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How effective is Influencer Marketing?

6 June, 2018

I’d like to share some thoughts with you from a recent event I attended.

Held in Leeds city centre and hosted by Breadwinner Agencies and award-winning insight consultancy, Trinity McQueen, the session focussed on the topic of Influencer Marketing. To put it in context, Trinity McQueen Director Laura Morris, has said:

“Nowadays, more and more brands are forging collaborations with rising social media stars so as to reach their audiences and, by association, capture the zeitgeist […] Celebrities and famous people have featured in brands’ advertising for decades.

The difference nowadays, however, is that these social media stars are a new breed – everyday people who happen to be digitally savvy and have a point of view. They boast more viewers than some TV channels.  Brands can chuck £10k at them for posting a few Instagram snaps. And they all do this from their living room, bedroom or garden shed.”

The Lost and Found Cocktail Bar & Restaurant – formerly the old Leeds Club on Albion Street – was the setting, and I have to say, after a sympathetic and creative renovation is now a tremendous venue!

The event presented the findings of a research study undertaken by the Trinity McQueen that looked at the changing media landscape, how consumers are feeling and responds to that shift, and the effectiveness of influencer marketing today.

Keeping it real

The session began with some scene-setting by Gareth Turner of Arla Foods about the crucial requirement for authenticity in influencer marketing. He used the example of Jessica Rose, the Love Island reality-TV celebrity who used a post to endorse Optical Express glasses.

Those familiar with Jessica were quick to point out that she didn’t wear glasses; it became apparent this was a paid product endorsement as part of an influencer marketing campaign. The post lost impact, audience trust, and serves as an illustration of bad practice.

The central theme of the Trinity McQueen presentation – and a point that I completely agree with – is that the fundamentals of Marketing shouldn’t ever change, regardless of the medium. Whatever the channel or platform, whether it’s offline or online, the founding principles of honesty and transparency should remain the same.


The desire for authenticity

Where celebrity endorsement was the inspiration of the past, today the ordinary person is being empowered as effective influencers of consumer purchase.

With access to simple techniques and tools, anyone can now broadcast from their bedroom and gain a significant following and have an impact on industry. What’s more, the statistics show this is only going to increase.

An Ofcom survey in 2016 revealed that 99% of 16-24-year olds were using social media at least once a week, and today, smartphone ownership is highest among younger adults. More than nine in ten 16-24s own a smartphone in the UK.

High-profile brands now realise that influencers need to be an integral part of their marketing strategy, especially for younger consumers. As Panasonic said, “Influencer marketing in 2018 will become an integral part of a brand’s marketing mission.”

 

In the presentation, Fleur DeForce was just one example of the power of the “ordinary” influencer. With a gargantuan 1.4m YouTube subscribers, the 29-year old is big business. She has a huge net worth as a result of working with massive brand partners such as Coca-Cola, Sainsbury’s, and Estée Lauder, and yet says, in her opinion:

The key to success is authenticity and passion.

DeForce is absolute in her opinion that this kind of work can’t be about the money, or both authenticity and passion is lost. Truthfulness is vital, and as such, authenticity is turning more and more young people on to the prospect of blogging or vlogging as a career.

There is an ongoing debate in industry about the future of influencer marketing or the death of influencers. Are influencers now getting bored with the mainstream marketing adopting their tactics? Is the fun removed now it is seen as a real job? Are some now struggling to keep up with the technology as competition grows for enormous subscriber numbers?

Researching influencer marketing

 

Trinity McQueen was keen to delve into these questions, research current trends in industry, and distil some answers. To do this, the team collated research in February 2018 using:

 

An online survey – a “robust evaluation of the effectiveness of influencer marketing representative of those who follow influencers” targeting some 1,292 social media users.

 

In-depth interviews – producing “professionally filmed depth interviews to probe into attitudes and needs.”

Social media listening – a “two-week social media monitoring exercise establishing engagement with influencer and brand social media posts.”

 

Interestingly, they found that people tended to remember the influencer over the product and so are connecting to the influencer first and the brand second. Looking into the spontaneous recall of collaborations:

  • 51% of the survey participants mentioned the influencer’s name first,
  • 33% named the brand name first, and
  • 16% gave a generic response.


So importantly, engagement is higher with influencer posts compared to brand posts featuring influencers, as it is more likely to be trusted.

 

The presentation then looked at six crucial question which I’ll discuss below.

1. Who do influencers really reach?

The findings showed that it is young people – often more female than male – that are being reached by influencer marketing. Older age groups still tend to follow celebrity accounts online, and while this is true of some of younger survey participants, they also follow a significant number of high-profile bloggers and vloggers.
So, if an audience is older, campaigns should contemplate celebrity endorsement. If the audience is younger, campaigns could consider influencers, vloggers, and bloggers.

 

The research showed that it is not all about Instagram either. Of the online population who follow influencers, the channels used are:

  • 45% via YouTube,
  • 41% via Facebook
  • 24% via Instagram
  • 20% via Twitter

Twitter, it would seem, is in decline. Other amazing statistics that jumped out at me about the power of social were:

“1/3 of people spend more time on social than on TV.”
28% of people talk to friends about posts they’ve seen on social.”
 

Given the status of social, sponsored content is now quite pervasive. Brands need to disclose sponsored posts or an advert to create trust. One such case was Geordie Shore star Marnie Simpson. She and her PR agency were both cautioned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for failing to signpost adverts on Snapchat.

2. What impact do influencers really have?

The research also showed that if someone likes the person endorsing a product or service, and wants to “be like them,” they are far more likely to buy it. After seeing a sponsored post:

  • 29% were more likely to consider the brand,
  • 22% said they would browse brand range,
  • 19% said they would visit the brand website.

There is a strong uplift after seeing a sponsored post. When asked who people listen to when making a purchase, the top results were unsurprisingly online reviews and recommendations from family and friends. However, of the paid advertising categories, influencers were shown to have the biggest sway.

Paid influencers were seen to have the largest effect on purchases made (12%), even more than TV ads (11%); in the 18-24 age category, 2 in 5 have been influenced to purchase.

 

3. What do consumers think about sponsored social media content?

From the research, it would seem that generally, consumers are aware when content is sponsored. 53% said that they know that people are paid to promote products/services and are aware of when posts are sponsored.This situation is being helped by regulations, but to me, it seems we’re not there just yet with attaining true transparency and trust. It is the influencer that needs to drive that confidence by making paid endorsements clear in any post.The majority of people thought of sponsored posts as advertising. However, when trust is evident, “sponsored content is seen as entertaining and effective.” In total, 63% of those who trust influencers thought that sponsored posts are better than traditional advertising.
The conclusion is that trust can encourage purchase behaviour.
 

Trust is a fundamental element in all marketing.

 

I’ve always said that in any purchasing environment – whether it’s B2B or B2C – when you’re about to make a purchase, trust always comes into the equation. Techniques of evoking trust can be as simple as:

  • using brand personality,
  • being passionate,
  • being open and honest,
  • being resourceful

 

Using the power of blogging and vlogging, organisations can express the passion and personality that makes influencer marketing work. People may like or dislike the product as a result, but without that, consumers have nothing upon which to base a decision.

 

4. Which influencers should brands partner with?

This section of the presentation concentrated on the traits of influencers. Research showed that the most effective marketing is where the influencer and audience are married and a reflection of each other.

The survey results showed that the best fit was when consumers saw traits in influencers that:

  • reminded people of themselves,
  • made them think that if they were ever to meet, they “could see themselves as friends,”
  • seemed likeable and well-rounded,
  • showed passion and conviction,
  • were open in what was said,
  • and were brave about their convictions.

The top traits when deciding who to follow were relatability, honesty, and authenticity.

Relatability: Feedback from one interviewee summed up the need for this closeness when she said they loved Binky (Made in Chelsea), as she is “so honest and genuine, has had children and is getting back in shape…. Just like me.”

 

Honesty: such as disclosing sponsored influencer marketing.

 

Authenticity:  such as a fitness fanatic talking about a smartwatch, unlike the disingenuous example of being a non-pet owner talking about animal food.

 

Another interesting finding was that size doesn’t matter. Influencers that have a smaller following can feel more relatable and spark an impactful consumer connection.

Research showed that the number of influencer followers is far less important than the power of content. Only 7% of those surveyed thought that having a large following was important when deciding who to follow.

 

5. What kind of influencer content is most effective for brands?

Some of the best examples of influencer marketing campaigns included:

Bad examples of influencer marketing collaborations included:

Even after established brands have chosen an influencer for a campaign, it’s not uncommon for them to fall foul of not having the right content to create consumer trust. Researchers showed participants a number of influencers (celebrity and blogger/vlogger partnerships). Of these, some were highlighted for best practice and also weak impact:

Carphone warehouse: The Chris & Marcel advert was part of an online influencer campaign with 68% approval. Not a standard ad, it used Love-Island figures soon after the show. For the target audience who watched it, this wholly resonated and created a powerful connection.

Boots:  Feedback from consumers were that they loved The Anna Edit approach, walking into a Boots store and openly talking about the products. The effect was a show of authenticity and relatability that other brands are striving to achieve.

Boohoo: Contrastingly, consumers had a poor reaction to Towie’s Jemma Collins and her work with Boohoo with 69% disapproval. People didn’t feel the same authenticity, and so the bigger the influencer, the bigger the risk for greater fallout.

Tesco & Waitrose: The Tesco campaign with GracefitUK was said to feel “very fake,” that the pictures looked posed, and that the content sounded like it was written by Tesco’s marketing department. Likewise, the matchup of Waitrose and Zoella seemed bizarre as, given Zoella’s audience, it seemed unlikely young people would shop at Waitrose anyway.


The choice of influencer is vital or there can be the potential for a disconnect between audience and brand that doesn’t feel right or a genuine collaboration. The most effective influencer content is inspirational, authentic, and relevant.

The research showed that there are various different types of content that can bring a product to life:

  • 57% of participants liked store visits for reviews.
  • 49% liked product promotions
  • 48% liked tutorials and tips.

The top five types of content most likely to result in a purchase were:

  • Product reviews
  • ‘My favourite’ posts
  • Tutorials and tips
  • Store visits
  • ‘Get ready with me’ posts.

6. What is the future of influencer marketing?

A growing market: the outlook for industry is that influencer marketing is not slowing down. 57% of those surveyed said that they agreed they would continue to find new people to follow on social media in the future.Scepticism: Work is still needed around enforcement and distrust in the sector. Cynicism remains around honesty and the money exchanged in industry for paid endorsements.Micro-influencers: The popularity of celebrities and influencers with larger follower numbers is starting to wain as more and more people consider their posts less authentic and likely to be advertising. Microinfluencers – those with less than 10,000 followers – are more likely to be relatable and gain consumer trust. They also tend to have:

  • lower fees,
  • a desire to grow,
  • appear honest or even local,
  • and may know their followers and so seem more “real.”

With this in mind, Trinity McQueen reported that trust can be maximised in the following ways:

 

  1. Ensure influencers reflect your target audience
  2. Choose influencers whose interests and values align with your brand
  3. Create inspirational yet relatable content
  4. Be transparent about collaborations
  5. Opt for long-term partnerships not quick wins
  6. Consider using micro-influencers to boost trust

 

In conclusion

All in all, this was a real eye-opening event with lots of excellent research undertaken by Trinity McQueen. It was really insightful, and their helpful report gave a clear strategy for effective influencer marketing.

 

The take-away point for me was that influencers don’t need to be someone who’s big on social – it’s about personality, authenticity, and honesty.

 

I concluded the session by asking if the team thought there was a place for influencer marketing in a narrower market, i.e. B2B. The answer was that typically B2B can be behind B2C in their creative marketing, take longer to adopt trends, and new business tends to come from recommendations.

I completely agree with these points, but I think this is where there is a good fit.  In my experience, it’s great to utilise lots of different marketing channels in the mix. Going one step further, you could say that ‘recommendations’ and ‘influences’ are one and the same.

If I were to recommend a product or service face-to-face to someone am I recommending or influencing? I personally see ‘recommendations’ and ‘influences’ as part of the same topic and the principles are the same. I absolutely think there is a place for influencer marketing in the B2B sector as long as the core marketing principles above are used.

We are all consumers, even if we work in a B2B environment. In fact, young people following these influences may end up working in a B2B industry, so everything is merging. Really, it’s about peer-to-peer marketing (P2P) and not B2B.

I am very grateful for the insights from Trinity McQueen, Breadwinner and Arla Foods. If you’re interested in finding out more about the study, seeing the full report, or booking a presentation about the results, you can find out more here.

What are your thoughts on influencer marketing?
Have you tried it, or is it something you are going to explore?

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