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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

Ask MarketingSherpa: How do small businesses find clients?

February 22nd, 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 them here on the MarketingSherpa blog so they can help other readers as well. If you have any questions, let us know.

 

Dear MarketingSherpa:  I have a question for you. In this ever more increasing digital age — where pressing palms and getting face time is getting harder and harder. How do small businesses find clients?

I am a graphic designer/marketer whose business model is to contract with other small businesses. Much like a General Contractor hires subs when they build or remodel a house.

When I get together with other contractors in the marcom field (web designers, marketers, other designers, branding specialists, etc.) the first question is generally ‘So, how do you find new clients?” The answer is generally referral, but that only provides so much to the pipeline.

We don’t have trade shows where the public can come in and meet us and get to know what options they have in terms of marketing their small business (like a home and garden show where the public comes in and meets the companies that offer home improvement — and all the new tech that goes along with it).

Our local AAF chapter did one about 7 years ago. It was poorly attended and never repeated. I presented. It was a fabulous idea.

We don’t have a Marketing Channel where people ooh and ahh over the latest couple who comes into businesses and turns their branding around and makes it all shiny and new and hands them a marketing plan and clients ready to purchase.

Marketing is the slow burn and a mystery how some succeed and others don’t. People like Shark Tank because it’s a Cinderella story — where the prince bestows upon them the money they think they need to succeed. Success overnight!

Everyone thinks it’s social media — but really that’s just more ad buys. And it’s left to the algorithm to determine how successful you are.

So how do small businesses that are in service industries especially find new clients? Sure we all know to go where our audience is, but our audience/ideal clients are in front of their computers looking for their own ideal clients. Or on the job, or at shows selling their own goods. They don’t scroll Instagram looking for business advice. They aren’t on Facebook reading funny memes. Generally. I mean they are definitely on their phones though.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the matter. I mean even your own website when it gives examples, it’s usually really large companies with really large budgets and a full agency behind the A/B testing and research and metrics. Not really applicable on a smaller scale, in most instances. Even people that know they need to content market are buying their content, not generating it themselves or through an agency (buying it from a service that caters to their industry).

OK — thank you for listening, and we all await your response.  🙂

Thanks!

Deanna Taus
Owner
Full Circle Creative, LLC

 

Dear Reader:  Hi Deanna, Thanks for reaching out.

We get this question quite often from small businesses who are engaged in marketing.

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Referral Marketing: 4 case studies

April 3rd, 2018
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A MarketingSherpa email subscriber recently asked for relevant case studies on referral marketing campaigns. If you’re also looking for ideas and tactics to launch or optimize your own referral programs, here are four case studies that have some interesting examples.

(And if you find this blog post helpful, click on one of those Twitter, Facebook or other referral buttons at the top of this blog post.)

 

Triggered email nets 75% of referral program signups for Roku

Roku, a video-streaming device for television, discovered that about 25 percent of its customers heard about the company from a friend or family member. The team already offered rewards to customers who sent referrals via email, Facebook or Twitter.

To get even more customers to participate, the team planned a triggered email campaign to Roku’s newest customers. They offered incentives for both the referrer and the newly referred customer — a free month of Netflix for each friend who tries Roku, along with a 10% discount to the newly referred customers.

Of all the channels through which customers could send referrals to contacts, referrals sent via email drove 70 percent of all sales in the program.

“Email has been the biggest way to promote [referrals],” said Lomit Patel, Senior Director, Direct Marketing, Roku. “The newsletters definitely help, but these individual emails after purchase have had the most effect.”

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Social Doubt: Beware the downside of social proof in social media marketing

March 8th, 2018
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Back when I was an undergrad at the University of Florida, our basketball team won in the Elite Eight round of March Madness, meaning we were headed to the Final Four. Right after we won that game, students poured out onto University Avenue. There was jubilation in the street.

And then … all of a sudden … everyone just ran down to the football stadium and tore down the goalposts. (We were a football school at the time, not yet accustomed to basketball success)

It was a very odd moment. No one planned anything. People didn’t even shout out any directions. Most (but not all, let the record show I stayed put) of the students in the streets simply started running together toward the stadium.

Ah, the human animal

Much like a V-shaped formation of birds adjusting down the line to keep the formation tight, or a school of fish quickly changing direction, humans also engage in unthinking, subconscious herd behavior without even realizing what they’re doing.

And this is one of the most powerful drivers behind social media marketing.

Psychologists call this phenomenon social proof, which Wikipedia describes as “where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior in a given situation.”

Do you see what I just did there? Wikipedia is another example of social proof. If enough people agree to a definition of a term — even if they’re not experts — I guess it’s reliable enough to include in this MarketingSherpa blog post.

But social proof has its downsides for social media marketing as well

Now, I’m not the only person to write about social proof in social media marketing. Just search the term, and you’ll find endless articles and blog posts.

However, I noticed a serious dearth of conversation about the opposite of social proof in social media marketing. If social proof works because it shows other people are interested in your brand, the opposite of social proof shows that other people are not interested in your brand. What is the word for that?

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Customers as Value-Creating Partners, Not Just Value-Extraction Targets

January 12th, 2018
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What is a customer anyway? According to the definition you get when you type the term into Google, a customer is “a person or organization that buys a good or service from a store or business.”

This is a very one-sided view of a customer — let’s get the money from customers, as much as we can. Sure, we give them value in return. But mostly, customers are the cow and brands are trying to pump them for as much milk as they can.

However, in the Harvard Business Review article What Most Companies Miss About Customer Lifetime Value (an article I’m reading as part of the Communicating Value and Web Conversion graduate certificate program form the University of Florida and MECLABS Institute), Michael Schrage insinuates a very different definition.

Customers as members of a company’s value-delivery ecosystem

In the article, Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, explains workshops he runs with companies where he asks them to answer the question “Our customers become much more valuable when …”

                                                                   photo courtesy: Didrik, Creative Commons, Flickr

Here’s what really stuck with me about the exercise: “It doesn’t take long before the answers start to incorporate an investment ethos that sees customers more as value-creating partners than as value-extraction targets,” Schrage said.

How do customers add value? Everything from providing feedback, to word-of-mouth marketing, to being early adopters for new products.

However, I would argue that customers must first be satisfied before they are willing to engage in any of these activities.

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People Buy From People: Five examples of how to bring the humanity back to marketing

December 13th, 2017
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“People don’t buy from websites, people buy from people.” This is an essential principle from the MECLABS Institute Landing Page Optimization certification course (from the parent research organization of MarketingSherpa).

With so much focus on martech, marketing org structure and website optimization, and channels ranging from print to digital advertising, this principle can be easy to forget.

Yes, marketing technology is powerful. Yes, the correct structure of the marketing department and IT department are necessary; and you certainly want a well-functioning website.

But this is just infrastructure. Mere roads.

You, dear marketer, are in the driver’s seat. You decide how to use these roads.

The most effective way to use them is to connect with other people. Remember that everyone behind the technology is a real, complex human. And everyone on the receiving end is a real, complex human with hopes and fears, needs and wants, goals and pain points.

Here are five examples to give you ideas for bringing humanity back to your marketing.

Example #1: Engage with influencers

Every B2B industry and B2C niche customer community has influencers. Rock stars to that specific group of people, even if no one in the general public knows who they are. They’re more than a brand or a logo; they’re a person. And when it’s the right person for your ideal customer, your customer deeply wants to learn from these influencers.

“I would say don’t be afraid to talk to your influencers in your industry. Engage them and try to partner with them,” said Mike Hamilton, Director of Marketing Programs, Exterro.

Exterro is a legal software company specializing in e-discovery. When it launched its vendor-neutral E-Discovery Day virtual event three years ago, the team was able to get a couple of key influencers on board. In Exterro’s case, a few of these influencers were federal judges.

Having federal judges speaking on a webcast back then was a big deal. So, Hamilton started calling other influencers in the industry and used the federal judges’ names as a proof point that E-Discovery Day was designed to be a day of education and not vendor-speak. Exterro opened it up to competitors, law firms, anyone in the industry. As a result of bringing all these influencers on board, the team was able to get more than 2,400 event attendees this year, an increase of 70% from 2016.

“If someone has a blog in your industry, and you think they write great content at the same audience as you, send them the email, or don’t be afraid to call them and just ask them what they’re doing, how they’re looking to grow their influence, and how you could potentially partner together. Because the reason why I think E-Discovery Day was so successful was we got buy-in from a lot of influencers in the community at the very beginning,” Hamilton said.

Example #2: Talk to one person … or account

Marketers can do amazing things with data and automation these days. However, sometimes it’s worth singling out important accounts and customers and giving them a more manual, human touch.

This may seem overwhelming at first, but if you analyze your most valuable customers to determine who your best customers will be, you may find that some version of the Pareto principle is at play. In other words, 80% of your revenue may come from 20% of customers.

Trapeze Group, a provider of hardware and software to the public transit industry throughout the world, took an account-based marketing (ABM) approach to try focusing and humanizing its marketing to specific accounts.

They started a pilot program with a public transit agency in the Los Angeles area, and positioned the ABM strategy in the business as “ensuring that it was not just a marketing or sales function but also that of project management and customer success,” said Michelle McCabe, Manager of Demand Generation and Marketing Operations, Trapeze Group North America.

For example, the team created a personalized magazine just for that account. The magazine contained a combination of custom content that was created from scratch for the people in that account as well as repurposed content. “We knew that some of the C-levels were a little bit more traditional. So we felt that a print magazine might speak to them a little bit more than something digital, which is why we went for a printed magazine versus digital specifically for this account,” McCabe said.

In addition, the team created a 3D-printed statue and sent it specifically to one person in the account. “It said the word ‘innovation’ because that spoke true to his role and his overall mission. He did receive it, and he thanked us for that, which was great,” McCabe recounted.

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Micro-yes(s) versus Micro-moments

November 21st, 2017
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“I was wondering about the methodology of MECLABS, about micro-yeses and the micro-moments.  There are some similarities about both terms. Do you have some articles on the topic micro-yeses vs micro-moments? If yes, can you provide me a link for it? If you don’t, this is a good topic for the next one, I guess.”

This suggestion comes courtesy of a MarketingSherpa Inbound Marketing newsletter subscriber who recently completed the MECLABS Institute Value Proposition Development course (from MarketingSherpa’s parent research institute).

Understanding these two topics — the micro-moment and the micro-yes — is especially important to the inbound marketer.

Content and social media tend to be consumed in micro-moments, and to get customers to engage with your social and content (and ultimately take a larger conversion action, like a purchase) requires a micro-yes to get a micro-conversion.

Micro-moments, i.e., “I will not waste 37 seconds standing in line without being entertained!”

“We put a name to a behavior that, thanks to mobile, was becoming pervasive. People had started to expect an immediate answer in the moments they wanted to know, go, do and buy,” said Lisa Gevelber, VP of Marketing for the Americas, Google, in the article 3 new consumer behaviors playing out in Google search data.

Essentially, mobile web use is exploding. Yada, yada, yada. I’m sure you know all of that.

But the important element to take away is not just the form factor that mobile use requires (e.g., responsive design) but the customer behavior shift mobile hath wrought.

And this is a trap we as marketers fall into. When we’re reviewing our social, our content, our landing pages, our advertising, our email, etc., we’re pretty darned focused on it. We eliminate as many distractions as possible. We craft headlines and body copy with a surgical precision. We know every detail about our products and services.

However, the customer is taking a mere micro-moment in their day with many other distractions going on. When they come across your blog post, they — “Jimmy! I told you to put that down and get off of your brother!” — interact with your content, social and marketing messages in a much more distracted fashion — “Wait, what did they say? Was that Flight 2054 to Jacksonville canceled? Or did they say Flight 2045?” — so you need to make sure your messages are clear and compelling.

Hence the need for micro-yes(s); more on that in a moment.

But the bigger point is this: Next time you’re looking at a marketing piece or piece of content, don’t just make sure the form is optimized for mobile (e.g., big buttons, white space, whatever). Make sure you’re thinking through that customer’s mobile behavior.

Because customers often exhibit different behaviors in these micro-moments. To wit, “Mobile searches for ‘best’ have grown 80% in the past two years,” Gevelber said.

So this behavior impacts your SEO and content strategies, for example. What type of information will people be searching for in a micro-moment? What content would help them?

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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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How Brand Marketers Hitched a Ride on The Solar Eclipse in Social Media Marketing

August 31st, 2017
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Every few years, everyone everywhere stops what they’re doing to watch the BIG THING that is happening, whatever it might be — the OJ Simpson trial, balloon boy or, most recently, last Monday’s (moon-day’s) total solar eclipse.

While it may have culminated in everyone gazing up at the sky Monday afternoon, wearing funny-looking glasses, remember that in the weeks beforehand, they had been looking at and searching for information online.

The question for marketers is, do you just watch these events pass you by, or do you capitalize on them for a little social cache?

Even our parent company, MECLABS Institute, got in on the moon madness and posted our eclipse party on social media.

 

 

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Social Media Marketing: Should I include paid influencers in my marketing spend?

July 6th, 2017
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It’s almost unusual these days to make a purchase before quickly checking online to look at stars, comments and blogger reviews.

A whole industry has sprung up out of our consumer need for secondary validation before each swipe of our credit card or “Confirm Purchase” click.

The people behind it are called, generally, paid influencers. They make capital for their blogs and vlogs from companies by reviewing, vouching for, or generally promoting products to their audience.

While traditional celebrities of various degrees of fame participate in this, microinfluencers, as they’re also known as, are general defined as untraditional celebrities. They’re individuals who work in their category, or are truly knowledgeable, passionate and authentic within it, to be seen as a trusted source of buying recommendations.

A MarketingSherpa chart article that covers this topic, featuring a 2016 study by Experticity, an influencer marketing company, in collaboration with Keller Fay Group and Dr. Jonah Berger, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, discovered that 82% of people are willing to follow an influencer’s recommendation, over the 73% who would follow the average customer’s.

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