The Influencer Marketing Gold Rush Is Coming: Are You Prepared?
I write about entrepreneurs, thought leadership and content marketing.
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Marketing always has a trending buzzword. Several years ago, it was content marketing. Before that, it was social marketing. Regardless, as soon as the buzz grows, so does the number of brands investing in it. We’ll call this the Gold Rush.
Now, with topics like ad fraud and ad blocking on the rise, budgets are shifting toward earned media. Companies want distribution options that won’t be blocked and that they know can reach the right audiences.
This leads me to believe that we’re about to see an influx of marketing dollars into influencer marketing programs. Why? Influencer content cannot be blocked, external influencers are being created every day, and the best way to gain customer trust is by aligning with somebody they already trust.
But before we get too carried away, let’s arrive at a definition of influencer marketing:
In·flu·enc·er mar·ket·ing | Noun
A non-promotional approach to marketing in which brands focus their efforts on opinion leaders, as opposed to direct target market touch-points.
Basically, influencer marketing is about providing product context and expertise through an inspirational person.
Digging deeper, I prefer to break influencer marketing companies into two types: earned influencer marketing and paid influencer marketing companies. Earned marketing stems from unpaid or preexisting relationships with influencers — those who are natural brand advocates. For example, Patrón has a ton of influencer advocates for its tequila; these people drink the liquor regularly and endorse the product because they enjoy it. On the other hand, you have the paid arm of influencer marketing, in which brands employ the Kardashians to tweet about their products or services.
Now that we understand these practices, we’ll focus on earned influencer marketing. Here are the fundamental steps to building a campaign that strikes gold:
1. Identify potential earned influencers.
Identification of natural advocates is the foundation. Not all companies produce a cool tequila that Tom Cruise drinks in his movies, yet many brands make the mistake of skipping this step and immediately spending money on paid influencers before considering natural options.
Think about it this way: There’s one thing that influencers like almost as much as money — and that’s more influence. When both members of this influencer partnership have equity to offer, natural brand advocacy occurs (or at least offers your brand greater leverage in negotiations). You should constantly identify influencers to add to a list of targets. From tech influencers to marketing influencers, plenty of existing lists offer prominent prospects.
2. Begin to build your own influence first.
Strategies for building your influence span the spectrum. For example, you can invite influencers to speak at an event you’re hosting with an audience that shares your interest, or you can mention or quote them in content you are already creating and distributing. Any familiarity with your brand you can offer an influencer is valuable. Then when influencers write, tweet, share, or speak, it’s natural for them to mention you as a brand they support and that supports them.
Perhaps the best example of a brand that has successfully done this is HubSpot. By leveraging content relationships with influencers such as author Seth Godin and entrepreneur Jonah Peretti, HubSpot built an event, INBOUND, that provides those influencers with a platform to speak while using their name recognition to get people in the door.
The idea of influencer marketing is simple, and the key is mutual benefit. Advertising budgets are moving toward easily disseminated and un-blockable media. But before you rush to spend time and money on a strategy you’re unfamiliar with, now’s the time to start building your own influence and audience that will offer value to potential influencers. Earn media until you can’t any more, and once you plateau, consider the paid sector. But, as always, scale your efforts: A poorly tended strategy is not a strategy at all.
John Hall is the CEO of Influence & Co., a company that specializes in expertise extraction and knowledge management that is used to fuel marketing efforts.