Why read this? : We look at the marketing value of using influencers. Learn what makes the best influencers stand out, and where and when to use them. We also show how to prioritise and work with different types of influencers. Read this to learn how to get more value out of working with influencers.
Influence is important in marketing.
In some definitions of marketing, it’s the verb of what marketing does. The act of influencing customers to choose your brand.
Arguably, that means all marketers are influencers.
But, that’s not what most marketers think of, when they hear the word influencers.
Usually, influencers in marketing means anyone who influences the buying decision.
A person whose views or advice carries some weight in making the final decision, according to our old copy of Kotler’s Marketing Management.
For consumer products, this often means celebrity or expert endorsements. Think Bill Murray selling Suntory in Lost in Translation, for example. Or the white-coated doctor telling you how good the medicine / toothpaste / skincare cream is for you.
For B2B products, influencers are more likely to be technical advisors. Those who help define specifications and provide information to help evaluate options.
Plus, as digital marketing and social media have grown, we’ve also seen a whole new class of influencers emerge. Online content creators who pull in large numbers of followers. Who brands then work with to promote their products to those followers.
With all this choice, we thought it was worth taking a closer look at the value of influencers. For example, what makes an influencer a good influencer? Where do they fit in your marketing plan? And what’s actually involved in building an influencer plan?
What makes an influencer a good influencer?
Influencers have an effect on other people. But not all influencers have the same effect. Some are more influential than others.
So, you need some criteria to help you assess the value of different influencers. That helps validate how, and how much they can help you meet your marketing objectives.
First, they need to be a relevant influencer. Their influence needs to have some connection to your category, and what your brand needs to do.
Then, they need to be a credible influencer. Their influence has some level of substance or weight behind it. It gets people to do the right things.
Lastly, their influence needs to reach the right people. It can be big or small (though big is normally better). But it has to get to the right target audience, and influence them to do what you want them to do.
You then look for a connection between what these relevant, credible influencers with reach do, and what they could do to help you deliver your objectives.
Example - shared values
For example, look at how AIA Healthcare use Ash Barty and Steph Gilmore as ambassadors for their health messaging.
Both are well-known sports celebrities. That fame gives them reach. Plus, they’re known for having a healthy approach to life. That makes them relevant and credible influencers for health messages.
There’s a good match between these influencers personal values, and the values the brand wants to promote with this work.
From the outside, this seems a good influencer partnership. Their reach (because of their fame) helps drive awareness. And their relevance and credibility (because the values match) drive consideration.
Example - Shared goals
But not all influencers are celebrities. They can also be experts in their field, with a direct influence on specific customer decisions.
For example, many infant formula companies work with healthcare professionals (HCPs).
They identify experts and sponsor them to share their expertise with other HCPs and with parents.
That can include writing articles, talking at events and co-creating educational materials.
There’s a good match between the goals of these HCP influencers and the brands. Both want new parents to get the best advice.
From the outside, the focus here is on consideration. This approach works well in categories where the buying decision is more complex. Working with credible experts can help customers make better decisions.
Example - Reach and awareness focus
Finally, some influencers are just about pure reach. This is especially true for online influencers, where their value comes from the total number of followers they have.
In these cases, the focus is more on driving awareness, and less about credibility and consideration. It’s about getting a message out in front of as many people as you can.
Influencers in those categories can have huge numbers of followers. Brands pay them to use their new products and tell their followers about it. The value of these influencers comes from them exposing the product to their followers.
Where influencers fit in your marketing plan
Influencers fit into 3 different parts of your marketing plan :-
- customer profile.
- marketing mix.
- activation plan.
You can include what you know about influencers in your profile of the customer.
This often describes a broad type of influencer.
In the AIA example from earlier, it’s likely their research showed healthy sports people would make good influencers for their message. Further research would have validated Ash Barty and Steph Gilmore as good examples of that.
Similarly, research would show midwives, GPs and paediatricians influence decisions on infant formula. New parents look to them for expert unbiased advice. That’s why HCPs are important influencers in that category.
The profile also helps you define your objectives. The marketing job to be done. If it’s about driving awareness or consideration, it could well include public relations and using influencers.
The marketing mix
You use them to extend the reach and frequency of your messages, beyond what you get from paid media. They add variety and distinctiveness to your communications mix.
Your planning also needs to cover how your work with these influencers connects to your other activities. Do they appear in your advertising, for example? Do you feature them on your social media posts and on your website?
If you’re in B2B, do you use them to speak at professional events and work with your sales team?
This connection to other activities helps amplify the overall impact. The influencer adds relevance, credibility and reach. These should have a positive effect on your other activities.
Influencers and the rest of the marketing mix
In some cases, influencers can also add value to other parts of your marketing mix.
For example, some brands use them as consultants to help develop the product. Look at celebrities who bring out their own fashion lines, like Kanye West’s line of Adidas developed sports shoes. (which has ended since this article was first written).
Other brands use the influencer’s name or credentials to enhance their place plans. For example, celebrities who lend their names to restaurants, like Planet Hollywood did with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis.
There’s even a few examples of brands who use influencers to shape their price decisions. You mostly find these in categories like personal finance and share trading.
The activation plan
If they’re relevant to the target audience, and they’re part of your marketing mix, influencers should also then appear in your activation plans. Plans are only as good as the actions they drive.
Most influencer works goes through agencies, because they already have expertise and experience in this area.
They’ve already set-up processes to work with influencers. This saves you a lot of time and effort.
They can also act as a middle man between you and the influencer. In some cases, the influencer may want this to retain an image of being impartial and independent.
The agency will also often handle the admin and contractual side of the relationship. You focus your time on the message and activity. The agency can also help protect you if something goes wrong. The influencer says or does the wrong thing, and there’s a risk to your image. PR agencies can help get you out of these tricky situations.
There’s 3 main stages to influencer activation.
First, you need to work out who they are. You identify who influences buying decisions in your category.
Then, you prioritise them. Some influencers add more value than others. You need to work out where to focus your efforts.
Finally, you plan your interaction with each influencer. You put the most effort into your highest priority influencers. These are the influencers who’ll create the most value.
You identify influencers by going online to do secondary research.
SEO ranking works on popularity. There’s a strong correlation between the influencers who rank well on search and the influence they have on the category. Popular influencers rank high on search.
Look who comes out top when you search on relevant topics. Check out who has the most likes or followers.
You should also look at relevant online forums. Where do most of the comments come from on discussion threads? Who gets cited as an authority on the topic? Online discussions about your category are a great place to identify influencers.
As you build your influencer list, start researching them. Check out their social pages and websites. See if you can find their contact details. You’ll need these details so you can build your contact plan.
Building a contact plan
Your PR agency may well already have an influencer contact list you can tap into.
But it’s important you also build up your own list. Agencies don’t stay around forever. You want to have a direct connection to your influencers.
You should aim to create a CRM database of your influencers. This helps you integrate it with other activities. For example, you keep a track of all your work with them. Articles they write. Events they attend. Contacts with your sales team and so on.
This also helps you track and measure the value of your relationship with influencers. You can see what you’ve done with them, and map that to how well you met your objectives.
Influencer quality scoring
There could be many names on your list. You need to prioritise. To do that, you apply a ‘quality’ score to each contact. This is usually based on a mix of their level of influence (their relevance, credibility and reach) and their openness to work with you. You prioritise the influencers with the highest influence and most openness.
(see also our market attractiveness article as the process behind that is similar).
You apply different factors and weightings to work out this quality score. It depends on your category and company context.
For example, a basic factor would be how many people they reach. The more people they reach, the higher their influencer “score”.
That could be their audience size if they’re on TV or radio. Their readership size if they’re in newspapers or magazines. It could be how many visitors their website gets, or how many social media views, comments and followers they have.
Another measure could be how well their image fits with your brand identity and objectives. As we said earlier, the strongest influencer connections are often based on shared values or goals. You score them higher if they have a strong connection with your target audience. Or they’re already positive about your brand or company.
You also look at what they’re like to work with. You score them higher if they’re open-minded and flexible. If they’re proactive and reliable. Some influencers can be difficult to work with. They may want too much control, or not put out the message you want them to. Also, watch out for any competitor connections they have. A conflict of interest would make them less credible and reduce their influence.
Group influencers into segments
Ideally, you group the influencers into 3 segments, based on their quality score.
You have a small high priority group. They’re your biggest priority. They have the most influence and are the best to work with.
Then you have a larger medium priority group. They have some influence, and you can work with them.
Finally, you have a large but low priority group. You have to have some relationship with them. But you get less value out of working with these influencers.
For each segment, you then plan a :-
- contact strategy – how, when and how often you contact them.
- content strategy – the content, story and materials you share with them.
High priority influencers
High priority influencers add the most value. You use them to build your image and reputation. Your key objective with them is to build a strong relationship.
You work closely with them when you have exclusive, new or unique content. For example, you send them advance copies of new news stories. You give them behind the scenes access to new developments. You involve them in your innovation process. They become part of the story, and give comments and interviews about it.
Regular contact is key with this group. Meet them face to face, and have regular phone and video calls. Keep the relationship strong by making them feel involved and appreciated. Ask them regularly what they need, and support them with news, content and materials.
Medium priority influencers
This group will be larger. Their combined reach and influence means you need to give them some attention. Just not as much as high priority influencers..
Your contact with them will be less frequent, less personalised and less detailed. Email is usually the backbone of your contact with them, with an occasional phone call or face to face as needed.
You do enough to maintain the relationship rather than grow it. For example, you might send them samples of your new innovation rather than inviting them behind the scenes. Or you might give them a general invite rather than a VIP one to a product launch event. It’s enough to keep them thinking positively about you, without you having to do too much.
Low priority influencers
Finally, there’s everyone else who has some influence. You keep an eye on this group, but only have low-level contact with them. You send them general content such as press releases or non-exclusive materials. But you don’t have a lot of direct and individual contact.
Of course, with the changing nature of media and public perception, an influencer’s ‘quality’ score can change over time.
So, you need to review your list regularly. Look for changes in the level of influence and working style. Who’s in your high, medium and low priority list should evolve over time. Use your list to work out how much value you’re getting out of each group of influencers.
Measuring the value of influencers
Your brief should have set out the objectives of your work with influencers. These are usually media and business driven.
You should have reach and frequency objectives for example. These would link to your overall awareness and conversion objectives.
So you define how many customers in the target audience you expect to see the work. And how often they’ll see it. You also define if it’s a one-off event, or something with a longer-lasting influence.
For example, if the influencer creates content (an article, a video for example), can you get longer-term value out of it by using it on your website? You also define what you want customers to do as result of seeing the work, and measure that impact.
You’d also look at business measures like your profit and loss and brand health tracking. You want to see a positive ROI on your influencer activity. An uplift in sales and profits. And you want to see improvements in brand health scores. For example, positive changes in brand image measures.
Conclusion - Getting the most value out of influencers
Influence is a big part of marketing. That means you need to think about the role of influencers in your marketing plan.
They’re usually part of your public relations plan. You use them to drive awareness and consideration.
Influencers with large followings can help you build awareness. Credible expert influencers help you drive consideration. Influencers who have relevance, credibility and reach can help you do both.
It helps when you and the influencers share similar values and goals.
That helps build stronger relationships. It helps customers make sense of what you do with the influencer.
Credibility is the real key to using influencers well. You need to be credible, so they want to work with you. And they need to be credible, so your customers believe what they say about you.