The pros, cons and biggest pitfall of ‘borrowed’ influence

Adam-VincenziniNov2016Influence. Influence. Influence. The use of that word in marketing circles continues to increase exponentially even though it has been at the heart of the practice since the very beginning.

The same goes for “influencer”. These individuals have always existed, but thanks to the avalanche that has been social media, we have more of them doing more visible things, in more visible places.

The modern day influencer is especially visible in four areas – fashion, food, fitness and family – making them unavoidable for most retailers.

But, that’s a good thing, isn’t it? More people with a stated and public interest in your brand and products has to create more opportunity, surely?

The answer is yes and no, and a few spots in between. And, it is more often than not dictated by the specific way brands engage with influential individuals.

There are two primary engagement routes:

  1. Influencer marketing, which involves an arrangement where an influential individual creates and publishes content in exchange for a financial reward.
  2. Influencer advocacy, which is more organic and comes from a deep love of a brand and occurs minus a financial arrangement.

While the second one sounds (a lot) better, these connections can’t be manufactured by marketers, which is why the paid route is often taken.

So, let’s look at the paid route (influencer marketing) and the reasons why it must be pursued with caution by retailers looking to get maximum value.

The pros of ‘borrowed’ influence

The most obvious one is reach, the traditional holy grail of marketing.

Search engine optimisation is high on the list of pros as Google rewards the publishing of links by popular people and sites.

Influencer marketing can also be very efficient, providing a quick and direct way to put your message or retail brand in front of people.

It has also been argued that brands have more control when a paid arrangement is in place, especially in relation to content, frequency and timing.

It sounds too good to be true doesn’t it? Time for the other side of the coin.

The cons of ‘borrowed’ influence

Let’s start with measurement.

In a recent report from eMarkerter, a group of US marketers were asked to rank the aspects of influencer marketing that they’d like to see improved.

The key stat was that four out of five wanted measurement of influencer marketing ROI to improve.

This is not a simple challenge to address primarily due to the channels being used by influencers.

For example, Instagram has become the influencer channel of choice, but obtaining accurate and meaningful reporting isn’t easy. Outbound links to e-commerce sites are the ultimate action retailers want people to take, but it is a lot harder for that to happen compared to platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Unsurprisingly, cost can be a con and this element is only getting harder to navigate.

According to influencer marketplace influence.co, the average cost of an Instagram post related to food is $400 AUD. Fitness and fashion are not far behind at $375 and $350 respectively.

It’s not simply the cost of the influencer that adds up, identifying and managing the talent can be costly too.

There’s a third con, which is probably the scariest one for retail brands, and that is in relation to vetting and potential future misconduct. Influencers aren’t bound by an ethics code that is comparable with the original mass influencers, journalists.

Finally, credibility can go both ways. You can borrow it, which may buy you some favour, but people are savvier now than they’ve ever been and seeing an out-of-context product pop up from their favourite mummy blogger can erode trust and do more harm than good.

The biggest pitfall of ‘borrowed’ influence

In my opinion, the biggest pitfall of influencer marketing isn’t linked to effectiveness. It is the reliance on someone else to tell your retail stories when, with the right strategy, you can do it yourself.

You will often hear brands refer to themselves as publishers and the very best retailers have embraced this philosophy.

They’ve invested in content. They’ve invested in social. They’ve invested in their own channels.

I like to use the following analogy whenever this subject comes up.

Brands and businesses who invest in their own content channels are the equivalent to savvy property investors. They know it will take time for the investment to pay off, but once it does, the profit is theirs.

Conversely, paying for ‘rented’ space via an influencer is an investment without a long term pay off. Yes, you’ll live in the nice apartment by the beach for a week, but you’re setting yourself further back from being your own landlord.

Is it possible to have the best of both worlds?

In my opinion the answer is yes, but as a retailer, a commitment to a robust owned strategy must set the foundations. This needs to be the heartbeat. Eventually all roads lead back to your digital channels no matter where the conversation starts.

Adam Vincenzini is the managing director of Ogilvy Public Relations Melbourne

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