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Have brands got influencer marketing all wrong?

By Sanna Ödmark, Head of Marketing at Cure Media

Influencer marketing is certainly nothing new. Virtually every well-known brand in existence has used influencers to bring a human element to their campaigns and engage with audiences beyond the traditional marketing mix. So, if we’ve all been doing this for years, why is there such a big disconnect between audiences’ and brands’ perceptions of the role influencers play? Our recent research took a snapshot of both consumers and marketers to gauge their attitudes to influencer marketing, and the results were striking.

For consumers, first and foremost, the primary function of influencers is sales. Not only do, 26% of us see influencers as out-and-out salespeople, but 75% of people say they have bought something recommended by an influencer. This should hardly come as a shock to marketers. The number of sponsored influencer posts have doubled since 2017, and so it is no wonder that consumers see influencers as an increasing sales tool for brands.

On the other hand, brands believe influencers should occupy a very different function in our marketing mix. Starkly, only 14% think that influencer marketing campaigns are most effective at the purchase stage of the sales funnel. Instead, the overwhelming number of marketers (77%) see influencers as an effective method of achieving brand messaging. Again, it is not hard to see why brands feel this way as only 14% reported a sales uplift when working with influencers.

So, have we been getting our influencer marketing all wrong?

It’s important to clarify at this point, there’s no denying that influencer marketing has always been a very strong branding channel. Influencers typically produce lifestyle led content that is a perfect vehicle for brand messaging and raising awareness. As a result, the channel has always been associated with the ‘softer’ side of marketing, as opposed to the hard-hitting metrics that so many senior marketers have come to value when calculating their ROI and allocating budgets.

Herein lies the problem. The primary reason why brands often only report small sales uplifts from their influencer activity is because only 30% say they can collect accurate ROI data from influencer activity. This is a huge problem. Without the correct ROI data, it is impossible to measure whether the activity has been successful or determine which channels drive the most sales – both direct and indirect.

This is not meant to castigate marketers, measuring the effect of influencers can be extremely tricky. Often a significant part of the result from influencer marketing is generated via other channels, such as organic search, paid search, direct traffic etc. As such, the total sales uplift resulting from influencer marketing is often a lot higher than marketers realise.

However, most brands are unable to see beyond the face value results and ignore the more holistic picture, which is very important. In order to measure the full effect of influencer marketing, you can’t measure the channel in a silo. When marketers understand how to optimise their influencer channels throughout the whole consumer journey, the channel will achieve the best possible outcome.

This is because good branding today means increased sales tomorrow, something all marketers will be familiar with. And, when you do influencer marketing in the right way – with an always-on, long term approach that can optimise results – the channel’s ability to drive sales becomes much clearer. A long term approach also ties into one of the key strengths of influencer marketing, namely trust.

Consumers see influencers as far more trustworthy brands, whether they are promoting products or not. Therefore, using the channel to build trust with our audiences is a sustainable way to keep your brand front-of-mind with audiences and will lead to sales over time.

It’s not a case that brands have been getting their influencer marketing wrong. But, It’s a case that we’ve been looking at it wrong. The impact of our activations goes far beyond the soft, hard-to-measure metrics of brand awareness and messaging. When influencer marketing is done right, and the results are measured accurately, it becomes incredibly clear that it can be both a strong branding channel and a strong sales channel that drives high ROI. Marketers just need to learn how to read it. 


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