Well, it’s upon us. The latest, greatest magical technique to sharpen our marketing efforts and bring customers to our doors in droves.
No more worrying about “the marketplace.” Now we can focus on specific individuals or specific groups of individuals. These people “influence” – i.e., help determine – what and why everyone else buys. So, the theory goes, if we can get them behind our products/services, the road to increased sales, dominating market share, and never-ending profitability will be easy sledding.
Haven’t we heard these promises before? How many times have they come true?
So let’s take a quick look at the reality behind the hype.
The concept behind influencer marketing is not new. Advertising has been using it as long as there has been advertising. This is the underpinning behind celebrity endorsements or behind radio and TV advertising using recognizable actors’ voices and voice-overs. This is the rationale behind doing press releases and trying to get media interviews. It is not simply a matter of greater exposure; it is the implied endorsement a company gets from being written up in an article or interviewed as an expert in a field.
What is new is the attempted granularity of this new “influencer marketing,” the premise that the influencing relationship will be at once more personal and, therefore, more powerful.
And how will we identify these people?
How else? We will start with social media: identifying those people with the largest followings, the most connections and likes, the highest Klout or Kred scores. Indeed, there are dozens of firms offering “online influence measurement” using these criteria.
Unfortunately, there is a problem with these measurements. They are virtually meaningless. You can buy followers; but that doesn’t mean you influence them. There are “like” exchanges for Facebook; but those “likes” have nothing to do with whether anyone cares what you say. The number of people on LinkedIn who assiduously search for new connections in order to reach the magical (and meaningless) 500 are too many to count. How influential do you think they really are? And no one with any social media savvy takes Klout or Kred scores at face value; to put it gently, their algorithms are wonky and seem unrelated to any identifiable rational criteria.
Then, once you’ve got this dicey data, you are supposed to attempt to influence the “influencers.”
Okay, okay, there is a glimmer of sanity peeking through these discussions. Critics of this approach argue against an all on-line emphasis on influencers. They suggest that influencers, particularly for high value B2B purchases, include consultants, regulators, financiers, user communities, etc.
So we are back to square one. What’s new here?
For all the talk about influencers, “influencer ecosystems,” which type of influencers influence at which stage of the buying process, the new language does not change the old reality. Buying decisions are based on a complex series of values and tangible and intangible perceptions of good: the economy, the industry, the company or individual need, etc. – and the reputation of the product and company in the marketplace.
We need to remember – sexy jargon to the side – the more time and resources we spend tracking down and “selectively targeting” influencers, based on their individual “profiles of influence,” the less time and resources we have to spend on the actual customers and prospects.
Where do you think your time would be better spent?