Influencer Marketing: A Megaphone or Sounding Board?

by Nick Stagge, VP Marketing, ExpertVoice

Influencer marketing is the talk of the town. According to Google Trends, influencer marketing didn’t really hit the scene until January 2016, and has since been on a dramatic upward trend. While this emerging discipline has permeated through the marketing landscape, there seems to be more variations than flavors at a Baskin Robbins.

Regardless of the variation, the vast majority of influencer marketing campaigns are all built with the same intent: to use the voice and reach of an influencer to promote the brand.

When done properly, the results behind influencer marketing can be staggering — just ask brands like Lululemon and YETI. Both of these brands leverage authentic and trusted influencers in unique ways to help narrate the brand and product stories. On the heels of influencer marketing, these brands have built a core group of product loyalists and established a level of brand advocacy far beyond the competition.

When done poorly, the results can be horrific — look at brands like Tissot, Oreo, Microsoft, and numerous others. Not only have these influencer marketing campaigns failed to deliver a positive return, they’ve been the cause of overwhelming negative publicity and even, at times, legal consequences. Consumers see through these inauthentic efforts and respond accordingly, which can be devastating for a brand.

In countless examples, marketers are exclusively using influencers as a megaphone rather than a sounding board. It’s a short-sighted approach that misses out on a bigger opportunity influencers present.

Forward-thinking marketers know the power of an influencer is two-sided. Most influencers are asked to serve as a mouthpiece for the brand, and success is measured through top of the funnel metrics — the megaphone approach. This allows marketers to use influencer marketing to generate brand awareness while leveraging other tactics that support the other stages of the buying journey.

There is a growing population of marketers, however who use  influencer marketing tactics to impact bottom of the funnel metrics. One of these emerging tactics involves asking influencers to share their voice and insights back to the brand — the  sounding board approach.

At first glance, using an influencer as a sounding board may feel like a dramatic shift from the current brand-to-influencer dynamic, but in reality it’s a natural progression within the relationship. As marketers and influencers establish a two-way line of communication, the level of advocacy toward the brand increases.

But it’s not just about increasing brand advocacy. Savvy marketers use the voice of an influencer to help shape their brand. While traditional market research is valuable, conducting similar research with a hyper-targeted audience of influencers can multiply the return.

Tapping into the unique point of view of influencers can serve as a source of predictive insights. Brands like The North Face, Reebok, and Reynolds Cycling are blazing this trail.

The North Face
Delivering new and innovative products and product features has been a brand differentiator for The North Face since their inception. With an insatiable commitment to product development, the brand has been a dominating player within the outdoor space for years.

The North Face wanted to understand exactly what features category influencers valued in an existing product line. This was not a marketing campaign. In fact, to some degree, The North Face kept this initiative quiet because they recognize the value is not in increasing brand awareness, but rather, the value is in bringing feature sets that influencers care about to market.

It’s been more than a decade since Reebok has been considered a major player in the running industry. In early 2017, Reebok infiltrated the running category with the release of the Floatride shoe, featuring groundbreaking Float technology.

Prior to launch, Reebok seeded running influencers with the new shoe and probed them to understand how they viewed the new technology, what they thought about materials, and how the shoe performed overall. Reebok used this information to better understand how to position the shoe and technology, while also sharing this feedback with their product development team for future iterations.

Reynolds Cycling
The Reynolds team believed they had a competitive advantage in terms of product features and benefits, but were concerned a misalignment on pricing would hinder the success of the new product line up.

By underpricing the new wheel set, they feared they may degrade their product story. Conversely, if they priced the wheel set too high, they may overextend their consumer and lose market share. Getting this right was mission critical.

Reynolds relied on the people who their target consumers look to for advice on what to buy to understand pricing sensitivity within this new range of products.

These select influencers were identified as being passionate, experienced, and knowledgeable within the cycling category and were considered a trusted source of information.

Bringing It All Together

Influencer marketing has emerged as a meaningful marketing channel and is here to stay. But the days of an influencer exclusively serving as a branding megaphone are quickly closing.

Credible and authentic influencers have a unique perspective that can serve as an indicator of the consumer’s soon-to-be perspective. Brands can use this unique mindshare to uncover opportunities within their product roadmap, pricing sentiment, brand and product sentiment, and so much more.

While brands like Lululemon and YETI are currently driving success through influencer marketing, they have yet to maximize the potential power of a given influencer. Perhaps Lululemon could better understand how to more deeply engage the male fitness audience, or YETI could uncover existing barriers to purchase a premium-priced product in a typically commoditized category.

Marketers bold enough to call upon influencers both as a megaphone and a sounding board will unlock a larger potential of influencer marketing, impacting the entire consumer journey.

About Nick Stagge
Posted: August 2018