Influencer Marketing: Old-School Rules Still Apply

Unless you’re having an e-tox (or you’re devoid of cell reception), you’ve probably witnessed a tremendous change in the way brands are allocating their marketing spend and teams, shifting significant budgets towards influencer campaigns.

Nineties “supers” such as Claudia Schiffer and Liz Hurley, who flashed their million-dollar smiles for cosmetic companies L’Oréal Paris and Estée Lauder, respectively, have been replaced by social media “celebrities”—regular people with engaged and loyal audiences addicted to their social accounts.

Cupcakes and Cashmere blogger Emily Schuman was one of the first of this new breed to sign a reported six-figure deal with Lauder in 2012. Five years later, influencers are the brand ambassadors du jour for a multitude of verticals, from fashion houses to alcohol companies.

What may come as a surprise, however, is that marketers are still getting it wrong. Seduced by vanity metrics like millions of followers, many are failing to implement traditional marketing fundamentals essential to an influencer campaign’s success. Banners and billboards may be on the out, but the same rules regarding a campaign’s strategy (influencer or otherwise) still stand.

Rule No. 1: Audience targeting is key

One of the biggest mistakes is focusing on vanity metrics, such as number of followers, without digging into the identity of those followers.

Would you ever buy ad space in a magazine that has 1 million readers without asking who they are? Why would you activate an influencer without knowing who follows them?

You might be tempted to tap a big name for instant publicity, but this isn’t the best approach for maximum reach and conversions. Selena Gomez at 124 million followers has the largest following on Instagram and boasts endorsement deals with Pantene and Coach (to name a few). She’s a well-known celebrity with a mammoth audience, but this doesn’t necessarily make her the right fit—for either of these brands.

When looking at her audience analytics, Gomez has a 58 percent female following interested in pop, Latin music, rhythm-and-blues and entertainment, not fashion or beauty. Furthermore, Coach and Pantene are both American brands, and of Gomez’s 124 million audience, just 25 percent reside in the U.S.

Activating a network of micro-influencers, such as Caitlin Lindquist, may have been far more effective. Lindquist’s Instagram following is smaller compared with Gomez, at 99,000 followers, but 91 percent of her following are females interested in fashion and beauty and 84 percent reside in the U.S.

Accessing a host of influencers with smaller followings is cost-effective and exposes your brand to an intimate, interested and engaged audience. And most important, an audience likely to purchase your product.

Rule No. 2: Discovering the right channels (influencers)

One of the toughest challenges marketers face is influencer discovery. We’ve moved from an era where there were 5,000 influencers five years ago to millions of micro-influencers with fewer than 100,000 followers, and that figure grows by thousands each week.

These influencers tend to have a significantly more uniform audience. For example, if they have a cooking show on YouTube, they have an audience of almost exclusively cooking enthusiasts. As a rule of thumb, their relationship with their audience is significantly stronger than the relationship the big influencers have.

As a group, micro-influencers are significantly more powerful than celebrities are, but individually, they’re a commodity.

Remember, for every Kardashian, there are thousands of alternatives that effectively reach the same audience. Power is being restored to brands that now have the ability to dictate the campaign terms—as long as they can locate enough of these influencers, that is. They can reach out to 50, knowing that they will only hire the five who are most accommodating.

The key is to identify tools that allow you to discover influencers based on their audience demographic and psychographic insights, instead of focusing on metrics that don’t matter.

Rule No. 3: Effective messaging is crucial

Two falsehoods that we hear all the time are, “You have to give Influencers creative control,” and, “It’s all about authenticity.”

The first is completely false. You know your brand and you understand marketing way better than the influencers do. The number of brands that counted on influencers and were disappointed or humiliated is enormous.

The second is often misconstrued. Yes, the message should be given in the influencer’s voice, but authenticity is way broader than that. Social media users are savvy—they know that LeBron James doesn’t drive a Kia, and that Scott Disick doesn’t sip Fit Tea.

Chriselle Lim, a fashion and beauty blogger, participated in a campaign with Volvo that was perceived as inauthentic by her audience. Lim posts about travel, lifestyle, fashion and beauty, but she was called out when staging a photo of her family in a car no one believed she’d be driving (at least, not for free).

Partnering with influencers whose content aligns with your product is paramount, otherwise your influencer’s audience will see right through it (and likely call them out in the comments section).

Influencer marketing success stories include Ubisoft partnering with Corridor Digital to promote action game Tom Clancy’s The Division. Corridor Digital is a well-known video content creator on YouTube, with an 86 percent male audience interested in gaming.

Also noteworthy is Koa Organic Beverages’ campaign with yoga influencer Kylan Fischer. Fischer’s 77 percent female audience interested in yoga and healthy and organic food made her an excellent advocate for the clear, all-natural, sugar-free fruit juice.

Rule No. 4: Measure results, replace poor-performing channels (influencers)

Most influencer campaigns we see today suffer from a very vague definition of success. This is in absolute contrast to every other form of marketing today. How can you evaluate whether your efforts were successful if you never defined clear expectations?

If we remember that the power is flipped and influencers are now a commodity, we can require them to share some of the risk in the deal. Now that we have a large amount of options, we can shift away from a fixed payment model and build hybrid models that reward success in return for clicks, sign-ups or views.

This requires us to keep track of these results closely (either manually or with a tool), and will allow us to double down on effective influencers and minimize our losses on the ones that aren’t.

By working with groups of influencers, the definition of success becomes very obvious, and you can compare influencers to assess which had the most traction and provided the strongest return on investment.

In an era where ads are losing relevance and influencers are evolving as key opinion leaders, marketers can’t afford to make mistakes

Article written by Gil Eyal