When social media made its entrance—sashaying around the broad shoulders of bulletin boards and online forums—the world changed. And there’s been no turning back. Call it disruption. Digital disruption. Or, better yet, digital transformation. The world has been grappling with it for almost a decade now. Influencer marketing has definitely a part in the new way of business as it is the only marketing discipline that is on the rise. This has become even more true amidst the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the #BlackLivesMatter movement. As not only people turned top social media to spend time during the lockdown, businesses also pivoted to social and digital to stay afloat. The pandemic fast-forwarded digital evolution leaving those to extinction who have failed to adopt quickly.

The end of business as usual, has become the beginning of business as unusal

Digital is changing business as usual by enabling brands to connect with -and therefore create value for customers. It’s empowered customers with platforms to publicly express opinions about products, companies, and the people who represent the brands. It’s in fact given customers a direct line to reach out to those brands-those brand representatives. To talk back. No more marketing to those customers by telling them what to buy. The customers tell the brands what they want to buy and how. Take March 2020. Clearly consumers had massive needs as their lives changed overnight. What we ended up was a seismic shift toward digital media consumption and well as toward online shopping
With social media, people got a voice, and they’ve been making heavy use of it bringing the #BlackLiveMatter movement to the forefront of public discussions on a global scale. Net-citizens share uninhibited views about brands, services, products, and more in light of these two major events demanding a change in the behavior of brands. They want brands to take a stand, they demand action not aspiration. Lip service has no place in a modern online two-way conversation anymore. If a brand is just talking the talk without walking the walk with their customers, they will lose that very customer. For good. We have all seen that people using social media have made a brand or two. Even broken a few. The power shift into the hands of consumers gave way to another powerful marketing tool: the influencer. These are people who took that social-network-given voice, cut through the cacophony of online chatter, and gained recognition, credibility, and respect. Or, influence. March was a defining moment cementing the influenced marketing discipline into the established marketing mix.
Back then, it was the consumer who gave birth to a new discipline in marketing, brands now needed a new category to address new needs. Brands needed an influencer marketing strategy to be able to make sense of the opportunities arising from this new phenomenon. It was a slow process, still evolving but the lockdown has fast-forwarded the discipline to new heights

Influencer Marketing is growing out of its Niche-shoes

Furthermore, with the proliferation of ever new social channels and networks – the latest edition being TikTok, that collective influence gave rise to a whole new, uniquely 21st-century specialty: influencer marketing as a business strategy. Albeit a still young discipline, influencer marketing has created quite a stir. It’s been branded a fad, chided as not effective, belittled as a niche thing, and a magnet for fraudulent behavior… which is why I want to take a look at where all the criticism comes from. The numbers actually suggest brands find the discipline extremely effective. Budgets are growing. 65% of brands will increase influencer marketing spend this year versus 39% in 2019, according to influencermarketinhub and 35% of brands will devote more than $100K annually to influencer marketing. I predict next year’s budgets will be even much bigger.
I have seen marketing spend shift of over 40%, some go even to 60% and up towards influencer campaigns instead of other digital or traditional advertising methods. But still, the question remains, why do we not see even more significant adoption of the only discipline in marketing that is not in decline?

Influencers divide the marketing world

Ever since the budding influencer marketing discipline entered the scene, brands gravitated to four different teams.
1. The Scared Team — ‘ What? What is this? Influencer Marketing? I have never heard of it before Instagram and Snapchat, etc. This is so much out of my comfort zone; I am not going to get involved. This will blow over and is just stupid. I am sticking with print and all the other performance marketing tactics we’ve employed since launching our business. Anyway, where’s the proof that this works?’
2. The Told You So Team — ‘ Yeah, I have read so many things about this influencer marketing thing and I think, this will blow over. It’s a fad. It must be. There are so many bots, and there is so much fraud going on — influencer marketing can’t be trusted. Besides, influencer marketing can’t be measured. Where is my ROI when I invest my budget in this thing? That bubble will burst, for sure.’

And then there’s…

3. The Shiny Toy Lover Team — ‘Ooh, Ooh, influencers, pretty people with lipsticks in their hands traveling around the world holding champagne glasses and showing me how to apply makeup for the most pronounced cheekbones.’ And of course, with so many new shiny objects in the marketing field, many brands are willing to throw a lot of money at it in the hopes something will stick.
4. The Embrace & Fail Smart Team — ‘I have seen the numbers, influencer marketing has incredible potential with reports stating high retention rates. People trust word-of-mouth, in particular, influencers more than advertising. And even the fact that influencer marketing is still lacking the level of metrics and insights other digital marketing disciplines have, the data shows clearly that with thoughtfully created strategies and smart implementations such initiatives have proven to be hugely successful.’

Brands and retailers need to share the power of creation

So why do we have this divide? Why do some brands embrace, engage, and create smart campaigns, and others still seem to have to grasp the basics of this discipline called influencer marketing strategy?
For once, if a marketer is afraid to give up control, he/she is doomed in this day and age. Influencers are here to stay, and they can’t be controlled like traditional media. It’s not up to you, dear marketer, what an influencer might create. And the emphasis is on “create” here. They have amassed a strong following because of their unique style, their knowledge, their expertise, or the creative vision they display on their social channels. Their audience trusts them. The influencer — at least the one who takes his/her profession seriously — won’t betray that trust.
Of course, like with any marketer who doesn’t get influencer marketing, there are those influencers in the profession who are in it for the money only. Their content is what sets a bad example as it looks inauthentic. Often times, they engage in black hat marketing practices like buying followers, subscribing to bot farms, etc. The list of getting their vanity metrics up to look good for a paid post is long. These influencers should be avoided under all circumstances.
But how? There are tools and services (like 1nfluencersmarekting) available to get more insights in order to nail an influencer marketing strategy. When speaking to social creators about a collaboration, professional influencers know that they should disclose their statistics. Only if both sides put their cards on the table, can there be common ground.

There is no silver bullet to nail influencer marketing

The second step is clear communication to manage expectations: the brand should provide a brief and a framework that still keeps the brand identity intact but allows the influencer the freedom to be creative. The influencer needs to set boundaries in order not to be shackled by the brand’s advertorial lingo.
It is the brand’s responsibility to know what both want out of a collaboration. Marketers need to do their homework and set objectives, KPI’s and a metric that influencer marketing can fulfill. Available tools can measure specific aspects of a campaign like views, engagement, conversions, but the full set of data can draw a great picture when influencer and brand both share and analyze their insights.
In the end, brands like influencers want to work towards a long-lasting relationship. If that works out well, marketing goals like ROI can be tracked and measured. In this new world, the overarching business goals of any enterprise can be reached with the help of influencer marketing.

by Jeanette Okwu, Co-Founder & CMO at 1nfluencersmarketing
MMPWW Exclusive MENA reseller of 1nfluencersmarketing