What Is Influencer Marketing and Why Your Brand Should Use It

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Influencer marketing is here to stay. It’s been embraced by both small and large companies, who have seen the benefits of working with key influencers.

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As a strategy, it’s evolving and growing, and those businesses not already investing some of their marketing budgets into this area could be missing a big trick. But what is influencer marketing?

What is influencer marketing?

Your social feed is full of posts showing you how to become healthier, earn a better income, dress better, style your home, have better relationships. Your emails are from bloggers or online business owners you admire recommending products or services they know will be of benefit to you. Some of these posts and emails will hit home, and you will go on to make a purchase. When this happens, you have become part of the influencer marketing phenomenon.

As an idea, influencer marketing is not a new concept, as it is based on the foundation of recommendations, referral or word-of-mouth advertising, which has long been in existence. Television advertising has used it to good effect by employing celebrities to endorse products; as those who watched the recent documentary series ‘The Last Dance’ will have seen with Michael Jordan’s infamous partnership with Nike – the richest endorsement deal of all time. Now, however, influencer marketing is based on key individuals creating content sparking conversation and a desire to purchase.

This desire is built on how the audience perceives the referrer or influencer. Successful influencers build a following based on great content delivering knowledge and experience within their chosen field. They don’t necessarily have to have a celebrity title or existing fame to be considered an influencer. Many have grown their online following organically from zero and lead relatively normal lives outside of the digital world. However, they build a level of trust with their audience as they grow and often leave others desiring what they have, whether it’s material objects, appearance or quality of life. Their audience not only enjoys their content, but usually receives something of value along the way. This can be in the form of tips, tricks or new knowledge.

The audience respects and trusts the influencer, based on their experiences with them. For example, the influencer could talk constantly about a book they have read and recommend their audience read it. If they then also read the book and love it too, trust is built with the influencer and their recommendations. Or perhaps the influencer records a video of a recipe, which they say is easy to follow and tastes great. Others try the recipe and it works so well when the influencer publishes the next video their viewers can’t wait to try it. When an influencer then shares new content discussing third-party brands or products, the audience is already primed towards the influencer’s choices and much more likely to follow the recommendation. Hubspot found 71% of consumers are more likely to make purchases based on social media referrals.

 

Why use influencer marketing?

“Influencers are people. People (or maybe personas) with a brand and an audience. What makes them attractive to advertisers is their ability to speak to a very defined group of fans. The way the ecosystem is maturing looks a lot like the internet in the early days” – Mike Schmidt, Founder Dovetale.

As Mile Schmidt points out, influencers are usually everyday people, and this is the key aspect of influencer marketing. Gone are the days of bland press releases, TV ads featuring models who don’t represent the average human being, or celebrities obviously being paid to endorse a product. These methods, though still utilised, began to feel disingenuous to a wider audience. The lifestyles of these people were too far removed from the ‘real world’ as their lifestyles are unobtainable to most.

Advertising mediums are changing, and influencer marketing has arisen in response. Consumers spend more time on social platforms than ever before. There has been  an unpredicted increase seen in the advertising audience of all major platforms from the start of 2020 onwards. On these platforms and networks, audiences tend to respond better to those they see as their peers. Influencer marketing targets audiences where they spend time and approach them on their level, sometimes even directly. Buyers of today are aware of how adverts can be misleading and so look more towards each other for recommendations, rather than directly to companies.

Create trust in your brand

The internet is now a more crowded marketplace than ever, especially with many businesses pivoting to online as a way to survive in the current climate. Therefore, finding ways to make your own brand stand out from the crowd is crucial to long-term success. Positive exposure from a respected voice helps to cut through some of the noise and build trust in your brand; which makes consumers not only sit up and take notice, but remember who you are for longer.

According to a Nielsen survey, 92% of consumers trust ‘earned’ media, word-of-mouth or recommendations from family and friends, as opposed to other types of advertising. Influencer marketing is often a subtle referral form of advertising and goes a long way towards building long-term trust.

Get in front of a warm target audience

One aspect of influencer marketing making it so exciting for brands is its ability to put products right in front of a warm target audience. A warm audience is one that is open to the idea of purchasing from your type of products or industry. By investing in research into finding the right influencers to promote your brand, results in your products being exposed to an audience who are already receptive and more likely to buy.

Targeting not only the right demographics in an audience, but also those who are already a warm audience can have a big effect on your bottom line. No one would tell you to pitch an ice cooler to an Eskimo, but rather a more effective strategy would be to get in front of an avid audience of summer campers who are actively looking for ways to make their camping experience even better. Building a relationship with just one key person in this area could see your product exposed to thousands of more people and could see your profits double.

Effortlessly improve your SEO

You’ll see ‘improve your SEO’ in almost every digital marketing strategy. That’s because it works if you’re willing to put in the time and energy. Having said this, improving your SEO takes consistency and can be a slow burn to see great results.

Although influencer marketing is an effective standalone sales pitch, it also has the bonus of aiding your SEO with little to no effort on your part and in turn, boosting your search rankings. The more influencers who discuss your products, the wider your brand awareness will be. This positively affects your SEO in several ways:

  • Lots of fresh content about your brand and your product as well as increasing visibility, awareness and engagement
  • An increased chance of sharing of your brand’s native posts and content
  • Builds legitimate backlinks to your website

As your company or product name is mentioned more and more across social channels, Google will rate your popularity by pushing your rankings up, which is the ultimate aim of search engine optimisation.

Google also values links from other websites pointing toward yours, so if the influencers you are working with have successful blogs it’s essential they place your website link in their content, to build on their website authority. 

Accelerated growth rate

As many businesses will know, great marketing is not cheap and takes time and effort to plan, monitor, track and adjust. Getting customers is only half of the battle, as keeping them is equally as important. In 2015 a well-sited study by McKinsey stated that influencer marketing created twice as many sales as display advertising, and the retention rate was 37% higher. As the market has grown exponentially since then, with many believing the industry to be worth somewhere between $5billion and $10billion, this number is bound to be far higher. 

The growth rate of influencer marketing is also outstripping other forms of marketing. A test programme by Silk Almond Milk showed it creates as much as 11 times the ROI as banner ads. Committing chunks of your marketing budget to influencer marketing can create a return not seen elsewhere.

Your customers are on social media

Consumers have changed. They are now more likely to browse Facebook or Instagram than the ads section of their local newspaper, and usually on a mobile platform. Advertising methods need to move with the times or face being left behind, and the popularity and growth of influencer marketing shows how this shift is already happening. 

Getting your brand exposed through social platforms is now a key aspect of building your brand, and influencer marketing contributes to this exposure in a big way. In 2017 it was reported that 12.9 million brand-sponsored influencer posts were published on Instagram alone, and it has continued to grow. Facebook has stated around 80% of people use Instagram to discover, research or decide whether to buy a new product. We’ve seen the Advertiser Standards Agency increase guidance for influencers and brands around the visibility of ads and paid partnerships.

Influencers produce content for you

Content has been hailed as king for a long time online, although content is now not just available in the written form. Online users love fresh content and avidly read articles or watch videos created by their favourite bloggers and influencers. Influencers are very good at producing content and if they focus on your brand, you can then repurpose what they create (with permission). Not only is the content being digested by the influencer’s audience, but will also help with your own ranking and popularity.

This content also provides opportunities for the future to repost, share and deploy, helping to keep your product and brand alive for much longer than it would from a different type of advert. Influencers also often perceive brands from a new perspective and provide fresh and interesting content.


Influencer marketing is cost-effective

The good news with influencer marketing is, not only does it give a good ROI, but it is a relatively inexpensive method to set up, compared to other forms of advertising.

On average, for every £1 spent on influencer marketing, the revenue created is worth £6.50. Compare this to PPC, where every £1.60 makes £3. The viewing time is also about seven times longer for content produced by influencers.

The actual cost of influencer marketing depends very much on the influencer, as some require payments, some take goods or gifts in return and some don’t charge at all. PPC, however, can reach into the thousands per month for management fees, plus the cost of the clicks is then charged on top.

One of the most recent influencer marketing studies undertaken by Medixkix showed 89% of businesses think the ROI for influencer marketing is comparable or better than any other form of marketing.

 

How to create an influencer marketing strategy

As with any form of digital marketing it’s important to put the horse before the cart and form a plan. You should put together a well thought out influencer marketing strategy before you begin approaching influencers. 

 

Establish clear goals

Who are you looking to connect with? What kind of audiences do you desire? This thinking needs to run deeper than just making one simple sale. It’s better to get customers into a continuous sales cycle rather than a one-time sales funnel. The best way to do this is to carefully assess the right type of audience to sell to.

What kind of reach or engagement are you hoping for? Are you hoping for wide scale brand awareness or is there a specific product you’re hoping to sell? Is there a desired CTR or would you prefer to pay on final sale rates or CPA? 

With Awin all of the above are possible ways to execute your strategy, but it’s best to explore these ideas and get them down on paper. 

Work out your desired ROI

There are many ways to determine ROI and they are all dependent on your initial goals. Giving a numerical value to your goals and setting clear timelines, in which you hope for them to be achieved, will help you to fine-tune and craft your campaigns into the future. 

Set out an influencer marketing budget

Asking ‘How much budget should I place on influencer marketing?’ is kind of like asking ‘How long is a piece of string?’. The industry is vast and prices vary so working out what you can afford and how you’ll make it benefit you is important. Over time when you’ve achieved a great ROI, you’ll be able to afford to increase your budget. It’s important to highlight to an influencer there is always a possibility for growth in rates, given a successful campaign.

Depending on whether you’re hoping to be working with celebrities, well-known influencers or micro-influencers (1,000 - 10,000 followers) will also have an impact on your budget. Though there is some evidence to suggest that smaller followings convert to higher engagement.

Influencer marketing pricing is incredibly subjective and can depend on many factors including following, engagement, previous partnerships, number of assists. This is why it’s important to establish your budget and work within those guidelines.

Find the right influencers to work with

Clearly, this is one of the most important aspects of influencer marketing. Within your strategy, you should have formed an idea of which platforms you think suits your brand then you can begin a discovery process.

Searching relevant hashtags and looking for popular posts is a handy way to start creating lists or spreadsheets of those who seem relevant. Note their handle or page name, their followers and perhaps even see how much engagement they are receiving on each post. When looking for influencers it can be challenging to vet out those who have paid for fake followers, comments or likes. Some things to look out for are:

  • A large amount of followers, but a low engagement rate (likes, comments, shares)
  • An abundance of generic comments, repeated comments from different users or comments that don’t make sense
  • Posts with lots of likes, but no comments
  • Large follower count with minimal content (these accounts aren’t suitable for influencer marketing anyway)

You’re really looking for influencers who engage actively with their audience, but also fit with your brand ethos. They don’t necessarily have to align perfectly with the look and feel of your brand (though this can sometimes help), but their message and way of communicating should be what you think your target audience will connect with. To go further in-depth, you could research some of their followers and see if these are the types of accounts you’re hoping to sell to.

Track the data and report on the learnings

Tracking your influencer marketing campaign is vital. The information you gain can help your business learn and pivot toward a more profitable future. With the hiding of likes and engagement tools by some major platforms, it’s highly advised to use accurate and professional tracking software to manage your campaigns. At Awin, we not only offer tracking software, but we also have an in-house influencer specialist, who is able to offer advice when launching an influencer marketing campaign.

 

How to work with influencers

Influencers are individuals and so there will be no ‘one size fits all’ model. You should get to know the influencers you hope to work with, as you should be working toward a mutually beneficial business relationship.

Finding the right influencers for your brand

This should take a large portion of your planning time. Once you have done the aforementioned research, set out a category hierarchy of who you would most like to work with. There could be some who you determine you ‘must’ work with, others you think could work alongside your brand and a final ‘maybe’ list.

Connect with them and ask to form a partnership

To build rapport with an influencer you should spend some time following them first. This will also highlight to you if they are indeed someone who is suitable to work with. Regularly engaging with their content will put your brand on their radar, but also show you already support what they are creating.

Then, reach out. Some influencers may prefer a private message, others an email. It’s best to make direct contact privately first, if possible. Depending on if they are used to forming influencer marketing partnerships they may state this in their ‘bio’ or ‘about’ sections of their social media pages.

Be clear in your intentions to work with them and that you would like to form an ongoing partnership with a formal agreement. Many influencers are contacted regularly from illegitimate brands, trolls or spam accounts. Being professional in your communication and clear in your partnership goals will set your brand apart from the others.

Outline your expectations and goals

Once they have expressed some interest in working together, offer to send through a formalised agreement. This should outline a variety of things including how you’ll track success and KPIs, the mandatory participation requirements including what they must say and things you prefer they don’t say. Sending through a brand style guide is also helpful so they can understand who you are as a company. This is also where you could include exclusivity information, should you choose to put some in place. However, it’s important to remember this may impact their desire to work with you.

The difficulty many companies face here is when you too tightly restrict what an influencer can and cannot do with your brand. By stripping away their authenticity, you lose one of the most important things about influencer marketing. Restrictive campaigns could also reduce the number of people willing to work with you as they don’t wish for their message to feel controlled by the brands they align with.

Agree upon remuneration

This could include some negotiations. Don’t be surprised if there needs to be some back and forth to reach a rate that suits both parties. As previously mentioned, there can be large discrepancies in fees in this space. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just means you may take some time to find the right rate.

Track your campaign

Some influencers may suggest using other methods, but for complete oversight of your programme, we recommend using the tracking software available through Awin. For example, the Product Performance Report can help to show the influencer whether or not they’re directly increasing the sales of the products they’re promoting. However, it's good to bear in mind they might be assisting sales too, where other publishers are receiving the last click before purchase.

Provide this data back to your influencers so they too can look for areas to improve, after all this is a mutual learning experience.

 

Does influencer marketing work

In short, of course influencer marketing works. It wouldn’t be a $10billion a year industry if it didn’t. But there are certainly ways to make it profitable for your business and other ways that may waste your money.

Doing your research and forming a strategy in the first place is very important. Release the reins somewhat to let your influencers create content freely throughout the campaign, then critically analyse the data in order to improve your next campaign.

The Net Result

Take a look at some case studies and it’s clear to see the net result of influencer marketing is creating more and more sales, both on and offline. Affiliate networks such as Awin have in-depth experience in influencer marketing and can advise brands on further strategies on how best to utilise this channel.

Of course, there are many factors to the success stories, but it's clear not only is influencer marketing here to stay, but those brands not already implementing it will be left behind. To make sure this isn’t you, consider adding influencer marketing to your advertising arsenal. If you’d like to discuss influencer marketing in more detail, please speak to your account contact or our Influencer Marketing Manager.

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