Levergy’s Strategy and Communications Director, Rob Garden, looks at the topical and contentious issue of influencer marketing, with some basic principles, he believes, could easily be applied to brands in the sports space considering this as a potential marketing tool.
Influencer marketing is the fastest-growing marketing practice in the world. Yet, because of the influencer boom that has occurred over the past five years, very few have taken a step back and really analysed the best way to utilize this medium. Too often marketers jump on the influencer bandwagon because of the trend associated with the practice, without really interrogating the best way of using them in order to achieve on defined objectives (or appreciating the potential dangers connected to associating individuals with their brands).
We’ve thought about when and why influencers are being used by brands and have identified that, on the whole, brands aren’t getting bang for their buck.
Along the way, we’ve discovered four myths associated with influencer marketing that are contributing to this trend.
‘Why’ is always a good place to start. Influencers can be an effective mechanism to reach younger audiences. Millennials and Gen Z are, on the whole, highly impressionable when it comes to someone in the public eye who reflects their own values or the way in which they perceive themselves. Couple this with the fact that they generally aren’t interested in what brands have to say (at least through direct branded communication) and it becomes clear how powerful an influencer can be in reaching these audiences.
A third-party endorsement is thus essential to reach this audience and authenticity in how this comes about is make or break.
In the Covid-19 era, we speak of ‘new normals’, ‘pivoting’ and ‘acceleration’. While in many instances these have become 2020 clichés, in the world of public relations we have seen the media landscape devastated by lockdown. This is particularly true in the lifestyle sector where numerous iconic publications have shut shop for good. What this means is that there is now a gap in the way we are able to reach audiences who previously sat on these channels. So, while influencers will predominantly do a job of reaching young audiences, the right individuals can also be used to bridge this gap into 2021.
This Isn’t Going to Go the Way You Think
Influencer marketing is dangerous. In actual fact, it is far easier to do damage (even if this is just wasted budget) than it is to create positive brand results through an influencer. Using influencers in the wrong context, or an influencer
posting content on behalf of your band which misses the mark, can damage a brand’s reputation far too easily.
A lack of understanding or unreliable data can thus result in a reputation disaster.
So, where are brands going wrong and what bad habits or ‘delusions’ have crept into the discipline?
1. Influencer Marketing is a Stand-Alone Function
Influencer marketing is a mere, albeit powerful, piece of the PR puzzle designed to induce an action or change perceptions when objectives call for it. Entire agencies have been built on the function of influencer marketing
alone, with many agencies creating dedicated influencer departments.
This is a mistake! Why?
PR is the art of persuasion. This can mean a few things, but at the core, PR’s role is to shape brand perceptions. PR works to convince an audience to promote your idea, build affinity towards your brand, and influence others to support your brand. We want to achieve a certain public viewpoint for our client according to a clear set of objectives.
And the crux of all we do and create is: Newsworthiness.
The only way we’ll change or create perceptions is if the narrative or story we have created is something our target audience finds interesting or engaging. If a story is newsworthy, people will naturally want to know who created it and why.
All of these principles ring true whether you’re using social, influencer or traditional channels. The basic principles of PR thus should apply whether you are utilising traditional or influencer channels.
BUSTED: Influencer marketing needs PR know-how in order to make an impact
2. A Brand Should Always Work with the Same Influencers
Many agencies and brands rely purely on relationships to select influencers for a relevant campaign. While there is merit in creating a long-term brand association with a select group of individuals, brands need to employ an immensely personal approach to connect with Millennials and Gen Z.
Different campaigns also call for different approaches – everything should come down to our objectives. There can never be a ‘one size fits all.’ What this means is that influencers must thus be selected according to research and data on a case by case basis and based on campaign specific objectives.
BUSTED: While relationships will always get you somewhere, data will get you everywhere
3. Influencers Can Only Be Individuals
The traditional definition of an influencer is an individual with influence on social media channels. As we’ve seen, the best way to engage a Millennial or Gen Z is through a third-party endorsement. This third-party can be anyone or anything, it doesn’t have to be an individual on Instagram. If your campaign objectives mean that your local radio station is an effective channel to carry your message, that radio station should be considered an influencer.
Campaigns should now align to the personal values of our target audience where possible (when that audience is Millennials or Gen Z and especially after the change that 2020 has brought about) – a third-party who shares these values is the best way to achieve this. But that third-party can be anyone or anything so long as they/it will achieve against objectives.
BUSTED: Anyone or anything, when used in the right way, can also be considered an influencer (and can also be used alongside ‘traditional’ influencers)
4. Influencer Marketing is Restricted to the Relevant Influencer’s Social Media Channels
The most common way influencers are utilised is a paid-for post from their personal social channels. While social media is the primary channel through which you’ll reach young audiences, why not create tactics that will result in earned coverage across multiple channels and campaign amplification through owned channels?
If content with the selected influencer has a strong enough and authentic story to tell, why shouldn’t it spill over from the influencer’s channels into traditional media and brand channels? Thus, giving yourself the best shot at reaching more of your target audience.
BUSTED: By using PR principles to create influencer narratives, we can get more bang for our buck by creating knock-on coverage.