There are few words that have been more polarising in recent years than ‘influencers’. Who are they? What do they actually do?

If you’re a start-up bringing a new product or service to the market, influencer marketing can be one of the most cost-effective ways to drive interest and conversion.

So what are the main advantages? They’re two-fold: cut-through and credibility.

In the golden age of advertising, people trusted brands. Copy never shied away from informing the audience of their desperate ‘need’ for the product, which at best helped elevate quality brands like VW, and at worst drove millions in revenue for big tobacco companies. For even more reasons to buy, celebrities were added into the mix – a practice that still lingers for household names like Mullër and Aveeno.

Decades later, as a reaction to the years of convenient endorsements and general misinformation by big business, money and time-strapped consumers now think outside the telly-box for their product recommendations. Enter: the influencer.

In a nutshell, influencer marketing is the establishment of mutually beneficial and creative content partnerships between brands and individuals holding a significant level of online influence (hence ‘influencers’).

Influencers can range hugely in size of social following, audience and subject matter. Young lifestyle influencers like Zoella or pranksters like Ben Phillips have crossed most people’s feeds at one point or another, but others occupy more of a niche: KSI has racked up an eye-watering 10.9 million subscribers on YouTube by sharing his FIFA gameplay and creating original comedy shorts; and online foodies like the Hemsley + Hemsley cross several demographics with their no-sugar, no-grain kitchen creations.

This is where you can get cut-through to your target audience. With the right influencer, you can reach the audience most likely to move the needle for your business at a fraction of the cost of media buying. In 2016, alcopop brand Hooch worked with Vine stars Stuggy, Joe Charman, Leslie Wai and Huw Samuel for its “Outrageously Refreshing” campaign which targeted young men with clubbing holidays for the summer through their collective 5.8 million social followers.

Interspersed with their self-initiated, self-funded news and reviews is #sponsored content, a marker of a brand/organisation collaboration. The word ‘collaboration’ is used with intent here, because companies who steam in with a hard brief will learn quickly that influencers won’t just read their press release verbatim in a piece to camera. They’ve created a platform for their views and a following by being authentic, being impartial and responding to their audience’s feedback, so for them a short-term financial injection isn’t worth the long-term impact it could have on their revenue opportunities.

Although you might be disappointed that your debut script has been trashed, this is where you can gain credibility for a new product or service – followers trust the impartial opinions of their favourite influencer and this tends to carry over to their discretion in sponsorship deals. The mattress company Eve has an ambassador programme which exchanges their next-gen product for blogger reviews, borrowing authenticity, editorial finesse and channels from the influencer army.

The process of influencer marketing depends on the complexity of the content plan and the profile of the influencer. Influencers with a few thousand followers scattered across their channels may not have management yet but you’ll need a few of them to get cut-through for your campaign message or product launch. Getting in touch with them direct can be as straightforward as a Twitter DM.

Influencers whose subscriber tickers start reaching the hundreds of thousands/millions have a few more gatekeepers to deal with. In the last five years whole agencies have sprung up (see Gleam Futures, OPI Talent, dedicated to the management of these individuals and their business opportunities, and they require a slice of the budget pie for their time and expertise as well.

Regardless of their stage in the journey or who the first point of contact is, the negotiations are no different to other business partnerships:

· Leverage interest and assert your brand’s value to them and their followers.
· Respect their experience and credibility in their field.
· Stay open to their creative input (there’s a good reason they have more followers and higher engagement than you).

The pitfall for most brands looking to utilise influencer marketing is selection. Pick the wrong influencer and it’s about as helpful as shouting into the proverbial abyss. Some questions to ask before you draw up the contract:

· Which audience are you targeting?

· What channels are they using

· What type of content do they search for?

·Who do they follow?

Influencers are just another spoke in the modern marketing wheel, but ignore them at your own peril – in whatever guise they operate, they’re here to stay.


By Nicholas Gill, co-founder and strategy partner at Team Eleven

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