Are you tired of influencer marketing yet? I have bad news for you: it’s about to become much more important.
First, let’s define what we mean by influencer marketing so we’re working from the same definition. Let’s define influencer marketing as a kind of word of mouth marketing where a persuasive entity – usually a person – encourages awareness, consideration, or purchase actions from their audience. In the influencer marketing context most marketers operate in, those awareness, consideration, or purchase actions are usually on behalf of another company’s products or services.
Influencer marketing is nothing new; celebrity marketing pre-dates it by decades, and word of mouth pre-dates it by millennia, for as long as humans have had conversation and commerce capabilities. What’s new(er) about influence marketing are the ease and scale that individual people have. More people than ever constitute influencers in some capacity, and more people than ever have reach and scale.
For example, my newsletter reaches approximately 200,000 subscribers every issue, about the same as the Boston Globe Sunday edition. In decades past, that would have required massive outlays of capital and infrastructure. Today, it requires only a few hundred dollars for IT infrastructure fees and my time. Reach and scale are easier than ever to build.
So, why is influencer marketing about to be more important? Because of the coming restrictions in advertising technology. Highly-targeted digital advertising is on the rocks as tracking changes will make life difficult for all but the biggest ad tech companies. In turn, that will drive prices for advertising up on the big ad networks like Google and Facebook; for some companies, it could price them out of the market.
Influencer marketing stands to benefit; audiences tend to be well-defined around an influencer’s area of expertise, and those audiences are behavior-based, not demographic-based:
- If you want to talk writing, Ann Handley’s audience is for you.
- If you want to talk tech strategy, Crystal Washington’s audience is for you.
- If you want to talk reinventing education, Dr. Ai Addyson-Zhang’s audience is for you.
- If you want to talk self-improvement, Laura Gassner Otting’s audience is for you.
The power of an influencer’s audience is that it isn’t limited by demographics. I’ve set up web analytics for several of the folks above, and I can tell you without breaking any confidential information that they all attract people of every background, every identity, united by interest, not demographic segment. That’s incredibly powerful, because it helps us as marketers break our assumptions about who our audience is, and what kinds of people make up our audience.
As smaller ad networks get squeezed by the upcoming restrictions, and larger networks get more expensive, influencer marketing – properly done, with good analytics – will be a compelling alternative. An influencer should have a strong connection with their audience that compels them to behave differently. Any one of the folks mentioned above need only place a piece of content in their communications, and you’ll see substantial, almost immediate benefit.
There’s still much that needs to improve in influencer marketing – identifying influencers right now is practically a guessing game and analytics are a flaming hot mess (but fixable) – but as money moves around into the space even more, those things will improve. Critically, as ad networks become harder and more expensive to work with, the pain of change to an influencer-based model will become more tolerable.
So, the key takeaway is to ask: what is your plan to integrate influencer marketing over the next 12-18 months?
- Are you going to grow your own, helping employees become influential in your space?
- Are you going to reach out, finding people to partner with?
- Are you going to engage an agency on your behalf?
Whatever you choose, be sure you have a plan in place for when you need it, and get started on that plan sooner rather than later. You’re going to need it, as part of a well-rounded marketing mix, and possibly central to it.
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