative research in the form of focus groups.

“A focus group can be defined as a discussion conducted by a trained moderator among a small group of participants in an unstructured and natural manner.” (Malhotra et al, 2017 p.183)

A focus group usually consists of 6-10 participants, who will be selected by the author through personal relationships and relevance to have a discussion together for approximately one and a half hours about the research topic. (Carson et al. 2001) This discussion will take place in a neutral and relaxed setting, with the author acting as the moderator for the group. The author intends to carry out 5 focus groups to gather a well-rounded insight into the research topic. For a more detailed and exploratory study, between 8-10 focus group might be undertaken, however the author felt that five would be enough as there will be quantitative data collected also. (Carson et al, 2001)

“A moderator has been defined as an individual who conducts a focus group interview, by setting the purpose of the interview, questioning, probing and handling the process of discussion.” (Malhotra et al, 2017 p 183)

The moderator should be able to keep the group discussion moving in the right direction with a good manner but firmness if needed. They should have a good understanding of the topic being discussed and encourage all participants to be active in their responses. The moderator should also have good observational skills in order to assess the atmosphere of the group as well as body language, this will provide greater information for the analysis of the responses. The moderator can unknowingly influence a groups dynamic by giving signals which indicate the responses which are more favourable so moderators must try to stay neutral in proceedings (Carson et al.2001)

A useful tool which can also be incorporated into focus groups are mood boards. Mood boards are when a collage is created during a focus group using images or words to illustrate the perceived value of a brand or service. (Malhotra et al, 2017)

There are both advantages and disadvantages to this method of research, but the author has decided that it is an appropriate method to back up the qualitative research which will be carried out alongside the focus groups. The focus group will allow the moderator to assess both the discussion of the group, as well as the behaviour of the participants, body language, conviction of responses, among other aspects, so it is intended that the focus groups be recorded by video camera.

Some of the advantages to using focus groups as a research method include speed and security, it takes less time to gather responses as a group than individually interviewing the same amount of people and often, participants will feel more at ease and less pressured in a group situation than on their own. The focus group can have a basic element of structure to follow, with the moderator having key points of discussion to cover in the time they have with the participants. There can also be a bandwagon effect or snowballing of the answer which can encourage other participants to speak up or develop their own opinions which they might not have considered previously. (Carson et al. 2001)

There can also be notable disadvantages of using focus groups such as the moderation, this needs to be well managed and be able to keep the discussion on track. There can be an element of messiness to this kind of discussion as participants can get distracted and lead the conversation in a different direction. It can also be difficult to arrange to have a group of people meet at a time which is convenient for them all, so there is always a risk of participants pulling out at the last minute. Another disadvantage can be some misinterpretation of the participants responses and body language in the discussion, so therefore this highlights the importance of recording the focus group. (Malhotra et al. 2017)

Quantitative Research

The author of the study intends to carry out quantitative research for this study by using surveys. This involves collection of data which can be collected, measured and analysed.

“The survey method is defined as a structured questionnaire administered to a sample of a target population, designed to elicit specific information from participants.” (Malhotra et al, 2017, p 269)

The survey method will use questions which will have fixed-response alternatives. This method means there is a reduced variation in the results gained from participants by providing questions that allow the participants to choose from questions which have pre-determined answers. (Malhotra et al. 2017) This method also mean that the interpretation of the data gathered during the analysis will be much a much simpler process. The author will also be able to have coding in place for the analysis phase of the project.

The author intends to have a minimum number of 100 viable responses to the surveys for analysis. The surveys will be distributed both online, via social media (Facebook) and email, and personally via personal relationships within the community and different societies that the author relates to.

There are perceived disadvantages for using surveys as a research method. One such perceived disadvantage is the social expectations that participants may feel pressured by. Participants may feel that they should answer questions in a certain manner, even if they have a different view personally. Some participants may also be concerned about the anonymity of their answers which can make some people reluctant to become involved. (McGivern, 2009)
The author will avoid using open ended questions as this can make data analysis more complicated. There will be some dichotomous questions early in the survey to give early insight into the suitability for the participants involvement in the study. Dichotomous questions have more restricted answers such as yes, no and a neutral response. (Malhotra et al, 2017) The author will also try to avoid using leading questions which can encourage acquiescence bias and lead to inaccurate results.

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