That got me thinking about influencer marketing and what it really is. Because done properly, it isn't just word of mouth - it's strategic, it's a step up from relying on word of mouth, which we have little control over. It's taking traditional word of mouth to the next level. It's smart.
The practice of influencer marketing as a strategic tool began to emerge in 2012, when brands started to realise that the power shift between them and their customers caused by the explosion of social media could be leveraged to their advantage. A Forbes article from September 2014 quotes Scott Cook, the founder and CEO of Intuit: "A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is." It goes on to recommend that the best way to begin leveraging the power of your influencers is to build relationships with your customers, and "show some love" on social media. For marketers nowadays, that's old news. Everyone knows that social media is a place to interact, have a conversation, and get to know your customers. Brands are having fun - they're less scared of what they say coming back to bite them (most have strategies to manage and respond to negative comments) and the social space is becoming a more informal, friendly place to be. And consumers expect more from brands - they expect to be talked to, not talked at.
So how has that shaped influencer marketing? Today, influencer marketing is about carefully considering who your brand ambassadors are - usually focused on the social media space - based not only on the number of followers they have but also their level of knowledge and expertise on a topic, the demographics of their own audience and how effectively they can reach your target market. Yes, it's about building relationships with them, but it's more than just hoping they'll say good things about your product. It's about carefully crafting branded content and disseminating it through your network of influencers to spark action. It's powerful. So powerful that in 2014 the Advertising Standards Authority brought in new regulations to make the practice of influencer marketing and paid endorsement more transparent, after banning a vlog - regulations which, according to PR Week, are not widely understood. They quoted a survey that found one in eight marketers did not know "at all" what the regulations are. So if you want to get influencer marketing right, you'd better brush up on the law!
There are some excellent examples of clever influencer marketing campaigns that really worked - and there are people making a living from the practice. Last year I saw Colin Furze speak at a conference, and he explained how he'd started making YouTube videos of crazy stunts and unbelievable inventions just for fun, but is now such a YouTube sensation that he's been commissioned by the likes of Taylors of Harrogate to promote their High Voltage coffee (the high voltage ejector bed), Ubisoft to promote the Assassin's Creed video games (real Assassin's Creed hidden blade and rope launcher), and many more.
Another campaign that made headlines was US department store Lord & Taylor's effort on Instagram. When 50 fashion bloggers posted photos of themselves wearing the same dress, the brand not only made a huge social media impact, reaching 11.4 million users over four days, but the dress also sold out. The flipside of the story is that Lord & Taylor didn't follow the US regulations about disclosure until after the fact - but they don't seem to have suffered for that. Recent coverage suggests that the brand has settled charges with the FTC and agreed to disclose paid content and advertising in future. A small price to pay for such a huge success