As consumers continue to be barraged across platforms and turned off by traditional advertising pitches, brands are scrambling to find more effective and efficient ways to get their messages across. Over the past couple of years, “content marketing” has appeared as one way to address this challenge. Essentially, the idea of content marketing is to create compelling, relevant messages and deliver them to the right people, at the right time, in the right place. Unfortunately, as more brands buy into this idea, the result is more and more content being created – most of it irrelevant and meaningless to consumers. A recent study by software firm Beckon found that although the amount of content being marketed has tripled in the past year, there has been no increase in engagement.
Not too long ago, Coca Cola declared that the corporate website was dead and they re-launched their corporate site as Coca Cola Journey, “a place to showcase those higher-order brand values through lifestyle content.” Soon after the launch, blogger Mark Higginson reviewed a sample of 87 posts on the site and found that on average, each post received eight comments with two thirds receiving none at all. The conclusion is that most people do not care about branded content, unless you are a company like Red Bull, and further people are not going to company websites (or social channels) to find and engage with content like this.
So, what is a brand to do? Most of us have seen graphics that show the most credible source of information when it comes to making buying decisions is recommendations from friends, family and peers. So, people do value information about brands if it comes from the right source. Enter the next hot marketing trend, Influencer Marketing. Influencer marketing is simply blogger outreach 2.0. While influential bloggers remain important to some brands, social media influencers (those that may not have a blog but that have high numbers of engaged fans or followers on social media channels) are starting to gain equal importance. Similar to blogger outreach, the idea here is to find influential people online whose interests and content they are regularly creating aligns with what a particular brand stands for.
Historically, blogger outreach has been an extremely manual, time consuming process taking months to develop. However, like all things marketing related today, technology has taken over and there are now dozens of tech platforms that can manage various aspects of influencer marketing for agencies and brands from simply identifying potential influencers to managing entire programs from beginning to end.
Earlier this year, Imaginuity licensed the Tap Influence influencer marketing platform to fully manage programs for three clients: two beverage brands and a family entertainment retail brand. For each campaign, we started by searching the Tap Influence database of almost 60,000, vetted influencers based on interests, geography and compensation (nothing is free). With a targeted list of influencers for each brand, we reached out with a brand pitch to determine who was interested in working with us. We then sent selected influencers product to try or a gift card to experience the brand. In exchange, assuming they liked the brand, we asked for a review in either a blog post with social shares, a YouTube video with social shares or if not a blogger, social posts on their most popular social network(s).
Each of our campaigns was successful. For one of our beverage brand clients, 50 influencers created 226 pieces of content in one month. This content had over 1,200,000 views and 30,000 engagements. Via a Tap Influence formula the media value of these engagements was $383,000. Most notably, each person was reached by someone they chose to follow, read or view, an influential peer.
One of our key learnings is that influencer marketing is about giving up control of the message to the influencer. Some brands are not comfortable with this. However, we did not run into any problems. For each campaign, we provided a detailed brief including a brand overview, primary attributes and benefits and other important information we wanted them to include in their content. We also provided guidelines of what they could not say (e.g., no disparaging comments about the brand or the competition, no profanity, no political views, no sexual innuendo etc.) We also reviewed all content before it was published but we did not send back redlined posts. Influencer content has to be authentic; it has to be in the voice of the influencer not the brand. With all but a few posts, all content was approved with only minor edits.
Finally, we had one client call and tell us that during the campaign, the brand’s Facebook and Twitter page saw a decrease in engagement and wasn’t that an indication that influencer marketing did not work? No. The point with these initiatives is not to drive engagement on a brand’s social channels (Influencer content is driving traffic back to a brand’s website so we do hope to see a bump in site traffic) but rather to spread the brand’s message across the web. In the example used above, we now have our beverage brand’s message distributed across 50 influencer blogs and social networks. So, when people are online searching for this particular brand category, there is a much greater likelihood that the brand will show up in multiple search results not just those controlled by the brand.
So, as brands continue to think about content marketing and what they or their agency can create, part of the answer is to have other, influential people online create content for them. This leads to more content and more relevant content being created, greater engagement across more social contact points, improved search engine results and more site traffic ultimately leading to better sales performance.
What are your thoughts? Have you used influencer marketing before? What have your experiences been? If not, what do you think about the concept? Let us know in the comments below.