Influencer Marketing: Old-School Rules Still Apply

Opinion: Influencers may be the future of marketing, but traditional marketing fundamentals still apply

Many marketers are failing to implement traditional marketing fundamentals
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Unless you’re having an e-tox (or you’re devoid of cell reception), you’ve probably witnessed a tremendous change in the way brands are allocating their marketing spend and teams, shifting significant budgets towards influencer campaigns.

Nineties “supers” such as Claudia Schiffer and Liz Hurley, who flashed their million-dollar smiles for cosmetic companies L’Oréal Paris and Estée Lauder, respectively, have been replaced by social media “celebrities”—regular people with engaged and loyal audiences addicted to their social accounts.

Cupcakes and Cashmere blogger Emily Schuman was one of the first of this new breed to sign a reported six-figure deal with Lauder in 2012. Five years later, influencers are the brand ambassadors du jour for a multitude of verticals, from fashion houses to alcohol companies.

What may come as a surprise, however, is that marketers are still getting it wrong. Seduced by vanity metrics like millions of followers, many are failing to implement traditional marketing fundamentals essential to an influencer campaign’s success. Banners and billboards may be on the out, but the same rules regarding a campaign’s strategy (influencer or otherwise) still stand.

Rule No. 1: Audience targeting is key

One of the biggest mistakes is focusing on vanity metrics, such as number of followers, without digging into the identity of those followers.

Would you ever buy ad space in a magazine that has 1 million readers without asking who they are? Why would you activate an influencer without knowing who follows them?

You might be tempted to tap a big name for instant publicity, but this isn’t the best approach for maximum reach and conversions. Selena Gomez at 124 million followers has the largest following on Instagram and boasts endorsement deals with Pantene and Coach (to name a few). She’s a well-known celebrity with a mammoth audience, but this doesn’t necessarily make her the right fit—for either of these brands.

When looking at her audience analytics, Gomez has a 58 percent female following interested in pop, Latin music, rhythm-and-blues and entertainment, not fashion or beauty. Furthermore, Coach and Pantene are both American brands, and of Gomez’s 124 million audience, just 25 percent reside in the U.S.

Activating a network of micro-influencers, such as Caitlin Lindquist, may have been far more effective. Lindquist’s Instagram following is smaller compared with Gomez, at 99,000 followers, but 91 percent of her following are females interested in fashion and beauty and 84 percent reside in the U.S.

Accessing a host of influencers with smaller followings is cost-effective and exposes your brand to an intimate, interested and engaged audience. And most important, an audience likely to purchase your product.

Rule No. 2: Discovering the right channels (influencers)

One of the toughest challenges marketers face is influencer discovery. We’ve moved from an era where there were 5,000 influencers five years ago to millions of micro-influencers with fewer than 100,000 followers, and that figure grows by thousands each week.

These influencers tend to have a significantly more uniform audience. For example, if they have a cooking show on YouTube, they have an audience of almost exclusively cooking enthusiasts. As a rule of thumb, their relationship with their audience is significantly stronger than the relationship the big influencers have.

As a group, micro-influencers are significantly more powerful than celebrities are, but individually, they’re a commodity.

Remember, for every Kardashian, there are thousands of alternatives that effectively reach the same audience. Power is being restored to brands that now have the ability to dictate the campaign terms—as long as they can locate enough of these influencers, that is. They can reach out to 50, knowing that they will only hire the five who are most accommodating.