Influencer marketing may be the latest obsession for advertisers, but that’s for good reason. When properly leveraged, influencer marketing can be an incredibly powerful way to reach target shoppers and ultimately guide their purchase decisions. The right influencers can serve up authentic content with genuine recommendations, reviews, and tips. Their audience trusts them, and that trust can lead to a stamp of approval for the brands who leverage their partnership.
Beauty influencers are among the most talked about — rightfully so, since they were among the first to participate in the marketing strategy for brands like Sephora and Ipsy — but CPG and grocery companies have found success with pertinent influencers as well. A recent study from Points North Group revealed that the most efficient brand to leverage this strategy was Heinz at a CPM of $1.78 in March 2018, and both Hidden Valley ($2.11) and Vick’s $3.09 made the top ten. Here are just a few more examples of brands achieving their goals through influencer marketing:
- Dorot, a fresh and frozen herbs brand, tapped 60 partners focusing on lifestyle and food to try Dorot’s products, showcase potential recipes (like this Eazy Peazy Mealz blog), share honest opinions, and provide a $1 coupon. The coupon URLs uniquely identified which content creator was the facilitator for the purchase. With more than 66,000 online engagements, the campaign produced a 15% lift in sales.
- When Maybelline was ready to launch a new line of mascaras at Walmart, the brand turned to a tried-and-true awareness tactic for cosmetics: an influencer network. Their only guideline to creators, like Kelly Baum (A Thing of Beauty) and Kimberly Pavao, was that they had to use or otherwise feature the products in their content. The campaign generated nearly 74,000 content views, more than 10,000 blog engagements, and an impressions total of 35.7 million.
- Organic CPG brand Tom’s of Maine turned to a micro-influencer community to bolster social media engagement. Each creator’s following is small — between 500 and 5,000 — but the trust between audience and influencer is high. The campaign lifted Tom’s of Maine engagement by 600%.
- For Gerber, it was important to not only raise awareness for its Lil’ Beanies product launch, but to also drive sales, especially with major retailers like Publix, Kroger, and Target. The brand spread its net much wider to tap more niches (e.g., parenting, active lifestyle, travel) and many more influencers (324 total). Influencer content focused on telling stories about how their kids enjoyed the product, along with encouragement to visit the official brand page for a coupon. At 9,400 pieces of content, the campaign garnered 9.2 million impressions, 260,000 engagements, and a 5% lift in sales nationally.
- West via Midwest was one of the 60 influencers that GOODFOODS turned to in an initiative to raise awareness and lift sales for its natural guacamole dip. Since the brand also aimed to develop a program that connected to audiences with tips about everything from party planning to healthy snacking, it chose creators from a variety of verticals, including lifestyle and parenting. They were asked to develop content such as stories or original recipes featuring GOODFOODS’ products. By the end of the campaign, which involved 2,000 content pieces, there were 71,000 engagements, 34 million impressions, and most importantly, a 34.2% conversion rate.
The secret to these success stories is the simple fact that influencers fill in the widening gap between brands and shoppers. Transparency and authenticity are a must, but audiences don’t have the patience for a sales pitch. Unfortunately, many times that’s exactly the way they perceive brand communications, no matter the message. But the content creators that shoppers put their trust in aren’t controlled by corporations or organizations, and so are deemed more credible when talking about products and services. Furthermore, influencers are highly relevant. They reach particular niches, know how their audience communicates, and directly address the pain points that are most pertinent.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Influencer Marketing
Take a look at the following best practices for integrating influencers into your marketing strategy.
DO Allow Creative Freedom
Content creators are valued by their audience because of their authenticity and transparency, which forms the foundation for shopper trust. By forcing them to develop a certain type of content or talk about your products in a certain way, you’re also forcing them to bend (if not break) that trust. The impact is two-fold. Not only will it undermine your campaign’s results, but it will alienate creators to the point they may not be willing to partner with you again.
You’ll need to entrust a piece of your brand story to influencers and allow them to build their own narrative. You can (and should) have some guidelines, but the Maybelline campaign mentioned above is a perfect example of what relinquishing control can accomplish. Genuine tips, reviews, and stories will resonate strongly with the shopper audience and yield the results you’re looking for.
DON’T Partner with an Influencer Based on Follower Count
The most basic rule of marketing is, “Be where your customers are.” Choosing a content creator because they have a huge audience may sound tempting, but it’s akin to choosing to advertise in a particular TV time slot just because it features a hugely popular show. Yes, the potential reach is huge, but if it doesn’t include your target shopper, the effort is hindered or wasted. Instead, choose a partner based on your target shopper’s interests and behaviors.
Partnering with an influencer also needs to make sense for your company, especially in light of shared values. Audiences perceive the people you partner with as insight into your company. Don’t turn off your target shoppers by connecting your brand with the wrong voice or personality.
DO Negotiate Price
You need to balance the value of the content creators’ time and hard work with your budget. Make no mistake, their time is valuable, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay the proverbial sticker price. Many times, influencers will ask for more, expecting to negotiate down — just be sure you don’t undervalue them. Remember that “price” doesn’t always mean a paycheck, either. Some creators may also accept product as a part of their compensation. Negotiate for something that maintains respect for them yet remains appropriate and affordable for you, especially if you’re working with a large network.
DON’T Expect Professional Quality
Authenticity and personalization is key! The content may not be as high quality as a professional photographer but it will drive trust amongst your audience. The influencer West via Midwest, featured recipe photos that were Instagram ready, they were clear, inviting, and enjoyable to look at in a social media feed. But they aren’t the sort of professional food photography you’d typically use in traditional marketing. They’re taken in a way that emphasizes a sense of authenticity versus feeling staged. Similarly, the photos used by A Thing of Beauty are well lit and clear enough for Baum’s how-to demonstration, but lack the typical high-end panache and finish of professional cosmetic brand collateral. This, too, emphasizes the accessibility of the look as well as the products.
DO Identify and Utilize Micro-influencers
The temptation may be to bank your bets on one powerful content creator with a huge audience. However, even when your target shoppers are part of that audience, you need to pay close attention to the impact the influencer has on KPIs for your campaign. As we mentioned in the Tom’s of Maine example, micro-influencers have significantly smaller audiences. That can actually serve to make their content more powerful. When your target shoppers are part of their audience, they’re much more likely to be influenced by the content creator’s advice — which is to say, it improves interest, intent, and conversions.
DON’T Ignore Other Marketing Campaigns and Efforts
Influencer marketing may be rocketing in popularity, but that doesn’t diminish the need for integrated, omnichannel campaigns. Influencer marketing should never be the tent pole supporting your overall marketing strategy. You still need to develop a proper marketing message to be used across other media to establish frequency and additional touchpoints. For instance, Gerber still utilized video advertising for its Lil’ Beanies campaign. Note that these videos are thematically consistent with Gerber’s guidelines to content creators — babies’ experiences, especially with the product, set at home with family — but ensure that pertinent data about the product is emphasized, rather than a specific story.
With as great of an impact as influencer marketing can have on your business goals, it needs to at least be considered as an option for your marketing strategy. However, it’s unlike many other forms of advertising. Its authenticity has to be preserved because once you impinge on that, the trust with shoppers will be broken. Ensure your next influencer campaign follows key best practices by using the do’s and don’ts mentioned above.