We live in times of fierce competition amongst brands, all eyeing for the few seconds of customers’ attention. To add to this, brand loyalty is not of premium importance to the new age customers, who are spoilt for choice and do thorough research before purchasing a product. With customer preferences undergoing an overhaul, brands have been revisiting marketing/ communications and brand strategies to connect better with customers and ensure that there is a brand recall.
Amidst a range of new age brand strategies like integrated marketing communications, digital marketing, omnichannel communications, it is the strategy of working closely with influencers that is the buzzword for brands, across industries and irrespective of size of their business. This has gained more steam with the rise of the social media.
So..who are influencers?
Influencers are individuals who are seen as experts in a specific field and have a good number of followers on their social media handles/pages, who value their views. They are trendsetters and may/may not have been a top executive in a corporate. However, what makes them important is the fact that they have credibility and can influence people to explore/try new brands and/or their products. They can in turn, positively impact brand equity.
In the late 2000s, when social media was just starting out, influencers were mostly individuals who were big achievers in their own space. They were seen as role models in their industries and hence, could spread a positive word about the brand, if they really found value in the brand. These could be big fashion designers, CEOs, innovators, celebrities or senior editors from media houses. The word was spread via conventional channels like word of mouth, industry events, television etc.
This space has evolved today to include a lot of other key stakeholders. Today, influencers include bloggers, celebrities, coders, developers, YouTubers, senior media persons, or only social media personalities. Also, senior journalists and editors in prominent media houses are seen as influencers. Influencers work freely, creating their own content. They partner with brands to communicate with their followers about the brands’ new products and offerings.
For big as well as emerging brands, industry analysts have also emerged as a very important influencer. Analysts publish sector reports which are not only quoted in media but also referred as a benchmark by government & regulators. Hence, it is important to connect with them and communicate the brand’s vision, mission and key milestones.
How do influencers change the dynamics?
Influencers are generally seen to have a neutral view about any brand and enjoy the trust of their followers. People consider and trust an influencer’ assessment as opposed to accept what a brand is stating about itself. An Influencer promoting your product reassures them. This helps in achieving a better reach and builds on brand credibility.
Brands can leverage the reach of an existing influencer who has built a large following and strong brand reputation in a particular niche to support its visibility campaign, endorse a specific product, or co-create content, with the intent to increase brand awareness and drive sales.
Influencers also expose a brand to new audiences and in turn, help to target a new set of customers. They are content creators and create interesting content that is consumable across a range of audiences. Apart from the usual posts, pictures and videos, brands can also run webinars, podcasts and Ask Me Anything sessions with influencers to drive brand awareness.
They also play a role in driving sales for a brand. From the moment, an influencer talks about a brand or its specific product/service, sales generation kicks off. Depending on the influencer’s channel/ handle and the length/time span of the campaign, sales can be triggered instantly or over a period of a few days/ weeks.
How to connect with Influencers..
First and foremost, it is important to draw up a list of influencers who are credible. It is important to understand if these influencers have a certain set of engaged followers, who comment/share/like their posts. It is not the number of followers but the number of engaged followers that can make all the difference. Also, one needs to do a quick check on the background of these influencers to ensure that the brand is associating with the right set of people. The content on the influencer channels needs to be audited to ensure that it is original. Also, it is important to have a view of the brands that the influencer has worked in the past and what are their key focus areas for the next 12 months.
Once the influencers have been shortlisted, the engagement is very important. It is recommended that a senior representative from the brand communications team reaches out to the influencer with an introductory note on the brand and its focus. It is recommended to set up a call/face-to-face meeting with the influencer to communicate the brand’s objectives. A meeting/ call with a senior executive on topics of influencer’s interest is also recommended.
The brand should invest on engagement with the influencers- keep them informed about the latest developments and milestones achieved by the brand. A few non-agenda meetings/calls (maybe once a month) can do the trick.
Over a period of time, brands can begin leveraging the network of the influencers to communicate about their brand. This can help amplify the brand’s voice and in turn multiply the reach of the brand to new customers. Brands should track the influencer engagement so as to be aware of the successes and the misfires.
Brands have done this well..
There are numerous examples of brands, across industries, who have done well in leveraging the influencer network. Brands in the beauty and lifestyle space have been actively using the bloggers and influencers to create pre-launch/ launch buzz. Loreal, for example, has a ‘Beauty Squad’ that writes about its new/upcoming launches. There are a whole range of baby product brands who have been leveraging the network of celebrity mothers to promote their products. Since, in this case, it is about brand credibility more than anything, and hence, influencers work well for this category.
Technology brands were the early adopters of this strategy. Companies like Dell, Bank of America, Microsoft and all key mobile phone brands have successfully used influencers to build brand/product awareness and brand recall, over the past few years.
Nokia had built Nokia eSeries as a credible brand in business mobility space with a focused influencer campaign in 2006-09, when it was early days for digital and social media. They reached out to influencers across industries who were achievers and executed interesting campaigns aimed at high level of engagement, hence, influencing decision making, amongst Millennials and young business executives. They used interesting campaigns like Dilbert series (associated with office gossip) and partnered with online portals to connect with the young executives.
Micro-influencers- The newbie!
Before I conclude, I wanted to touch upon a recent trend in this category- the rise of micro-influencers. These are niche influencers who a few thousand followers. They are seen as a better bet as they are more flexible about associating with brands and are experts in their domains. Also, they are more hands-on. They drive and actively participate in online conversations, directly responding to followers’ comments, queries, and feedback. The engagement levels are much higher in case of micro-influencer platforms and hence, they result in better conversions in terms of purchases. People generally trust the recommendations and endorsements of micro-influencers because they are perceived to be authentic, normal, and relatable human beings. A number of brands are increasingly exploring associating with micro-influencers as they believe it could lead to higher engagement to a select set of audiences.
True to their role, influencers can shape or sway the opinions, and mindset of people who invest and participate in their online communities. As per an online report, around 33% of millennials trust blog reviews for purchases. Also, around 40% of people reported that they purchased a product online after seeing it used by an influencer on YouTube, Instagram, or Twitter. These numbers are expected to go up in the times to come. Hence, influencers will be one of the key players in the brand building exercise. It is imperative for brands to have a robust influencer strategy in place so as to make the most of this powerful channel for building their brand awareness and recall.