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Five Strategies for Influencer Marketing

By , Vice President of Brand Engagement, Hanson Dodge

November 15, 2016

Move over, puppies and kittens. The internet has adopted a new best friend: influencers.

According to a study by the influencer marketing platform Tomoson, 60 percent of marketers planned to increase their influencer marketing budgets this year, and as shown below, Google search traffic for the term “influencer marketing” has grown exponentially over the past two years. In order to demonstrate this explosion in budgets and search traffic, let’s look at how influencers impact the customer decision journey.

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Imagine your teenage daughter’s birthday is coming up soon. Let’s call her Ellie.

Ellie is regularly on her phone, surfing Instagram and sharing Snapchat selfies. She’s always had a keen sense of fashion and pays close attention to what her friends at school are wearing.

This year, when you ask your daughter what she wants for her birthday, she blurts out, “I want Where The Night Is from ColourPop.”

You, even as the hip parent you are, don’t know ColourPop, but you keep your cool, tell your daughter that you’ll make note of her request and move on with your day.

Let’s rewind this story a few months back and explore the customer journey that Ellie took to discover this brand, ColourPop. As a reference point, we’ll number the marketing touchpoints throughout the journey as Ellie experiences each step.

The story begins with a series of conversations between Ellie and her girlfriends (#1 word of mouth). At this stage in her life, your daughter’s daily beauty routine is a focus and Ellie is constantly experimenting with different looks. Lately, Ellie has been trying to perfect the “winged eyeliner look” and she has relied on Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube (#2 social media) to see how others do it. Ellie subscribes to the YouTube channels of beauty influencers (#3 influencer marketing) like Kathleen Lights and follows makeup artists on Instagram like Nikkie Tutorials. Ellie looks up to these people. She looks forward to seeing what they post because she trusts them to teach her makeup tips.

Kathleen Lights and Nikkie Tutorials are examples of social media influencers that have gained “social celebrity status.” They got their start by sharing advice around a specific topic they love (beauty) and over time have built a social following. Combined, these top tier influencers have nearly 10 million followers — that’s almost as many followers as President Obama with his @POTUS Twitter account. (Note: there are five tiers of influencers: bottom, low, mid, top and elite). The communities of most social media influencers are built largely from organic reach and due to content that focuses on authentic and interesting topics that people like Ellie find valuable. Also note that influencers can reach consumers of all ages.

According to a 2015 study by Pew Internet, even 35 percent of those 65 and older use the internet. Now, they might not be as heavily influenced as the 90 percent of those 18-29 who use social media and follow influencers, but the reach is certainly there across demographics.

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What marketers find so captivating about influencer marketing is that brands are able to pinpoint interests that engage their target audience and do so through the lense of a person their audience already admires and respects.

Influencer marketing can dig deep into one psychographic trait or be used widely to both extend reach and develop trust. The science comes down to picking the right group of influencers and having a unique story to tell. Winning trust in the eyes of a consumer is increasingly hard and approaching an influencer marketing program the wrong way can backfire.

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To show how important each of these strategies are, let’s loop back to Ellie.

We were already at three consumer touchpoints in Ellie’s journey (1: WOM, 2: social media, 3: top tier influencer) before she even came across the brand ColourPop. All of these touchpoints happened during the awareness-driving stage of her journey and the brand ColourPop hadn’t even been mentioned yet. To show how Ellie moved from awareness to brand advocacy, let’s consider the following steps:

Earlier this year, Ellie was searching online (#4 Google search) for “wing eyeliner makeup tutorials.” That’s when she came across this video from Nikki Tutorials. Since Nikki is an influencer that Ellie already respects, she paid attention when Nikki talked about ColourPop eyeliners. The other thing to keep in mind is that influencers often don’t give exclusivity to brands. Depending on the topic, and specifically in this video from Nikki, there are several other brands woven into the conversation. If a brand wants exclusivity, it typically comes with a cost.

Back to Ellie, when she is browsing through Instagram, she notices one of her friends just posted (#5 bottom-tier influencer) about her new ColourPop eyeshadow. Now we really have Ellie’s attention. This brand has made it into her circle of friends and is becoming more and more relevant.

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 Ellie decides to go to the ColourPop website (#6 brand web visit) and looks at their eyeliner. This is the first time she decides to purchase. She just wants to try the eyeliner at this point so she adds it to her cart and checks out (#7 purchase). This is when the control shifts into the arms of the brand and post-purchase loyalty becomes important. ColourPop has this step right. When they ship their product, they include makeup application tips and “thank you” cards that frame up scene for a social media post (#8 social sharing). Some brands even incentivize the purchaser to they post about their experience online. All of these things are exciting to a teenager because this allows her to share her experience online and gain relevance from her friends.

After Ellie has established that she likes the ColourPop product, she is back online looking for the next new thing. At this point, she comes across the videos below and sees that Kathleen Lights and ColourPop have a collaboration line that she likes (#9 top-tier influencer). This online experience happens moments before her parents ask her what she wants for her birthday.

It took Ellie nine marketing touchpoints before she requested a specific brand by name.

As with all initiatives, influencer marketing aims to build an experience and emotional connection between a brand and their target customer. This often takes time. In fact, on average, consumers connect with 11.4 pieces of content before making a purchase. That’s several steps more than Ellie experienced before making her first purchase with ColourPop.

The story of Ellie is a great example of the complexity of influencer marketing. It’s far from perfect. It’s not linear. It doesn’t have a direct path to purchase. But it works.

Consider this example: the boat shoe company Sperry has used influencer marketing to drive product awareness. In 2015, they used lifestyle and beauty influencer Eva Gutowski to showcase a pair of shoes in her content. Sales of those shoes increased by 200 percent.

In recent years, ColourPop was a new cosmetic brand on the market and they were up against behemoths like MAC and Lancôme. ColourPop wasn’t going to outspend these major beauty brands and they had to build awareness from the ground up. Influencer marketing was their awareness channel of choice and they likely started small. But once they began to get their products in the hands of top-tier beauty influencers like Kathleen Lights, one of the early adopters of ColourPop, things started to take off. The word spread online and a wider set of influencers got word of this affordable, highly pigmented cosmetic brand. It’s almost as ColourPop rose out of nowhere — every new brand’s dream.

This same strategy can be used for both new and existing brands alike. Influencer marketing can be utilized across industries without borders. It allows brands to connect with an audience on a topic — with a level of authority — that may not be inherent to the brand. The influential value of this third-party recommendation has strategic use based on the challenge faced by your brand. So whether you’re looking to reach a new consumer segment, make your brand more relevant, or gain trust among an audience, influencer marketing could be the key. Talk to us. We’re here to help.

Check out our case study on “The Board” by K-Swiss for an example of an influencer marketing campaign that leveraged a big idea rooted in consumer insights to engage a new audience.

Sarah Collins, Vice President of Brand Engagement, Hanson Dodge

Turning content into results, Sarah is responsible for leading the company's social media practice and digital activation projects. Her team engages audiences across a variety of communication channels, focusing on digital campaign strategy, content and analytics. Sarah began her career in music marketing and then honed her interests to online PR, SEO and digital marketing. Sarah has been immersed in the digital landscape since social media put its first mark on the map and she is an authority speaker on the topic of content. Through a variety of agency positions, Sarah’s experience encompasses brand activation, content strategy, SEO, online PR, social media strategy and relationship management.

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