With influencer marketing on the rise, we asked six firms in the space to discuss its impact and the trends fueling it (such as artificial intelligence)
According to influencer firm Linqia and its report, “The State of Influencer Marketing 2018,” 86% of the CPG, media and retail marketers surveyed used influencer marketing last year, and nearly 40% said they are increasing influencer budgets this year.
Another firm, #paid, ran a study conducted by Nielsen that compared a leading beverage brand’s TV to its Instagram video and found that 67% of those surveyed “loved” or “liked” the Instagram vs. 56% loving or liking the TV ad, with low emphasis on “loved.”
“The content that influencers are creating with the tools that they have – drones, phones, DSLR cameras – is equal to or better than the quality of content that is traditionally being created for brands by creative agencies,” says Adam Rivietz, co-founder of #paid, “which is a huge step in the right direction.”
However, the study titled “The Unique Benefits of Influencer Marketing” also pointed out that TV still reigns when it comes to brand awareness and recall, so while influencer marketing is on the rise and a cost-effective option for brands who can’t afford TV, it’s not a tool that will replace TV but supplement it.
Influencer marketing thrives in the middle of the funnel, Rivietz says. Whereas TV gets a brand the most eyeballs, influencer marketing comes in and validates that purchase through family, friends and – in the case of the firms interviewed here – influencers. Here is an edited discussion with six influencer marketing companies on the growing tactic.
What does influencer marketing look like? Who are they? What’s working?
Holly Pavlika: They range from micro-influencers and power middle influencers to near web-celeb influencers across areas such as food, DIY, beauty, technology, healthcare, pets and more. We have influencers who are powerful bloggers, Instagrammers and are on YouTube, Pinterest, and they know how to leverage cross-channel syndication of their content.
Bob Gilbreath: Their blogs are like mini-magazines. Influencers share interesting ideas – say a recipe for overnight oatmeal or a clever hairstyle. The marketing comes in as a relevant, integral part of this idea. [For example] Quaker is part of making the oatmeal recipe, and Pantene is part of pulling together the hairstyle.
Elizabeth Scherle: What sets [Influenster] apart is we’re the largest review platform behind Amazon. Our community is largely made up of product junkies and micro-influencers. They passionately review products on our platform because they enjoy being the first to know about products, and sharing their opinions instead of monetary compensation is the primary motivation.
Kristin Hersant: [Linqia’s] report found that 92% of marketers view Instagram as the most important social platform, which aligns with most B2C marketers’ desire to reach Millennial moms. Facebook came in second at 77%. At 71%, blogs are skyrocketing – up from 48% in 2016. Half of respondents reported Snapchat as the least important platform.
Pavlika: Collective Bias conducted a study and respondents said blogs and reviews are the most likely form of communication that would convince an in-store purchase. In social media, Facebook and YouTube are the most persuasive channels.
How do you find and vet influencers?
Bethany Stephens: We know and handpick our influencers. The individuals who run our programs have had a conversation with an influencer before we work with them. There’s a lot of talk in our space about algorithms and scouring the internet to find people with high followers, but we hang our hat more on authentic storytellers.
Gilbreath: Our main criteria for admission is the quality of their creative work. We also use third-party verification with Moat to ensure that their traffic is not artificially inflated by bots.
Hersant: The New York Times’ “The Follower Factory” expose recently shined a spotlight on what has long been a flawed strategy – selecting influencers based on perceived reach or audience size. Influencers were purchasing fake followings and false engagements in an effort to appear more influential online. Despite this, marketers still use “Reach,” or a number of followers, as a primary metric for determining which influencers to work with. We’re tackling this issue head-on.
Stephens: Unfortunately, this is an industry that exploded. When I started, it was all about the numbers. Most CPGs are targeting women, and influencers by and large happen to be women. We recently did a program in the hunting space, where we needed to get more niche: hunters, men, deer hunters, preferably bow hunters. They needed to have a relevant social following. You have to flex some recruitment muscle.
Where does this cross over to retail?
Stephens: Soapbox is an offshoot of Kendal King Group, which has been in the retail space for 30 years. Our clients are mostly CPGs and they have to prove out what we do, and they have to speak to buyers and merchants about this, so we speak their language. A specific example is Walmart has a large holiday gift card program, and Kendal King delivers the pallets. Last year was the first time we came to the table with an influencer component to support that program. Social listening discovered a need to start the program earlier and storytelling pushed the idea of basket building – not only for gift cards but other items in-store.
Scherle: Real-time geo-targeting happens all the time through the Influenster app. For example, we can send a hyper-targeted group of micro-influencers a coupon to buy their favorite body wash at their favorite retailer, scan the product through our app, post a “selfie” on social, and write a review on the product.
How much is AI influencing the influencer marketing game?
Hersant: AI is becoming table stakes for most influencer marketing platforms, scaling results without compromising brand safety. Linqia uses its own AI-driven predictive algorithm and machine learning to surface influencers who meet the specific requirements outlined in each program’s creative brief.
Scherle: We use billions of data points collected to train our machine learning algorithms through IBM’s Watson to create a comprehensive map of products, brands and micro-influencers. Want to reach a mom-to-be who shops at Target two months before she’s expected to give birth to her first child? Or a beauty maven who uses a competitor’s foundation daily? These are all possible.
Rivietz: You get the psychographic perspective from Watson AI, where it knows what the influencer’s interests are because it’s scanning all of their content, and it uses image recognition to identify the type of content delivered. This is especially relevant for food campaigns. There are many types of food influencers: foodies who exclusively shoot flat lays of actual food and other influencers who take pictures of themselves enjoying a dining experience out.
Gilbreath: AI for influencer matchmaking might be useful if you are trying to select hundreds of thousands of random people in a database, but AI can’t tell you if the influencer will be there when something changes at the last minute. We prefer to rely on our relationship with trusted influencers and invest resources on more impactful data science such as trend identification and post optimization.
Pavlika: We announced a suite of analytic solutions using first-party shopper data along with various data science applications to provide insights that inform every step of the influencer marketing process, determining what kind of content will perform best for campaigns, when to run, and how well the brand is doing across the category.
Rivietz: AI provides a higher-quality recommendation. We’re able to identify what products and services our influencers actually use. Imagine you’ve been driving a Toyota for the last decade, or been banking with Bank of America for the last two, and now all of a sudden they’ve identified you as an influencer and are going to start paying you to promote them.
Are there any other trends impacting influencer marketing?
Gilbreath: Probably the most exciting are live formats on Instagram and Facebook. Earlier this year we announced our launch of a suite of live solutions around several Super Bowl campaigns for partners such as Mondelez and Mars. They featured our influencers conducting live cooking demonstrations and answering questions via direct message.
Scherle: Viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video compared to 10% when reading it in text. It is no question that we’ll be expecting video to continue to dominate the content landscape.
Hersant: We’ve seen great results from influencers who create Tasty-style recipe videos, 30-60 second videos that speed-up cooking recipes or a DIY project. Our influencers are also experimenting with Instagram Stories and Story Highlights. While Instagram Stories are only live for 24 hours, Story Highlights stay active indefinitely which helps influencers drive traffic over time.
Any tips to help brands improve their influencer marketing?
Rivietz: Have solid content on your social media platforms. And if you’re going to reuse the content from an influencer, which we recommend, negotiate those image rights so you have them.
Gilbreath: Commit to longer-term contracts. Assets can be used more widely, and it reduces back-and-forth friction and brings strategic insights and dedicated resources.
Stephens: As with any marketing tactic, clients come to the table often with a very clear picture of what they want to do. We want to be very respectful of that. We understand legalities. We understand registered trademarks.
But at the end of the day, you want to lean on the expertise of the individual who built a following. People turn to them and trust them. If we give them something formulaic, it may miss the mark. This may feel a little scary, but these are smart individuals, great storytellers – you will be pleasantly surprised.