As Lithium's CEO, Rob Tarkoff, explained in his LiNC keynote, the consumer purchasing experience is increasingly driven by what he's dubbed "Daniel's Market Theory," in which 80% of conversations are driven by people, and only 20% by brands. But while influencer marketing provides a unique opportunity to reach those 80%, many companies remain hesitant to give it a whirl. "It’s hard for them to get their mind around the social element if they’re an ROI-centric company," influencer Corey Andrew, who boasts 4,000+ Facebook followers and has garnered over a million views for his work on YouTube, told LiNC attendees. "It’s about being in the consciousness, the psyche of society. It’s not always about the number of sales you get at the end of the quarter. I’ve heard brands say ‘Make me a viral video!’ But those are organic. If we could predict them, we’d all be famous right now."
So if no quick fixes exist, how can brands make a dent in the influencer game? For starters, it's about quality, not quantity. As Lithium's Eric Brown (@EricB)explains, "Influence is not enough. You have to know the arenas in which people have expertise.” He recalled one notable example of a misstep: seeing Mario Lopez advertising renter's insurance. "He's very famous, he has a ton of followers, but what does he know about renter's insurance? He probably hasn't been a renter for the past 30 years. Big audiences don't matter if they're not authentic to you and your brand."
For Bennett Wetch, the senior manager for technology innovation at Fair Trade USA, knowing his brand's values helps him find the right influencers. "We're looking for people who have a passion for product transparency," he says of his criteria for influencers. While that initially meant embracing environmental and activist bloggers, he's since expanded Fair Trade's reach to influencers in the food and coffee worlds, with notable results. "Once they taste Fair Trade Certified coffee or chocolate, it's hard to deny the quality. We know we’ve gotten them invested, and then we can talk to them about the issues.”
Even brands that think they have it all in terms of reach can see enormous benefits from targeting the right influencers. Andrew, for instance, was surprised when he was approached by Lumee, a maker of light-up smartphone cases; after all, the product had just appeared on the cover of O Magazine, with Oprah Winfrey using it to take a selfie. But while Oprah may have cemented Lumee's star in one market, Andrew opened doors for Lumee in an entirely different one. "Even with that kind of response from Oprah, they still found it important to reach out to someone with 10,000 or 20,000 followers, because my followers are entirely different from hers,” he says. And not all of Andrew's work is promotional in nature: he's also been asked to give feedback on Klout perks that have yet to hit the market, including the flavor and packaging of new food products.
Wetch says that the results Fair Trade has achieved speak for themselves: in just four years, awareness of Fair Trade has skyrocketed from 38% to 55% of Americans, despite the digital-only strategy necessitated by the nonprofit's tight budget. "We devote most of our resources to influencers, and that's been huge for us," he says. "We’ve empowered people to feel part of the movement, and that they’re having a really tangible effect in these people’s lives. When you introduce authenticity, people feel good about the information they’re sharing.” As for Andrew, being a social influencer has changed his entire life. "It’s gone from me just bopping around on Facebook to the point where I’m a brand.”
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