Influencer Marketing: An Opportunity Slipping Through Our Fingers

Opinion: We shouldn’t discount influencer marketing yet just because it’s not working in its current state

As a 20-year digital marketing professional, it’s not very often that I’ve seen such a large opportunity slip through the fingers of so many marketers.

Social advertising got me excited five years ago and, indeed, it turned into an advertising channel that now makes up more than 20 percent of the total digital advertising spend in the U.S. But why isn’t influencer marketing taking off the way I believe it should?

Right now, it’s an incredible tool that few are using properly. And in my opinion, it actually has the potential to fundamentally change the way brands communicate with consumers. Influencer marketing could disrupt social advertising as we know it, and here is why.

Brands fall in love with their creative content. They spend a lot of money on it, too, so understandably, they really want it to move the needle with consumers. But how often does that actually happen?

We see it move mountains, like when State Street Global Advisors creates an experiential moment placing a bronze girl staring down the Charging Bull on Wall Street, creating awareness for International Women’s Day, or when The Truth Initiative came out with the CATmaggedon campaign, part of the successful movement to end smoking in young adults.

But most of the time, that magic doesn’t happen. Most of the time, the creative doesn’t change the world … and then what? What does a brand do to overcome this problem? They go back to the creative agency and ask them to try again.

Eventually they will nail it, but what about all of those moments in between? That’s when media must work even harder to make the message resonate with consumers.

The challenge is that media can only work so hard when it comes from the voice of the brand. Brand loyalists love to sparingly hear from their favorite advertisers, but the large majority would prefer to hear from people they trust. This was the promise of “word-of-mouth marketing” about 10 years ago that led to ratings and reviews, but didn’t go much further.

Brands attempt to find ways to make customers talk about them organically. While this does work, there typically aren’t enough vocal brand loyalists with a large enough reach to make a significant difference.

Once upon a time, influencer marketing promised to bridge that gap. It was going to bring the voice of a trusted person to their trusting following. But to date, this hasn’t worked. The industry has evolved into a world where it is overly clear that the large influencers are getting paid to represent brands. In fact, it’s become such a mess that the Federal Trade Commission is now involved.

But we shouldn’t discount influencer marketing yet just because it’s not working in its current state. It can and will work, but it needs forward-thinking brands, influencer marketing experts and media agencies to revolutionize and reinvigorate it.

What’s the potential for influencer marketing?

This is one of those moments in time where we’ll see brands live and die based on their ability to become relevant.

The brands that get it right will move away from the microphones they’re using to communicate their message (something that is inherently viewed with caution) and move toward a method of communication that is trusted.

Isn’t it great meeting compelling people in real life? Don’t you wish that was the case for the people advertising to you? What if you, as a marketer, could deliver on that as a brand?

We have the opportunity to change the way media buying works by changing the way brands communicate. We can find influencers who have a moderate following, get them to share information they feel passionate about and promote that content to people who have overlapping interests with the influencer. This will allow brands to engage with people on an authentic level.

If done correctly, brands should benefit from the trust that we as humans have with others who share our same world view. This will, in turn, allow brands to benefit from the change in content consumption that is happening now.

What do brands need to do to benefit from this trend?

Brands need to rethink what they’re currently doing in the world of influencer marketing, since it’s not working, but oh-so-close. Brands know the customer is smart and they know they want to hear from people they trust and relate to more than an overpaid influencer.

Marketers: You need to use media to intelligently distribute the content that’s created by passionate, trusted influencers. You must not take the typical approach to distributing this media, blasting it to everyone in your target audience, but you need to find other people who will trust the content produced by these influencers.

So, what makes someone trust something? Commonalities. Media-driven influencer marketing has the potential to make this so, and how well your brand is able to leverage this knowledge will determine whether you’re capable of taking advantage of this revolutionary change.

Ryan Pitylak is the co-founder and CEO of social and search advertising agency Unique Influence, part of MDC Media Partners.

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