The idea of being swayed by the opinion or choices of someone with an audience is not new. Ninety-two per cent of consumers put more trust in recommendations from other people than brands.
It’s the whole reason to have PR. As the old adage goes, if I say I’m great at something, that’s advertising. If I get your friend to tell you I’m great, that’s PR.
However, whereas in the past that power may have been filtered through a media middleman, now, thanks to the likes of Instagram, people can engage with influencers they relate to in everyday settings.
What do we actually mean when we talk about influencers? In this context, it’s people who, through their online profile, content creation and engagements on social media, might influence brand perception or purchasing decisions. Seen as predominantly relevant for consumer-targeting businesses, there is a growing B2B niche as well (if you want to read more about that, take a look our blog on the four opportunities of B2B influencer marketing).
For followers, it feels authentic. For brands, it feels like a golden opportunity. Hence why Estee Lauder is devoting 75% of its marketing budget to digital, with a particular emphasis on influencers.
It’s no surprise then that your favourite personalities may be including branded products in amongst their regular updates and musings. But as brands increasingly include influencers in their marketing mix, are they, or indeed the individuals in question, actually getting the most out of these relationships?
Moving from short-term add-ons to long-term relationships
There’s been a lot of noise about how authentic influencers, and more importantly their networks, truly are. Faked followers, bought networks and bots have been used by some to boost audience numbers, leading to concern that brands could be paying for large audiences that don’t actually exist. Back in 2018, Unilever called for urgent action to tackle influencer fraud. More recently, a study suggested that 15 per cent of spending on influencer marketing is lost to this sort of activity, equating to $1.3 billion annually.
Yet the blame isn’t all one way. Part of the issue is that brands have piled in, with limited strategic thinking going in to how, why or when they use influencers. Rather than consider how their products and services can align naturally and be integrated in such a manner that tells a story, many businesses are simply using influencers as another form of advertising.
It’s the same with any form of marketing partnership – if the groundwork hasn’t been done to build relationships, the end result is going to be disappointing. True value comes from building long-term relationships, whether that’s journalists covering your target sectors or influencers relevant to your brand.
Currently, that’s not happening. What’s required is a mindset shift – moving from treating influencers as just another channel to developing sustained, validated relationships.
Validation, validation, validation
But how do you go about identifying who might be suitable for that sort of long-term commitment? It’s an obstacle that the biggest businesses grapple with – as Casey DePalma McCartney, head of PR, influencer marketing and digital engagement at Unilever, said at a conference in November, “The biggest issue is validation of the data.”
With so much focus on realising return on investment as soon as possible, brands need a way to identify the influencers or experts right for them.
And they need something that goes beyond scraping data and flagging potential influencers based on keyword search. All that does is give a brand a list of names with numbers – there’s little insight and no understanding of what’s behind those numbers.
What’s needed is an approach that combines knowledge, human insight and data to truly identify which personality is going to give your brand the results you need and how. It needs to be based on being able to provide a tangible measure against authenticity, relevance, impact and authority, combining it with the ability to tell a story that truly resonates with your target audience.
Combining the qualitative and quantitative
Being able to combine qualitative (the knowledge) and quantitative (the data) approaches is the key to helping brands truly understand which influencers are right for their brand. It’s something we do for our clients and gives them confidence that they have scientific evidence to support the decisions they make.
We’ve brought it all together into Punch – our way to help brands break through the fear, uncertainty and doubt that surrounds influencer marketing today. An end-to-end influencer service that marries machine and human intelligence, Punch matches data-intensive rigour with human judgement and insight-driven storytelling to ensure brand alignment, reduce risk and maximise returns from brand influencer investments.
It’s not just for businesses targeting consumers, either; our experienced team of influencer specialists understand both B2B influencers and the requirements of companies focusing on those decision-makers themselves. For that, there’s Punch Pro.
No matter who the target is, by looking at authenticity, relevance, impact and authority, we can map our clients’ objectives with the influencers’ own focuses, ensuring a natural fit between the two. This in turn leads to those deeper relationships which, ultimately, delivers better results for all parties through authentic storytelling.
Building lasting relationships for mutual results
Working with influencers can drive huge value for brands, but only if done properly. The key is to build long-term partnerships with people that align to your brand objectives, beliefs and approaches. That can’t be done with a scattergun approach; it can only be achieved by having a deep understanding of their audiences, underpinned by data-driven validation that integrates qualitative measures.
Do that, and both sides win.
To find out how we could help your brand identify, engage and empower the right influencers for your objectives, get in touch with our dedicated team.
Written by Kinda Jackson, MD Digital