The Definitive, Marketing Leaders’ Guide
Let’s face it — in this day and age, there are more kinds of marketing than marketing leaders can shake a stick at: email, social media, affiliate, PPC, in-game, shadow, defensive, stealth, youth, drip…
The list goes on and on, but with the expansion of the marketing field caused by the digital revolution, a few have risen to wield far more influence and relevance than others. One of these that is particularly emblematic of the time period is influencer marketing.
“Indeed, Hubspot states that in 2017 alone, 92% of marketers that relied on influencers found them to be effective. What’s more, this group has seen such success that almost 40% of them plan to increase their influencer budget into the future¹.”
Whether serving in the capacity as a celebrity, expert, or trendsetter, influencers have become an iconic symbol of the twenty-first century and, serendipitously, been commandeered by corporate marketers for their sales potential.
So, how do you tap into the great potential influencer marketing has? Where do you begin? How do you identify low-hanging fruit? And in future pieces what does this have to do with events (Hint: influencers can be a game changer for event success)?
101 marketing leaders guide
In this 101 marketing leaders guide, we will first broadly highlight the foundational blocks of this marketing subgenre before proceeding in the following articles to investigate specific, in-depth facets of it.
1. What is Influencer Marketing?
3. The Top Trending Influence Marketers
4. Case Studies — Best and Worst
1. What is Influencer Marketing?
With the advent of the internet and the subsequent blossoming of social media not long after, traditional marketing found itself transfigured into a new form.
The first image that comes to peoples’ minds when they hear the term “influencer” is the face of Kim Kardashian followed by a dismissal of any significance.
But, the truth is that influencer marketing is a tool that can drive business growth, whatever the size of your company (or marketing budget). Depending on your situation and industry, you might achieve far more by focusing on local and micro-influencers where the cost to benefit ratio can be very beneficial and worthwhile.
At the time, every industry was being channeled differently through this uncharted medium, like a ray of light splitting through a prism into a rainbow of different colors.
Through social media came the rise of online personalities and…eventually, endorsements and product placement followed. Where once only professional athletes or movie stars could sway the public, now a far more personalized and seemingly authentic platform began to manifest itself.
What’s more, unlike previous generations where celebrities and their social impact were easily identifiable, there is little consensus on what criteria substantiates someone as an influencer. For, one can possess many followers, but wield no influence over them, or have their numbers artificially bolstered through a myriad number of deceptive techniques (see Instagram farmers).
Because of this, companies attempting to leverage influencer marketing as part of their marketing strategy, have largely chosen to target the least risky players: known quantities in the media, established experts recognized in their field, those with authenticated follower counts over long periods of time, etc.
Together, the two entities have formed an uneasy, if mutually beneficial, alliance where the influencer is paid for access to their platform and subscribers and the company pays fees (up to seven-figure amounts) for their product or service to be endorsed.
However, due to the intimate, personalized nature of social media, the connections influencers share with their fans are often far stronger than that of any comparable celebrity.
Consequently, the influence they wield is magnified many fold compared to that of a traditional endorsement.
2. Best Practices
Influencer strategy is multifaceted. Composed partly of customer research, partly of talent management, and partly of communication finesse, a company’s influencer strategy necessitates considerable time and research, otherwise the repercussions could be huge.
First off, you must align your influencer strategy to your target audience.
It’s important to recognize which specific audience you wish to hone in on.
For example, while one influencer may be held in high regard by part of your customer base, they may harm your reputation with another faction of it.
Audiences are complex groups and need to be addressed as such with fine-tuned precision.
Fortunately, this can easily be achieved by asking some basic questions:
- How many different personas does your company sell to?
- What are your avenues to reach them?
- What budget are you willing to allocate to your strategy, as this will greatly determine who you’re practically able to hire?
- Will you be able to afford the right influencer for the right persona? Or, is the plan better off abandoned?
Secondly, talent management is at the heart of all company-influencer relationships.
There’s a reason the vast majority of internet personalities, celebrities, and influencers rose to prominence in the first place: they were driven to achieve excellence and recognition.
Thus, when initially approaching them, show respect for their field of expertise, whatever it may be. Ask questions that demonstrate you understand it, at least the fundamentals (do prior research, if necessary) and are genuinely interested in hiring them, not because of their marketing reach, but because you truly believe their actions and what they symbolize are consistent with the mission of your brand.
This is an important nuance to remember — the power of an influencer is only as great as the authenticity of their bond with fans.
Case in point, while a professional video game player recommending an innovative type of controller is pretty intuitive as it’s related to their craft, a fashion model recommending the same thing doesn’t ring as true.
The middle stage of your relationship with an influencer is where the real balancing act comes into play. As is true with handling talent of any kind, courtesy and finesse is a must when dealing with influencers so as to achieve your company’s goals, but not overshoot them (lest followers see their endorsement as a shill) or undershoot them (remember, you’re spending considerable time and resources to execute this plan. Get what you pay for.).
Try to get them to develop as strong a rapport as possible with your product or service, emphasizing its ties to their craft and the value it will bring their followers. In the end, influencers who truly believe in your offering will prove the most effective.
At the end of your time together, make it abundantly clear how much you’ve enjoyed working with them and greatly hope to keep the relationship going into the future. Failure to occasionally follow up with influencers can leave you high and dry when you next need their platform.
And, in the absolute worst case scenario, the last thing you want to do is burn any bridges and anger them. Remember, the only thing more valuable to influencers than money is their egos.
In the heat of the moment, pride can quickly move an individual to shred a contract and turn on your company.
Finally, the last component of influencer strategy is communication finesse.
As simple as it sounds, more than one company has fumbled this part to dismal results.
Due to the sometimes siloed or bureaucratic nature of larger organizations, oftentimes while one member of a marketing team is functioning as the influencer manager, another is tasked with producing the actual copy for the influencer to transmit.
This leaves something of a quandary. If the colleague assigned the task of writing the message has neither personal experience in the influencer’s realm nor personal contact with the person they are speaking for, it’s far easier to end up with a message that either falls flat or is obviously manipulative in nature.
In this age of social media, the only thing more deleterious to a marketing campaign than insincere messaging is blatantly deceptive tactics geared toward making a company more profit. Your audience will not enjoy being played for a fool, and spurning the wrong clientele only to win a few new customers can lose you far more long-term than it can gain you short-term.
A far more potent methodology is to come up with a brief spec sheet delineating in general terms what you want to convey to the influencer’s followers: the vision of the brand, the specific value your product can bring them, how it has helped the influencer in their field in the past, etc.
After giving the influencer these guidelines, allow them to digest the message over a period of time before conveying it in their own words and cadence. This way, any potential misstep or abnormality that may occur in the communication of it will be channeled in their specific mannerism and style, shielding your company from fault.
3. The Top Trending Influence Marketers
So, now we know what it is and how to execute a proper strategy, but who are the actual who’s who of the business?
In the following list, we’ll dive deep into some examples of B2C and B2B influencers, and what their success foretells for this booming specialization.
David Chang (B2C)
Topping the list of influencers in the food industry, David Chang represents the tried-and-true path of successful restaurateurs who’ve transitioned into celebrated internet personalities.
In this particular example, David first rose to prominence as the founder of the Momofuku brand of restaurants starting with the Momofuku Noodle Bar in 2004 in New York City. Since then, the brand has seen tremendous growth with one of its members, Momofuku Ko, being awarded two Michelin stars in 2009. Following the publication of the Momofuku cookbook, starring role in the Netflix original series Ugly Delicious, and racking up one of the most followed culinary podcasts on The Dave Chang Show, this influencer has become one of the most sought after voices for product endorsements in the food space.
You can find out more here: https://www.instagram.com/davidchang/
The Bucket List Family
Within the busy travel sphere, there’s no dearth of pundits and would-be adventurers that are competing for attention on the internet; however, one group that has managed to separate themselves from the crowd due to their authenticity is the Bucket List Family.
After Garrett Gee sold his app, Scan, to Snapchat in 2015, the family of five decided to travel the world; however, a few months hiatus turned into a several year expedition across the globe as the Gees became famous for their travel content.
Now, officially dubbed “The Bucket List Family,” the intrepid team crosses the globe providing journalistic insights only a real young family, growing pains and all, could deliver. Their transparent attitudes and authentic origin story have garnered them millions of followers on instagram and transformed them into one of the most influential trendsetters in the travel industry.
To check out their adventures, click here: https://www.instagram.com/thebucketlistfamily/
Kylie Jenner (B2C)
No list of the world’s most famous influencers would be complete without the queen of lip gloss herself, Miss Kylie Jenner. Crashing onto the scene following her famous sister Kim, Kylie had the masterstroke to leverage her social media presence on Instagram (a whopping 150 million followers as of November 2019) to become a fashion icon and sell beauty products.
Little did anyone know at the time, but by utilizing her massive audience and digital footprint, her cosmetic company, Kylie Cosmetics, soon made her the youngest billionaire in the world.
She is a prime example of the overwhelming power of social media to move massive sales at the click of a single post and is indicative of a future where the cult of personalities subsume the influence of global corporations.
Ann Handley (B2B)
Credited as the world’s first “Chief Content Officer,” Ann first drew attention to herself with the lauded works— “Everybody Writes” and “ Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars that engage customers and ignite your business”—which established her as a luminary on the subject of content⁵.
Indeed, in the early 2010’s, the value of content marketing was just being realized and a vacuum existed for experts to develop strategies and guide the practice. Ann arrived just on time to fill this need and was eventually chosen as the new Head of Content for MarketingProfs, a company that teaches marketers at corporations to become the most effective version of themselves.
Additional to its corporate workshops mentoring the next generation of marketers, MarketingProfs also serves as a prime B2B Summit annually where Ann holds court and outlines the future roadmap of content for the following year.
Gary Vaynerchuck (B2B)
Anyone who has kept a pulse on the digital marketing scene will immediately recognize this name as there are few movers and shakers in recent times that have made a more dramatic entrance or impact on the scene than him.
Beginning his career as a teenager in his father’s wine store, Gary’s prodigious entrepreneurial abilities were soon brought to light when he transformed the franchise from doing $3 million in sales a year to $60 million in sales a year³.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Gary left the liquor space to found VaynerMedia, a digital ad agency that has quickly risen to become a top contender in the creative realm. The company has been successful providing strategy services, specifically out-of-the-box social media campaigns, for a plethora of Fortune 500 companies including GE and PepsiCo⁴.
Far beyond the conventional marketing services he offers, however, is the power of the brand he’s assembled in recent years as one of the most sought after B2B motivational speakers in the world. In fact, it’s through his unrelenting drive and passion for communication that his name has become synonymous with “influencer.” As such, companies are purchasing far more than business strategies when they hire him, they’re purchasing the indelible reputation of a tech maven and disruptor.
4. Case Studies — Best and Worst
Kendall Jenner and Pepsi
There have been many influencer marketing fails, but perhaps none quite as public and well known as the doomed partnership between Kendall Jenner and Pepsi.
Following nationwide protests over police shootings, Pepsi’s marketing department decided to air a commercial featuring Kendall delivering their beverages to a fictional standoff between protesters and grim looking police officers. Once the beverage is accepted by a policeman, the crowd of protesters erupts in seeming victory, though over what isn’t entirely clear.
The commercial was widely criticized for attempting to appropriate Black Lives Matter activists’ message to sell more Pepsi, and it was pulled from television after only a single day.
Not only did this strategy fail to improve sales, it seriously handicapped public relations for a considerable period of time (even being parodied by SNL) and is a great example of what not to do.
Benjamin Burnley — Electronic Arts
When Electronic Arts was seeking to promote their new video game, Star Wars: Battlefront, they drafted a list of trending stars in a variety of industries that could potentially promote it.
As fate would have it, one of the musicians they decided to approach was Benjamin Burnley of the band Breaking Benjamin.
This would prove to be a catastrophic mistake. If the marketing team at EA had spent anytime researching the potential influencer, they would have noticed his severely critical opinion of the company before making the overture.
But by the time they realized he despised the company, it was too late, and Benjamin published a scathing post on his instagram slamming Electronic Arts for both its artistic failure as a video game producer and its shady attempts to bribe him for a good review.
It goes without saying that this marketing strategy completely backfired and spurned the very followers they had hoped to acquire. It’s a pivotal lesson, however, on the importance of researching your influencer before approaching them. For, before they are stars, they are humans with opinions…sometimes not favoring you.
Neil Patel — Hubspot
One of the towering titans of the digital marketing community (Forbes’ “Top Ten Online Marketers”, Whitehouse recognized “Top 100 Entreprenuer Under 30,” etc), anyone who’s ever searched for SEO tips or PPC techniques will recognize the name.
He’s the co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar, and KISSmetrics and has been responsible for leading the marketing initiatives for such brands as Amazon, NBC, and GM.
It’s no wonder then why Hubspot, as a fledgling site, sought him out as an influencer to boost their legitimacy in the industry. His expertise, documented through dozens of lengthy and insightful blog posts on Hubspot’s website, has done just that, cementing in the average digital marketer’s mind the belief they are the preeminent source of digital marketing information on the web.
As they say, “birds of a feather flock together.”
Mark Schaefer and Doug Karr — Dell Technologies
When it comes to companies seeking to leverage industry expertise and reputation to bolster their own brand, Hubspot isn’t alone. In this specific case study, Dell Technologies, feeling left behind in the wake of flashier competitors like Apple and Samsung, tried to mitigate their sinking industry relevancy by turning to influencers.
When deciding who to partner with, Dell focused on names they knew were in vogue: Mark Schaefer and Doug Karr.
Mark’s claim to fame was his brilliant track record of seminal marketing texts, including “The Content Code,” “Return On Influence,” and “The Tao of Twitter,” the best-selling book on Twitter in the world.
Anyone with a modest interest in or association with Twitter, one of the largest social media platforms in the world, suddenly had a strong reason to pay attention to Dell.
The other half of the team chosen was Doug Karr, founder of Martech Zone, the leading online publication for everything marketing software related.
Furthermore, Dell didn’t only want their endorsement, they also wanted the duo to work in tandem to create new, original content for their podcast series—Dell Luminaries podcast—that would give fans a reason to continually tune into what was happening at the company.
Together, the men brought a rockstar aura to the decades-old corporation, reinvigorating their consumer base through discussions on current events with other techies, and reminding the world an old dog can learn new tricks.
5. Final Thoughts
In today’s world, claims to fame stem everywhere from beauty experts to fitness models to TikTok comedians.
A decade ago, the term “influencer” didn’t carry much, if any, weight. Now, an entire marketing field has sprung up around it with incredible sums of money being both spent on them and created by their massive followings simultaneously. Most analysts agree this trend will simply accelerate into the future as social media personalities continue gaining ground in marketing channels⁶.
Yet, perhaps more intriguing than the mere commercial aspect of this trend is the social implication — namely, the personalization of content.
A few decades ago, siblings had to fight over the TV controller to determine which of the four available shows they were going to watch.
Now, it’s possible to go online and search down to the very last detail a virtual friend that’s an expert in your field of interest. Never before was there a medium that enables forging such connections in real-time.
Imagine a future where influencers are as close to fans as best, life-long friends. How valuable would such influence over another person be worth?
As noted in the list of trending influencers above, Kylie Jenner was able to become the youngest billionaire in history by leveraging her followers — a stunning accomplishment and an undeniable testament to the growing power of influencers.
How will such power be utilized in the future when influencers oversee not only great numbers, but incredibly potent bonds, as well?