THE MARKETING EXECUTIVE'S GUIDE TO INFLUENCER STRATEGY
Making important decisions in areas outside of your expertise is challenging. If you've ever discussed an expensive repair with your car mechanic, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
The mechanic makes recommendations about brake lines and fan belts, both of which you're somewhat familiar with, but certainly not an expert in, and you have to make a decision based on a combination of what you know and what he's telling you.
Marketing executives often find themselves in a somewhat similar spot when it comes to influencer marketing. They have to make important decisions about high-level strategy, budget, and personnel -- decisions that will have a significant impact on the bottom line.
What makes these decisions challenging is that the executives usually aren't experts in influencer marketing. They have plenty of marketing expertise in general, but when it comes to the details of influencer marketing, they may as well be talking to a car mechanic.
If you’re reading this and it resonates, know that you aren’t alone. To help, here’s a few guiding principles to help you make decisions about influencer marketing's role in your organization. These principles come from The Outloud Group’s many years of experience working with CMO’s, Marketing VPs and brand managers.
A quick note before we dive in. Influencer strategy needs to be customized for each brand; there is no one-size-fits-all approach that can be applied across the board. These guiding principles are intended to help you ask the right questions and at least get you pointed in the right direction.
1. KNOW YOUR GOALS FOR INFLUENCER MARKETING
Influencer marketing is an effective marketing tool when it's used the right way. Just as a hammer doesn't work well as a screwdriver, there are some situations where influencers may not be the best way to address your particular challenges.
Before you use influencer marketing, you need to first determine your goals. One of the biggest mistakes we see is businesses building out portfolios of influencers that aren't well-aligned with their goals.
This goes beyond whether someone is a micro or macro influencer. Every influencer has varying levels of effectiveness when it comes to helping you reach your business goals, and it's important that you find the right ones. In keeping with the tool analogy, it doesn't matter how powerful a nail gun is if your goal is to blow the leaves off your patio. Whether in home maintenance or influencer marketing, you need to choose the tools that are most effective at helping you achieve your goals.
Some of the most common goals and challenges in the online consumer space are:
-- Generating brand awareness
-- Building brand trust
-- Explaining a complex product
-- Fighting consumer skepticism
-- Overcoming perceived brand or product vulnerabilities
-- Driving conversions
Before you can build an effective influencer strategy, you need to know the specific challenges you're trying to solve. It's somewhat like how professional sports teams approach the draft. If a football team has trouble protecting their quarterback, they'll focus on drafting offensive linemen. If a basketball team wants to increase their scoring, they'll look to draft shooters.
In the same way, knowing what you want to achieve through influencer marketing gives you clarity on the types of influencers you need to work with.
2. MEASURE THE RIGHT METRICS TO ENSURE QUALITY
It's no secret that influencer marketing can be difficult to measure, but it's only made harder when those efforts are measured using the wrong metrics and then decisions are made based on those mistakes.
Influencer marketing provides benefits across the entire marketing funnel. Awareness campaigns drive conversions and conversion campaigns increase awareness. That's simply the nature of the channel. When you don't evaluate the performance of influencer campaigns across the entire funnel, you're going to underestimate your ROI and under-invest in further growth.
For example, say you're a DTC shoe company trying to use influencers to promote the release of your latest shoe. Obviously, you want to track things like the number of shoes sold, click-through rate to the shoe landing page, conversion rate of the landing page, etc. But to measure the full benefits of the campaign, you also want to measure awareness metrics, such as the search volume of brand-related terms, direct visits to your website, increased efficiency of your paid search and SEM programs, overall sales levels, etc.
Even though your campaign is primarily conversion-focused, if it's done well you should also expect a rise in awareness metrics as well. It's the whole "a rising tide lifts all ships" phenomenon.
3. AVOID THE BRAND VOICE TRAP
We’ve explored this in greater detail elsewhere, but it’s critically important that your creator partners are the storytellers and not you. If there’s one thing we’ve learned it’s that the less brand requirements/talking points you share with creators, the better.
Influencers build their audiences by doing things in their own, unique ways. They have a specific voice that resonates with their audience and gives them authenticity. That voice can be family-friendly, edgy, funny, motivating, etc. Whatever the case, their voice is one of their defining characteristics that differentiates them from everyone else.
When you try too hard to make the influencer speak in your brand voice, it just makes the creator come across as insincere. This hurts their credibility and actually can hinder the results for your brand. Give influencers the freedom to promote your product in their own voice. This will resonate with their audience much more effectively and create far better results than if you try to force them to adopt a brand voice.
4. NEGOTIATE FOR WIN-WIN OUTCOMES
Influencer marketing is much more relational than other forms of marketing. It's not solely about CTRs or conversion rates or impressions. It's also about building authentic, lasting relationships that are profitable for all involved. The best arrangements are multi-spot deals with high-performing, good-fit creators. If you try to nickel and dime them for better rates, your chances of long-term deals become less and less.
It's in your best interest to try to reach terms that benefit everyone involved. You don't want creators feeling like they had to bend over backward in order to accommodate you.
You need to have both a short-term and long-term perspective. An influencer's value is not only the short-term conversions they drive, which is essentially affiliate marketing. You also need to remember the awareness, credibility, brand lift, and other benefits that long-term relationships with influencers provide.
At the risk of sounding cheesy, influencers are people too, and they want to be valued for more than how they can benefit your brand. They want their creativity and expertise and influence to be respected and taken into account. If you treat influencers in a purely transactional way, it's insulting to them and a recipe for disaster.
5. INVEST IN QUALITY
Don't try to go the cheap route when it comes to influencer marketing. Influencer marketing isn't like growth hacking, where the goal is to find low-budget solutions to drive growth. Trying to go cheap will produce low-quality results that can actually hurt your brand more than help it.
Of course, high-quality influencer marketing can be expensive. It’s difficult to find experienced influencer marketers, and as the market matures, prices continue to increase. Software tools can help you find plenty of influencers to contact, but they can’t build an organic relationship for you.
If possible, having someone to run your influencer program in-house can work well. When you have a dedicated and experienced individual whose primary focus is establishing and developing valuable influencer relationships it almost always produces better results. Rather than seeing the influencer program as one responsibility among many, they're able to give the lion's share of their attention and energy to it. They determine the overall strategy and can then decide whether they want to manage it themselves or find an agency to partner with. Of course if that person leaves you’re back at ground zero again.
On that note, there are two primary ways to think about investing in influencer marketing:
-- Internal - Utilize an internal individual to build and manage both the strategy and execution. Sometimes this is a marketing director or CMO, but usually it's a combined effort between an executive and lower-level manager.
-- External - If you don't have anyone internally who can perform this role, hire an influencer marketing agency. It's essential that someone has the responsibility of creating and executing the influencer strategy.
When it comes to execution, the strategy you choose will dictate your budget. Regardless of who's responsible for execution, make sure that they thoroughly understand your strategy. They need to understand your goals, how those goals fit into your overall marketing objectives, and how influencer marketing fits within your other marketing strategies. Whether you're using an agency or in-house role, proper guidance and a big picture view of what you're trying to accomplish will always produce better results.
The bottom line is that you want to avoid trying to scale your influencer program until you're sure that you can maintain quality as the program grows. If you try to scale without the proper infrastructure in place, the quality of your efforts will start to suffer, which hurts both your brand and your ROI. For most growing consumer brands, this means a dedicated in-house role that is supported by agencies.
6. BUDGET ENOUGH TO RUN AN INITIAL TEST CAMPAIGN
Influencer marketing is like any other marketing strategy or channel. It takes time to get things dialed in, and you won't necessarily see amazing results right out of the gate. A month with less than stellar results doesn't indicate failure or mean that influencer marketing won't work for you. More than likely, it means that you're still getting everything properly calibrated.
It usually takes around three months to begin testing and optimizing your influencer marketing efforts, and we typically recommend test budgets around $100,000.
We all love the test-and-learn strategy that's often associated with growth, but this can actually be a trap when it comes to influencer marketing. Like much of social advertising, you need to budget enough initially to calibrate the channel. If your initial budget is too low to prove out the value of partnering with influencers, you'll mistakenly assume that influencer marketing isn't right for you and miss out on the benefits it provides. If you don't test at the right budget levels, you're pretty much guaranteeing a poor outcome and sealing your own fate.
These principles aren't a magic formula that will guarantee you success with influencer marketing. They are, however, born out of years of experience working with brands across many industries and seeing what works most effectively.
As you carve out your influencer strategy, use the principles to guide the questions you ask, the goals you establish, and the expectations you have.