Wooly and Thread Wallets teamed up last week to present at the annual Utah Digital Marketing Conference. Attendees filled the theater to learn how influencer marketing has over-promised, under-delivered, and what to do about it.
The beginning of influencer marketing.
To understand where influencer marketing went wrong, we need to look at its origin. In 2004 Facebook launched and quickly began building a significant user base. By 2007, with more than 50 million monthly active users, Facebook turned on the ability to advertise within their network; changing the marketing arena forever. This new media channel helped marketers deliver hyper targeted ads, with improved attribution visibility, and with a strong return on ad spend.
In 2010, Instagram and Snapchat hit the scene, building an enormous user base with the initial promise of refusing to put ads in a users feed. Within a few years, Instagram had more than 300 million monthly active users enjoying their app, ad free. While this dynamic was great for users, it was not ideal for marketers that had seen the value of using Facebook as a new and improved media channel.
Rather than letting this potential advertising channel sit untouched, marketers found a way to work the system: they called on the help of users with massive followings to promote their products. You guessed it, these users with massive followings were dubbed “influencers”.
Reach ≠ influence
Growing up our parents taught us that the loudest voice in the room was rarely the smartest. And yet here we are, giving social handles with the biggest following and loudest voice the title of “influencer”. The truth is, these influencers are media channels similarly to your local radio station, your favorite TV network, or the billboards you drive by on your way to and from work. These “influencers” can be a valuable part of your marketing mix when treated as a media channel. They can bolster brand awareness, enhance social engagement, and even strengthen brand reputation.
But when they are expected to transcend beyond this reality, things can go horribly wrong. These influencers have become a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Target audiences have started recognizing influencer posts as stealthy disruptive advertisements, the FTC is cracking down on #ads and #sponsored regulations with devastating consequences, and sometimes the influencer missteps, putting themselves and their client (the advertiser) under fire.
Within minutes of being picked number one in the 2017 NBA draft, Point Guard Markelle Fultz threw up a brick in this ad for Tissot, showing his excitement to head to play for the “team” in “city”.
Was Scott Disick operating under extreme transparency when he shared instructions from BOOTEA, or was this just another unfortunate mishap, shedding light on the reality of influencer marketing?
At the surface, some posts feel completely genuine, but when you look more closely, you see even Oprah can get her wires crossed – or at least her device of choice.
Even if things don’t go horribly wrong, the reality of influencer marketing is it’s a top of the funnel tactic, inconsistently driving purchase conversion. Ariana Renee, an Instagram superstar with more than 2 million followers, attempted to launch her own apparel line, but failed to sell more than 36 shirts.
So how do you actually drive sales?
The answer is easier said than done: marketers must create real relationships with actual customers. Study after study shows consumers are skeptical of advertising tactics, recognizing the underlying motive is not centered around the consumers best interest – but conversion. To break this dynamic, marketers can focus on these three big buckets:
Build personal relationships with your actual customers like Lululemon
There are few brands that connect in authentic ways better than Lululemon. A quick visit to their ambassador site reveals personal recognition of more than 1,000 local athletes, business owners, and fitness enthusiasts. Walk into any Lululemon store and these very people will be featured in store POP, messaging, and activations. When real relationships are nurtured the terms of those relationships does not need to be transactional.
When asked about the Lululemon ambassador program, Daniel Cook said, “Lululemon doesn’t pay me to be an ambassador, it’s not a financial relationship, it’s much more than that.”
Empower real customers to promote your brand like Tesla
Elon Musk frequently brags about building the Tesla brand without paying for advertising. Instead, he shares that they focus on making a great product and empowering their drivers to share remarkable experiences and tangible referrals.
Within the Tesla app (one every driver must use to drive their car) drivers are able to send referrals to their friends and family who are considering purchasing the latest Tesla. Drivers are rewarded with a loot box and personal outreach from Tesla employees.
Support your customers even when it doesn’t scale. It worked for AirBnB
When AirBnB executives realized listings in New York City weren’t booking they grew fearful the business was doomed. They began personally reaching out to every tenant asking them if they would let them help improve their listings to drive bookings.
Tenants not only said yes, they unlocked their doors to AirBnB executives inviting them to stage their apartments, taking pictures and writing descriptive copy to help bolster bookings. While this tactic could not be replicated across every major city in the US (let alone the world) AirBnB recognized the power in winning in the Big Apple. The rest, is history.
Bringing it all together.
Influencer marketing is a great tactic to drive awareness, increase engagement, and even manage reputation. But reach does not equal influence – and customers are looking for influence on what to buy from the people they already know and trust: their friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors. As marketers, we must band together to usher in an improved experience for our shared consumers. An experience centered around personal relationships that transcend the transaction.
Wooly can help you build real relationships with your most trust consumers.