Flash in the pan or medium of the future? The boom of influencer marketing is attracting the attention of many brands.

A recent Gartner survey, including a large number of marketers as respondents, showed that 60-70% of companies now use influencers for marketing and promotion of their brands, mainly as a tactic, while only 5% use it as part of a strategic program of influencer marketing to support specific points around the consumer's purchase journey.

As an example of thinking ahead, Nike signed an exclusive and open-ended contract with Lebron James when he was 18; quite a risky move as they couldn't predict he would become one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Their long-term investment paid off.

When it comes to working with influencers today it seems companies are much more inclined to sign short-term, tactical contracts with the aim to quickly build engagement, but not loyalty.

The implications for brands

Firstly, building a long-lasting relationship with brands is fundamental to generating a positive bias towards a brand, in what we at Wavemaker call the Priming Stage of the consumer journey. To achieve this, brands need to think about the role of influencers and how their input can contribute in shaping the brand story. This has become overly complicated as influencers are no longer necessarily 'celebrities'. Consumers themselves are becoming ambassadors to the brands they get involved with, raising a potential issue related to the improper use or amplification of user-generated content which can escape corporate control.

Second, it's crucial to build authentic relationships. The influencer must sustain an authentic relationship with the brand that goes beyond merely giving a testimonial or endorsing a product. They must be seen to adhering to the brand and its values and enlarging their sphere of influence beyond just one channel.

Therefore, identifying the 'right' influencer is one of the most important steps a brand must take. Some companies believe that it's enough to activate several influencers and that their channels will do the rest; and then there are brands who focus on the personality of the influencer rather than the quality of their content and how that fits with their brand purpose and values.

To get it right, advertisers should:

1. Using 'scouting' tools to find the right type of influencer and or their content
2. Analyse that content to understand how much the influencer can bring to the brand in a credible and authentic way. Quantitative as well as qualitative mapping of the influencer audience suggests that it is not enough to just have a high number of followers or fanbase, but brands need to check the quality of the audience in addition to their socio-demographic characteristics.
3. Analyse the engagement level of visual content. This is possible thanks to automated image recognition tools that enable brands to separate all the individual elements of an image or a piece of content on Facebook and Instagram to analyse and measure its ability to generate engagement.

Influence in the consumer purchase journey

The approach brands have in planning Influencer activities should be adapted to the role influencers will play in their consumers' purchase journeys.

Although we've seen an important increase in the attention brands create by using influencers as touch points along their purchase journeys (according to Wavemaker Momentum surveys, influencers moved into the top 15 of touch point rankings) the role they play varies quite a bit depending on the stage of the journey:

- In the Priming Stage it is on average in the top 10 most influential touch points regardless of category.
- In the Active Stage it is steadily in the top 5 for categories such as Luxury, Beauty and Apparel, while it has still space for growth in categories such as banking and FMCG.

The content that influencers create also plays a key role in the purchase journey and can drive the brand's success in connecting and engaging with its consumers. In the Priming Stage, using influencer content that connects with a consumer's passions is key to establishing a relationship with the brand and its values. Creating stories that are relevant to consumers is the biggest challenge for brands, so influencers can generate loyalty by creating content and talking to the consumer as an expert friend would do.

In the active stage it's important to create content that builds on the Priming Stage relationship; that entertains consumers and reminds them about why they like a brand.

Although influencers are the new best thing in the era of social, we cannot take it for granted that their inclusion in a brand communication strategy will automatically lead to business success. Exactly like the other media touch points, influencers should be used in the context of each category's purchase journey and the content created fit with the stage of that journey to drive business growth.


By Julian Prat, chief strategy officer at Wavemaker Italy

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