When it comes to brand messaging, consumers have a wall up. They’re resisting marketers at every turn, particularly in the digital space. Here’s an illustration:
- Spotify Premium grew by a cool 10 million users since 2014 as consumers sought an ad-free listening experience.
- 57% of Internet users don’t click on banner ads because they’re afraid of receiving spam or malware.
- 18% of Internet users in the U.S. use an ad blocker, which resulted in a loss of $5.8 billion in ad revenue on 2014.
Consumers are still consumers; they want and use the things brands have to sell. The problem is that they’re irritated with disruptive ads that seem impossible to escape. Ad block services emerged as part of the collective consumer’s demand for change. As existing channels hit roadblock after roadblock, influencer marketing has emerged as the answer: a new digital marketing channel that solves problems and creates value for marketers and consumers alike. Let’s dive into the many benefits of this enlightened digital channel. You’ll see why it pays to put consumers first.
CONSUMERS – A History of Disillusionment
A brief history lesson: Advertising as we’ve known it dates back to 1704, when the first recognized print advertisement (seeking a buyer for a Long Island property) was published in a newspaper. Radio advertising surpassed print in 1938, followed by television in 1941. The industry gained steam, and the practice of monopolized messaging that talked at consumers spans over two centuries. It was an age in which brands had sole control over the information that was available to the public, only limited occasionally by government intervention. The earliest instances of frustration with advertisements came out of the feminist movement in the late 1960s and 1970s with protests against the role of women in advertising content — such as National Airline’s 1971 “Fly Me” campaign, which required female flight attendants to wear pins reading “We Make You Feel Good All Over.” (Source: The Advertising Age Encyclopedia of Advertising, by John McDonough, Karen Egolf) Though the protests gained wide publicity, the campaign was not discontinued, and other airlines even mimicked its approach. The message was clear: brands held the control, and there was little consumers could do to contest that.
Needless to say, tension had plenty of time to build.
When the Internet entered the mix in the early 1990s, things took a turn for the better, and consumers were able to gain a measure of control over the conversation. Unlike television, radio, and (in most cases) print, the Internet could be an outlet for consumers and brands alike. As blogs and social media sites gained popularity, the balance of power between brands and consumers shifted, allowing peer experiences and recommendations to influence buying decisions. Brands were no longer the sole source of information about their products. As TapInfluence CEO Promise Phelon put it, “Our brands are not owned by us anymore.” The digital conversation regarding brands and products was directed, instead, by influencers: real people with relatable needs and experiences.
Consumers have learned to think critically about the claims advertisers make, and trust in advertising is at all all-time low. Interestingly, a 2015 IPSOS study commissioned by the American Association of Advertising Agencies revealed that only 4% of respondents believe that the advertising industry acts with integrity. In fact, it ranked at the very bottom of the list, below common basement-dwellers such as financial institutions, lawyers, Big Pharma, and even the U.S. federal government. 69% of respondents attributed this mistrust to the media’s desire to “sell more effectively”.
It’s a big blow to marketers everywhere that more than ⅔ of their potential customers think they’ll lie in order to meet their goals.
Influencers, on the other hand, are not burdened by this perception. They earn their audiences by providing valuable content and demonstrating knowledge and expertise on relevant topics. It benefits influencers to look out for their followers’ best interests, and as a result, their relationship is built on a solid foundation of trust.
In almost every way — ignoring consumer requests, dictating to them, making dishonest claims, being annoyingly omnipresent — advertisers have fallen asleep at the wheel and become seriously out of touch. Consumers quickly realized a misalignment between the advertisers’ best interests and their own; to call this a “relatability crisis” would be understatement. Influencer marketing alleviates this. By inviting real people to provide the “voice” of a brand, influencer marketing lessens the perceived divide and translates brand messaging into the language of the consumer. An influencer has a face; not a logo. Their content reveals personal experiences and preferences that consumers can relate to.
In short, influencers mesh with consumers because they are consumers themselves, able to demonstrate how certain products or services provide solutions to their problems and meet their unique needs. These shared experiences attract consumers to influencers and keep them coming back for more. Influencer marketing is the only digital channel that taps into the power of peers in this way, giving it the ability to repair the relationship between brands and consumers.
MARKETERS – Ostriches in Age of Digital
Advertisers got very comfortable in the days of analog marketing, when advertisements could be evaluated with relative ease based on the size of their audiences. Customers accepted this rather benign relationship: ads, while sometimes useful, were simply a part of the package people came to expect when flipping through television channels, reading, or listening to the radio. Then, with the Internet came the rise of digital marketing, which offered a chance for innovation. Accustomed to the “success” of their traditional advertisements but lured by the panacea of digital, many advertisers simply repurposed their offline promotional content for the digital space. Billboards became banner ads, commercials became instant-play videos, and overall, very little was done to naturalize ad messaging into the digital environment. The result was the exact same behavior as before — indifference — except now marketers could measure and see it. Banner blindness led to more intrusive advertising tactics, which then led to ad blocking, culminating in the stalemate we have today.
Marketers are in need of a new approach that caters to the unique demands of the empowered consumer while still delivering on brand goals. Influencer marketing presents an opportunity for a new, unimpeded line of communication between advertisers and shoppers, for the benefit of both.
Influencer marketing generates an average of $6.50 for every $1 spent, with the top 13% of users seeing returns as high as $20 on the dollar. How does this rank when compared to display advertising? ROI numbers are murky, but one comScore study discovered that users saw about 119% lift in attributed sales.
According to a recent Tomoson poll, influencer marketing tied with direct email for the most cost-effective digital marketing channel. Additionally, McKinsey reported that word-of-mouth conversations — even those spurred by marketers — generate more than 100% more sales than traditional paid advertisements can claim.
Quality of Customer
When you use a relationship to attract a customer, you have a much better chance of developing your own relationship with that person. In fact, it’s been found that customers who were acquired via word-of-mouth (or keyboard) recommendation have a 37% higher retention rate than those engaged through traditional channels. In addition, Tomoson reported that 51% of marketers believe that they attract higher-quality customers through influencer marketing.
The PR implications of influencer marketing are huge, particularly for brands who need to respond to a trend or event quickly. Unlike most traditional marketing channels, influencers can be activated at a moment’s notice, with content that addresses consumer concerns, answers questions, or shows a product in a different light.
While other channels decline, influencer marketing is in the midst of explosive growth, with brands and marketers everywhere planning to dedicate larger budgets this year. Tomoson found influencer marketing to be the fastest-growing channel, with 59% of respondents reporting that they planned to increase spend in 2016.
Additionally, an overwhelming 84% of marketers say they plan to launch at least one influencer marketing program this year. As Adweek and Forbes have noted: the next big thing is here, and it’s influencer marketing.
If you only take one thing away from this article, let it be this: In order to realize the true power of influencer marketing, you need to treat it as a complete marketing channel, not just a tactic that can be used for one initiative and discarded before the next. Hiring a big-name influencer to promote a product launch or one-time event may attract impressive attention, but it will be fleeting; the majority of the new followers you’ve earned likely came for the influencer, not for your brand. If you discontinue that relationship and abandon the influencer, you’ve given those fans no reason to stay. Running influencer marketing as an always-on strategy will enable you to solidify the connection between your brand and the influencers consumers turn to for inspiration, instruction, and advice.
Give your brand voices that consumers trust. Amplify your message through a channel where they feel empowered and in control. Capture the power of influencer marketing.
To learn more about what influencer marketing can do for your brand, download this free Influencer Marketing Benchmarking Report, created in collaboration with TapInfluence partner RhythmOne. You’ll learn important metrics to help you measure the success of influencer marketing programs, as well as how the this channel has performed for advertisers across multiple CPG categories.