High-profile brands learned valuable lessons about the ROI of Influencer Marketing the hard way this year, as evidenced by the more attention-grabbing headlines in the industry. 2018 was the year that Unilever denounced “fake followers.” Snap’s PR firm sued a celebrity for failure to influence. Instagram pulled a spate of “bot” accounts to better reflect genuine Influencer Engagement. It’s no wonder that brand marketers looking to advance their influencer marketing programs are stuck in a “tactical trap.”
If brand marketers observe these examples closely, they will see a common thread throughout — the importance of due diligence before collaborating with an influencer. This “influencer waste” — where brands pour budgets into one-off sponsorships with big name influencers without prior brand affinity — has resulted in low ROI. Next year, marketers will approach Influencer Marketing with a new lens that favors strategic programs that truly deliver.
Read More: Influencer Marketing… But Not as You Know It
Brand Marketers Will Focus on Alignment and Brand Fit over Followers
One of the biggest concerns brand marketers had in 2018 was inflated follower metrics reported by influencers. Brands historically have paid influencers based on their reach, rather than the quality and relevance of their engagement, alignment and brand fit. So, it should be no surprise that brand influencers purchase fake followers to help boost their numbers. It became clear to brand marketers that the traditional reach metric no longer translated to how successful an influencer partnership would be.
In 2019, brand marketers will reassess the traditional strategy of working with influencers based off the follower metric. Rather than placing their focus on numbers, brand marketers will consider alternative metrics such as the quality of engagement, identity and voice of the influencer, audience relevance and how the audience is interacting with the content. To understand if the influencer’s audience aligns with the brand’s target audience, brand marketers will also consider factors beyond engagement like whether they’re looking for new customers or to drive loyalty.
Brand Marketers Will Move Away from Transactional to Authentic Relationships
Influencer Marketing initially started as transactional relationships. Many brands saw Influencer Marketing as a straight ad buy. However, collaborating with an influencer without first cultivating a relationship can appear inauthentic to their audience and won’t deliver ROI to the brand.
Building an organic relationship from scratch has many benefits for brands, namely building a strong brand affinity to deliver a content more impactful to their consumers. Take London-based artisanal gin distillery Sipsmith, for example. Sipsmith initially identified and worked with bartenders as their key influencers, which at the time weighed heavily on word-of-mouth marketing. When Sipsmith decided to scale their brand globally, the metrics they used to identify and work with influencers were based on the relevance of their content, ambiance, themes, and type of audience who were already passionate and talking about gin.
Brand marketers have already started to see the value of cultivating relationships in-house versus through an agency or marketplace. Even if an agency is helping with the execution, it’s important to have a direct connection to the influencer to allow for better communication and collaboration between parties. Investing in relationships is a long-term play and goes beyond the investments needed to execute campaigns. Take the trend of working with micro and nano influencers, for example, who have fewer followers, but a higher rate of engagement with their audience.
Brand Marketers Will Focus on Creating an Advanced Approach to Measure Success
To better understand how influencers fit into the consumer journey, brand marketers will need an advanced approach when measuring success and allow for adaptations along the way. There is no single solution that all brands can use to map influencer activity to ROI. In fact, it’s short-sighted to think that the only value of an influencer is an immediate conversion. For example, Traackr’s Global Marketing Insights from Beauty found that influencers understand the value of long-term relationships and that influence is hard to earn with less than 30 percent of beauty influencers will grow their audience by more than 50 percent in a year.
Influencer Marketing should not be siloed; it’s a key piece of an intricate marketing mix that needs to analyzed as part of the larger ecosystem. In 2019, brand marketers will see the value in creating a custom measurement framework to align with their business goals and the way their brand operates. This approach should leave room to test-and-learn new strategies and have a process for capitalizing on the activities that work best.
As 2018 wraps up, brand marketers will take the mistakes they’ve made from failed Influencer Marketing experiments into more successful ones for the New Year.