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Marketing 101: What is influencer marketing?

January 24th, 2022
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Marketing has a language all its own. This is our latest in a series of posts aimed at helping new marketers learn that language. What term do you find yourself explaining most often to new hires during onboarding? Let us know.

This article was originally published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

An influencer is a person or thing (like a cartoon character, bot, etc.) with an audience and the ability to “influence” that audience to take certain actions – usually involving both their content area of expertise as well as purchasing products and services.

For example, a fitness influencer might convince his or her audience to follow a specific workout plan (free) as well buy a certain pair of workout pants (paid product).

The rise of influencers

In the early 1900’s, America was the land of opportunity drawing immigrants from around the world with the hope that “the streets are paved in gold.” Today those golden streets are on TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, and the like drawing mere mortals with the hopes that they could be the next homegrown celebrity.

The growth of social media and easy internet publishing has enabled this new rise of influencers, however, brands have always leveraged people with influence to act as a spokesperson. In the past, the role was often filled by movie starts, athletes, musicians, or others with access to a large audience thanks to traditional publishing and media distribution channels. Today’s influencers have a far more direct relationship with their audience, and often use their own channels in marketing partnerships.

Another factor that has enabled the rise of influencers is the fractured media landscape. As brands found it more difficult to reach mass audiences through traditional channels like television and newspaper advertising, they were forced to find new avenues to reach potential customers.

Which brings us to today. The global influencer market is worth $13.8 billion, according to Statista Research Department. More than half of marketers (57%) use influencer marketing, according to Pamela Bump on HubSpot.

The role of influencers in a marketing plan

There are eight micro-yeses you need to earn from a customer for a transaction or other conversion action to take place, according to the free digital marketing course Become A Marketer-Philosopher: Create and optimize high-converting webpages from MECLABS Institute (MarketingSherpa’s parent organization). You can see all eight micro-yeses in the Landing Page Blueprint PDF.

Influencer marketing can help with three of those micro-yeses:

  • Yes, I will pay attention – influencers can help bring their audience’s attention to your brand
  • Yes, I will engage deeper – influencers can create content or position your brand in other ways to engage their audience
  • Yes, I believe – influencers have credibility with their audience, and that credibility can help their audiences believe in your products and services

The success (and failures) of influencers

Influencer marketing can be successful for brands, and wildly successful for the most popular influencers. In TikTok Stars’ Earnings Rival CEOs’ As They Build Their Own Empires, Joseph Pisani and Theo Francis compared influencer earnings to CEO salaries, with some of the most popular influencers on TikTok outearning CEOs of Fortune 500 companies like Exxon Mobil, Starbucks, and Delta Air Lines. It should be noted that while influencer income came from brand promotions, it also came from creating their own product lines and signing media deals with traditional publishers.

But as with any tactic, results will vary and social media following is not the same as revenue and sales. BHCosmetics Holdings, LLC filed for bankruptcy protection two weeks ago despite having 3.6 million Instagram followers and 1.8 million Facebook followers thanks to its influencer marketing campaigns.

“BHCosmetics pinned its hopes last year on product launches promoted by newly signed celebrity influencers Doja Cat and Iggy Azalea, Mr. [Chief Restructuring Officer Spencer] Ware said. The influencer campaigns failed to drive the expected sales, exacerbating the company’s liquidity crunch and forcing it to look at restructuring alternatives, according to papers in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware,” Andrew Scrurria report in The Wall Street Journal article Beauty Brand Fails as Influencers Fall Short.

Transparency in influencer marketing

When influencer marketing works, it is because these paid promotions are very similar to organic product recommendations from a trusted friend. The difference is these recommendations aren’t being made only because the influencer likes the product. These recommendations are made because influencers are paid by brands (or given something of value).

Its important to be transparent and open about these relationships – not only because you don’t want to alienate your customers, but also because there are Federal Trade Commission regulations. (Editor’s note: obviously this is not specific legal advice and if you have any questions, you should consult an attorney).

Here’s a quick example of the importance of transparency in your influencer marketing, from Kelly Keenan’s book Everyone Is An “Influencer” (Full Disclosure: the publishers sent me a free copy of this book):

“In 2018, the agency [FTC] issued a formal admonition to detox tea company Teami. The FTC warning clearly advised the Florida-based tea company that all connections between endorsers and advertisers much be disclosed and viewable. Teami, like many other brands, refused to take the warning seriously.

In 2020, Teami was charged with making false claims about the benefits of their teas. They were also breaking rules: Burying sponsored post descriptions on Instagram from well-known entertainers and influencers who were endorsing these fallacies. The FTC bluntly indicated that they had seen enough of Teami’s deceptive practices and handed down a $15 million judgement. However, based on the company’s financial condition, the $15 million find was partially suspended upon the payment of $1 million.”

Protecting influencer’s reputations

Transparency is important to protect your brand’s relationship with its customers and influencers relationship with their followers, and so is coming through for customers by delivering on your company’s value proposition and promises.

As mentioned, influencers can help customers reach the conclusion “Yes, I believe.” They are vouching for your brand. They are putting their reputation on the line. So, make sure your company delivers on whatever they are promising.

Here’s an example. “We had an Instagram influencer new product/holiday promotion scheduled to run from December 11th – 19th [in 2020] during Covid,” said Karin Shoup, Founder, Sportchic.

The vegan leather tote bag and backpack company received 107 orders – 37 were fulfilled directly but 70 of the orders were for products that were stuck on a cargo ship from China and hadn’t arrived yet.

The team personally emailed each of the 70 customers letting them know that they did not have the inventory in stock yet and could not promise delivery before Christmas. They offered to immediately reimburse their purchase if the customer chose to do so and wished them happy holidays.

There were only four order cancellations. When the company finally received the shipment on December 21st, they notified each customer that their package would ship on the following day.

“We were so surprised to see consistent five-star product reviews appear on our website from those customers who praised the customer service as highly as they loved the product. So, setting expectations with timely personal communication is key to putting yourself in your customer’s shoes,” Shoup said.

Putting the influencer in the customer’s shoes

Putting yourself in the customer’s shoes is not only key for your marketing department, but also for the influencer as well. While it is up to your company to come through on its promises, the better influencers understand your brand’s value prop and its customers, the better they will be able to make the right (appealing and credible) promises.

“While working with a snack company, I put myself in the brand’s (and their customers’) shoes by visiting their office and store location. It was enlightening to speak with actual customers and listen to their snack preferences, their brand discovery process, and how they came to love our client’s products,” said Amra Beganovich, Founder and CEO, Amra & Elma, an influencer with 671,000 followers on Instagram.

By getting a better understanding of their target audience and crafting the campaign accordingly – highlighting what they learned while speaking to their customers – they received five million impressions and 212,000 clicks on the campaign.

You can follow Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute, on Twitter @DanielBurstein.

If you are interested in influencer marketing, you might also like…

Attract New Customers and Increase Engagement: 3 quick case studies of brands using TikTok influencer marketing, email deliverability, and emotive blog posts to get attention and drive sales

Marketing Tests: 3 quick case studies of influencer marketing, homepage headline, and Facebook ad campaign tests (with results)

Case study examples for each of the 4 parts of marketing

If you are interested in entry-level marketing content, you might also like…

Marketing 101: What is PPC in marketing?

Marketing 101: What is a point-first headline?

The Beginner’s Guide to Digital Marketing: 53 articles (and 1 video) to help with onboarding

Content Marketing: Here’s a really selfish reason to properly credit your sources (plus an altruistic one)

April 23rd, 2020
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This article was originally published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

The rise of digital publishing has provided a voice to anyone with a digital device and an internet connection, anywhere in the world. For brands and businesses — both massive and solopreneurs — it means the ability to publish content marketing and get the word out about your products and services directly to the customer.

That’s a good thing. A powerful way to grow your company.

But as publishing has become democratized, now all of us are newspaper editors and book publishers — with no training.

And because of that, properly quoting your sources is a significant professional courtesy that is seriously lacking.

Quit biting my style

In any creative or artistic endeavor, there lies the temptation to copy successful inspiration. Music. Writing. Comedy. “You have a better chance of stopping a serial killer than a serial thief in comedy,” comedian David Brenner said. “If we could protect our jokes, I’d be a retired billionaire in Europe somewhere — and what I just said is original.”

Having an actual new idea is extremely difficult. As Barenaked Ladies has sung, “It’s all been done before.”

And occasionally, we’re not even aware we didn’t come up with an original idea, as this quick clip from Seinfeld so beautifully illustrates:

 

But do you see what I did in each of those instances? I gave credit where it is due. As we publish content through MarketingSherpa, MarketingExperiments or MECLABS Institute, I’m also surprised how often people think it’s okay to simply use our content with no permission or attribution.

And I’m not talking about content scraping. That is straight-up malicious.

But there are plenty of seemingly well-meaning content marketers who don’t credit sources just for lack of knowledge. While there are brand journalists who have actually gone to journalism college, most people publishing content marketing today have done so with little to no training. It’s just not their expertise.

So they overlook properly crediting sources. And when you don’t credit your sources, you are essentially taking credit for someone else’s idea and saying it is your own. You are copying.

I’ll give you an example. I was a guest speaker on a webinar. We did a run-through on the slides before the webinar. And I was impressed with some of the content this speaker and this company had. So after the run-through, I started asking him about it.

He was quite forthright. Didn’t realize he was doing anything wrong. “Oh, that’s just some stuff I found by Googling around.” But for anyone watching the webinar, attendees would have thought it was his content and data (unless they knew the original, in which case he would have looked like a fraud). The story has a happy ending. He was more than happy to properly source, once our team showed him how — which I’ll show in just a minute, but first, what’s in it for you?

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Ask MarketingSherpa: Balancing search engine optimization, conversion optimization and conversation

December 12th, 2019
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We frequently receive questions from our email subscribers asking marketing advice. Instead of hiding those answers in a one-to-one email communication, we occasionally publish edited excerpts of some of these conversations here on the MarketingSherpa blog so they can help other readers as well. If you have any questions, let us know.

 

Dear MarketingSherpa: My question is about balancing the SEO needs with the conversation needs, an issue when driving traffic through organic rankings.

I think the issue I am struggling with is “the thing that a customer might search for is not what they want to buy.”

I know how to rank any page for anything, and through your training, I am beginning to know how to think about a page that achieves its objectives.

I think what I am struggling with is balancing the two and deciding what keywords to optimize the home page for when trying to combine the two objectives, i.e., SEO optimization versus buyer optimization, and then you have to go through the stage of the buyer’s journey as the language they use will be different at each stage.

Regards,

Adrian Tatum
Director
Effective Business Growth

 

Dear Reader: Adrian, you have hit on a deep challenge that many marketers feel. Some marketers come at it from the opposite direction. They view SEO (search engine optimization) and conversion optimization as separate. And I think this is because of the “when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” effect. Too often we’re siloed within our own disciplines.

I’ve heard the theory that load time and various other SEO factors give you a better quality score and therefore must be the factors that improve conversion.

While decreasing page load time has been shown to increase conversion, a myopic focus on SEO factors can hurt conversation with your visitors on your webpages. For this reason, the factors that improve SEO are not necessarily the same factors that improve conversion. They aren’t diametrically opposed either, but they are not one and the same. In one instance, you’re optimizing for an algorithm. In the other, you’re optimizing for a human thought process.

The hammer-nail challenge faces many companies and agencies, and it’s probably a blind spot for all of us in some way. For example, a company can be so focused on SEM (search engine marketing) and traffic-driving that they overlook where they are sending that traffic. The same holds true for SEO. You don’t just want traffic, you want traffic that will take an action.

The companies we work with have come to the realization that SEO landing pages need conversion optimization, their bigger concern is they don’t want to make changes that improve conversion but then lose their traffic so they’ll ultimately be down overall. Google is the big scary wizard behind the curtain, and when a marketer has won it over, the last thing they want to do is lose that.

Essentially, you need to make conversion changes without losing SEO, add value without risking search rank.

Really, this isn’t just an SEO problem. This is the challenge of marketing as a whole. What customers need isn’t necessarily what customers think they need, what customers will actually buy isn’t always the same as what they search for.

Let’s use marketers as an example customer. A marketer may search for “how to increase email list size” or “how to increase sales” but the solution isn’t necessarily tied to an email product or a sales product. The real solution for them may be to improve the value proposition.

Here’s another example. I’m on the board for my Homeowner’s Association. We recently had an unlocked car broken into in our neighborhood. So I started searching for security cameras. Most of the websites had security cameras with similar functionality. However, one of them had this headline: “Don’t capture faces. Capture license plates. 70% of crime involves a vehicle. Police say a license plate is the best evidence to solve a crime.”

I wasn’t searching for a license plate reader. The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. I was searching for a security camera, but I didn’t really want that either. I wanted a deterrent to crime, and I wanted a way to catch the perpetrators. A few of my neighbors had security cameras, and they were interesting because you could see the perpetrators in action. But then what? You still didn’t know who they were and didn’t have any evidence to help the police catch them and stop them from re-offending. So the license plate reader copy on that homepage tapped into my true pain point.

Adrian, you are savvier than many in that you understand this challenge. As Harvard professor Theodore Levitt has said, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill bit. They want a quarter-inch hole.”

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Ask MarketingSherpa: Finding and hiring content marketing writers

August 29th, 2019
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We frequently receive questions from our email subscribers asking marketing advice. Instead of hiding those answers in a one-to-one email communication, we occasionally publish edited excerpts of some of these conversations here on the MarketingSherpa blog so they can help other readers as well. If you have any questions, let us know.

 

Dear MarketingSherpa: What factors should I consider when hiring a content marketing writer? Do you have any recommendations for content writing services or other ways of finding content marketing writers? We produce a lot of content internally but are aiming to scale by outsourcing. We’ve used a few providers in the past (freelance writers and an online writers’ marketplace, for example) and currently use a content writing agency, though I’d welcome any other suggestions.

 

Dear Reader: From our limited experience, there is no content writing service that is head and shoulders above the rest for every industry and topic area that we could recommend without reservations. It doesn’t mean they’re not out there, it just means we haven’t encountered them yet.

The best you can do is try them out and experiment to see what is the best fit for your unique company and industry. For example, you might commission ten articles from ten writers from three different services, and then narrow it down based on their ability and dependability. Obviously, it will be highly variable based on their pay rate.

Here are a few questions you might want to get aligned on internally when outsourcing content marketing writing:

What is your brand voice?

What type of content should your brand be producing and how should it sound?

Can the writer do interviews? Storytelling? Human interest stories? Profiles? Case studies? Entertaining writing? Humor? Technical writing? Work with busy executives? Are they fluent in your industry? Or do they focus just on basic factual information?

Some writers are more flexible than others and can do many things effectively. Others focus on a specific niche and can do an amazing technical white paper but couldn’t do a personality-driven piece well. You’re not just looking for general skills and dependability, you also need the right fit for your brand and value proposition.

How important is the human connection when customers consider purchasing from us?

Consider the importance of the human element when looking at the type of writing the writer does. The human element to content writing can be especially important if you have a services-based business. You need a writer who can interview your subject matter experts and clients well and tell that compelling human interest story, even when talking about basic industry information. With a services-based business, customers aren’t only looking for expertise but also are going to make a human connection with your consultants if they hire your business.

What level of expertise do customers expect from our brand?

One word of caution, for a website or product that requires a certain level of expertise, you may want to be careful about hiring the lower-cost SEO type of writers. I call their style of writing “book report writing” because it’s like a basic regurgitation about a topic, no real insights.

This may not be a good fit if people are buying your expertise, even when it’s just software and not an actual human interaction. The cheaper writers can be better for simple consumer goods products that rely less on an expertise sale, like headphones or mattresses.

You could even see which freelance writers are engaged in true journalism and take a brand journalism type of approach. You can learn more about brand journalism in this blog post (while this post discusses a direct hire, you could do the same with freelance).

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Inbound Marketing: Do you care about the quality of your brand’s content?

August 20th, 2019
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If I had to break down the world of content marketing into two groups, it would be these:

  • Those who care about the quality of their content
  • And those who don’t

Ouch. Seeing those words in writing, my statement is a little harsh. So let me try to rephrase:

  • Those who only see content as a means to an end
  • And those who view content as an (often free) product that should have value in and of itself

To further refine this split, we could say there are two content marketing approaches we can simply label:

  • Quantity
  • Quality

Of course, every piece of content offers some level of value. You need a certain level of consistent production for even the most high-quality content. And there are shades of gray between the two extremes.

That said, I’ve noticed more and more of a focus on the “high quantity/means-to-an-end” approach as the content marketing industry has matured. Brands that seem like they don’t care about the quality of the content they’re producing, or at least not nearly as much as the volume. I thought this would make a fitting topic of exploration in today’s MarketingSherpa blog post.

This article was originally published in the MarketingSherpa inbound newsletter.

Content pollution

Content marketing has shown impressive growth as a marketing tactic. One reason for that is the proliferation of digital platforms and the growth of computing power allowing for less expensive production of content.

If you’ve ever listened to a talk by content guru Joe Pulizzi, you know that content marketing isn’t necessarily new. But when the means of production transitioned from a printing press and six-figure Avid system to a free blogging platform and smartphone, it was inevitable for content marketing to grow.

But there’s another reason it grew as well. It was effective. And it was effective because it was disruptive.

The traditional advertising and marketing model was built around selling to the prospective customer. The core of content marketing is helping the customer. When done well, customers sell themselves.

The low barriers to entry and “free” cost compared to paid media led to explosive growth in the amount of content. This has created plenty of helpful content. But content creation has also been used as part of a major quantity push by companies viewing it as a means to an end to attract traffic.

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How to Structure a Story in a Presentation

September 12th, 2018
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A MECLABS Institute Research Partner was putting together a major presentation and recently reached out for thoughts on how to structure it. As with conversion and many other areas of marketing, MECLABS (the parent research organization of MarketingSherpa) has a specific framework for crafting engaging presentations.

Using a trusted framework can help, because public speaking — whether on webinars, in-person at conferences, to prospects on a sales call, or in an internal meeting — does not come naturally to many people. In fact, public speaking is often ranked as a more common fear than death in national surveys, prompting Jerry Seinfeld to remark, “In other words, at a funeral, the average person would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.”

How morose. But it points out the need to support whoever in your company is speaking on behalf of your brand — sales reps, subject matter experts, C-level execs, even yourself — with a well-crafted presentation that helps them engage and convert the audience. You want to leverage the power of story and not rely on their speaking abilities alone.

The fundamental marketing challenge behind every presentation

Since presentations are communication and a representation of the brand, they are inherently a marketing challenge.

And like any marketing challenge, the goal is to make sure the value delivered outweighs the cost to the potential customer.

This is true for any call-to-action you have in the presentation, for example, moving to the next step in the sales process for a sales presentation or visiting a website for a presentation at a conference.

However, it’s even true for just getting your audience to pay attention to you. Let’s be real, it is very difficult to pay attention to anything for an extended time in 2018. If the value isn’t higher than the cost of avoiding email or putting down their phone or leaving the webinar or simply zoning out, you will lose them.

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Marketing 101: What is an A/B split test?

February 2nd, 2018
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Marketing has a language all its own. This is our latest in a series of posts aimed at helping new marketers learn that language. What term do you find yourself explaining most often to new hires during onboarding? Let us know.

An A/B split test refers to a test situation in which two randomized groups of users are sent different content at the same time to monitor the performance of specific campaign elements.

A/B split testing is a powerful way to improve marketing and messaging performance because it enables you to make decisions about the best headline, ad copy, landing page design, offer, etc., based on actual customer behavior and not merely a marketer’s opinion.

 

Let’s break down the process of A/B split testing.

Real People Enter the Test

This is part of the power of A/B split testing as compared to other forms of marketing research such as focus groups or surveys. A/B split testing is conducted with real people in a real-world purchase situation making real decisions, as opposed to a survey or focus group where you’re asking people who (hopefully) represent your customers what they might do in a hypothetical situation, or to remember what they have done in a past situation.

Not only can you inadvertently influence people in ways that change their answer (since the research gathering mechanism does not exactly mimic the real-world situation), but people may simply tell you what they think you want to hear.

Or, many times, customers misjudge how they would act in a situation or misremember how they have acted in the past.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use surveys, focus groups and the like. Use this new information to create a hypothesis about your customers. And then run an A/B split test to learn from real customers if your hypothesis is correct.

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Copywriting: Listen to customers so you can speak their language

December 1st, 2017
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Words matter. Both for their denotation (to ensure prospective customers understand your advertising) as well as for their connotation.

(Words are subtle indicators to tell a potential customer “we understand you specifically” and “this offer is meant for people like you.”)

To truly speak our customers’ language, we must listen to them because our customers may be very different from us.

No easy task. As Don Peppers and Martha Rogers say in Managing Customer Experience and Relationships, “‘Listening’ has never been part of most mass marketers’ primary skill set.” (I’m reading the book as a student of the University of Florida/MECLABS Institute Communicating Value and Web Conversion graduate certificate program.)

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Marketing 101: What is big rock content?

November 10th, 2017
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I had three hours to kill before my next flight to Dallas departed. While sitting in an airport café warming my hands around a mocha, I overheard snippets of an intense conversation in the booth behind me.

“It’s all about your big rocks. They are the most important. What are your big rocks?” 

At the time, I hadn’t heard of Stephen Covey’s analogy, so I had no idea what these two young marketers were discussing. Later, I was enlightened.

In brief, effective people prioritize their goals beginning with the most important (the rocks) and moving on to those of lesser importance (sand). Because when you think about it, if you try to fill a jar with sand before filling it with rocks, you will have troubles fitting the rocks in. Begin with the rocks and fill in the spaces with sand. It’s good advice and can be applied not only to marketing but our personal lives as well.

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Marketing 101: What is a GIF?

September 29th, 2017
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Marketing has a language all its own. This is our latest in a series of posts aimed at helping new marketers learn that language. What term do you find yourself explaining most often to new hires during onboarding? Let us know.

The way we communicate has changed drastically from the days when we had to run to the phone in the kitchen that was *gasp* attached to a wall to call a friend. When we actually had to call someone to ask them out for a date, instead of swiping right or shooting a text.

We have evolved from phone calls to text messages and countless emojis (even animojis). And now, thanks to the popularization of GIFs — quick, bite-sized animated graphics that play over and over again in a loop with no sound — we barely need to use any words at all to communicate how we are feeling and what we are thinking. Even many corporate communication systems, like Slack, have integrated GIFs.


This transformation is not isolated to our personal use — brands and marketers are incorporating this type of visual content into their content strategy and campaigns. Why? Because they drive engagement and clickthrough, in both email and social media.

But what is it about GIFs that makes such a big impression?

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