The power of influencers in todays marketing mix

What’s this buzz about “influencer marketing”?
While we’re still all talking about content being the hottest buzzword in marketing these days, influencer marketing is right up there, quietly, confidently, and steadily becoming a key weapon in the marketer’s arsenal.

Influencer marketing isn’t new. Testimonials have always been around. When someone well known says something about a product, it becomes celebrity marketing.

When that celebrity gets paid, it takes the form of endorsement marketing.Influencer marketing, however, is marketing specifically to those who do the testimonials, those who have a sway on the target audience, those who have voice that’s heard and followed. It’s preaching to the preachers.

One understands how influencer marketing comes together — a powerful combination of content and social coming together in today’s world of dialogue rather than advertising, engagement rather than just the old-fashioned one way.Certain verticals in marketing have taken to influencer marketing like ducks to water. Around 60 per cent of fashion and beauty brands have some sort of influencer strategy in place. And brands in our region — from food to fashion, from beauty to technology — are placing decent bets on influencers doing their magic for them.

Getting influencer marketing isn’t easy. If your brand is looking to influence that really tight slice of your audience — and who will then cast a magic spell on the rest of your target group — you need to have a pretty good strategy in place. Identifying the right influencers is first up the biggest challenge today. And there’s no magic list somewhere. You can’t wiki them, there’s no easy find on Google search, and while there are some tools that identify them on Twitter and Instagram, one still needs some hands-on hard work to be able to spot the right influencers.

In our region, in particular, influencers who are worth their salt (or their words) in their respective genres are increasingly becoming difficult to reach and ‘acquire’. It is becoming competitive and expensive to draw them out, reach them, and have them then act and speak and do on your behalf. The game is a free for all in that sense, but it just isn’t free. Marketers are having to set aside budgets for their influencer marketing separately from social media and paid advertising.

And then of course, there’s always the need, the demand to prove the return on investment (ROI) on that front.

Marketers often don’t know how to measure this ROI. Content sharing by the target group, web traffic generated, PR coverage, mentions in earned media like blogs, leads, and finally revenue generated are some metrics that brands use today.

But the jury’s out, because the costs are increasing, so ROI measuring really needs to be based on some clearly predefined marketing key performance indicators (KPIs) rather than what every one says out there. Influencers who have already got street cred in our region have over the last year understood their importance to the game, and raised their ante. They’ve become choosy on which brand or product they are willing to embrace, and even more wiser when it comes to their remuneration for their influence.

Influencers are the ones holding the aces. Brands have to really work much harder at getting those players to work for them. Brands and agencies, who work with influencers know that the first step today is beyond the financial reward.

In the competitive market, influencers need to be convinced and won over with products, ideas and strategies that are attractive to them. Influencers are brands themselves, and today, they are savvy enough to recognise what works with ‘their’ audiences, what doesn’t, what makes them look credible and interesting, rather than just coming across as a mouthpiece.

Consumers today are looking for authenticity of influencer opinion. The millennial generation in particular would believe a trusted word of mouse rather than a direct brand voice.

This changes the paradigm quite a bit — it is after all a shift, a hand over of power to the influencer. Brands need to pander to this shift, and form meaningful on-going relationships with their influencers.The marketer needs to be aware of the influencers potential — but more so their preferences, their egos, and their reputations. And protect them.
Influencer marketing is a leverage game. For every influencer that you can reach out to and influence, their opinion, their word will influence thousands of others in your target audience in a way that the audience is willing to relate to and resonate with.

Of course, it does not work in silo, you have to get your social media and content strategies right for it to work in tandem. Get this right, and it’s really worth every post, every unboxing video, every 140-character tweet.

as published in Gulf News

The writer is Chief Innovations Officer at MCN (Middle East Communications Network).