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Influencer Marketing: Considerations & Insights for Success

Is influencer marketing right for my brand?

Influencer marketing seeks to leverage a relationship with an online influencer in order to advance a marketing objective. While similar to working with celebrities, influencers can be anyone, in any industry, as long as they have the power to affect the decisions of their engaged audience. They are more accessible than the average celebrity and typically exert their influence within a specific niche or among a targeted interest group. Influencer marketing campaigns are collaborations between a brand and an influencer; the content created utilizes both parties’ expertise.

Influencers can be powerful partners in marketing. To get more insight into the conditions for efficacy of an influencer marketing effort, we tapped into the expertise of Kristen Matthews, a marketer who has spent the last decade helping over 100 brands with their influencer marketing campaigns. This means that Matthews has been doing influencer marketing since well before it even had a proper name in marketing circles.

We spoke with Matthews to hear her take on how to assess whether influencer marketing is right for your brand. It comes down to four key factors: your customers, your product, your goals, and your budget.

Are my customers engaging with influencers?

A 2019 report found that the influencer community is 77% women, a statistic that Matthews has found affected how well campaigns perform. Because women influencers tend to have engaged followings that are also majority women, “products for females definitely do the best.” This isn’t to say that you can’t target men through influencer marketing, but expect to have a more limited (and more expensive) pool of influencers to pick from if you do.

Another important aspect to consider is how tech-savvy your customer is. To be engaging meaningfully with influencers, they must first be comfortable with online spaces. According to Matthews, millennials, followed by some of the younger Gen Xers, have been the target for most of her successful influencer marketing campaigns. “They are usually on all or most social channels and they follow blogs,” explains Matthews, “so I would say anybody 50 or younger is the best demographic for influencer marketing.” The success of campaigns tends to fade with older generations since they aren’t as engaged with online social platforms.

The influencer community is 77% women so products marketed to women tend do best.

Younger generations, such as Gen Z, who grew up in the digital age are also extremely receptive to influencer marketing. A Morning Consult report found that 78% of those aged 17 to 26 followed influencers, the largest percentage of any age group 38 years old and under. Despite the popularity of influencers, though, the age of this younger demographic affects their buying habits and purchasing power. “At that age, normally they’re in college and not making a bunch of money, so if you’re to go after that demographic, I wouldn’t pitch an expensive product,” says Matthews, bringing us to the next factor to consider: your product.

Is my product compatible with influencer marketing?

Firstly, trackability is essential, especially if the campaign goal is to boost sales. Marketers must be able to establish a system or process for tracking the campaign’s effect on leads and/or sales. If the nature of the product or service makes this impossible, then influencer marketing will likely not be a good fit.

Because influencers are creatures of the internet, campaigns pushing e-commerce products perform best. This is due to the seamless connection between the influencer’s platform and the online checkout page. It’s much easier for a customer to click on a link than it is for them to remember to stop by a physical location. Additionally, e-commerce equips brands with the ability to distribute affiliate or discount codes. These codes play into a stronger attribution strategy, allowing marketers to better quantify the results of a campaign by providing prospective customers with a purchase incentive.

Marketers must be able to establish a system or process for tracking the influencer marketing’s effect on sales leads.

Matthews also notes that the price of the product has an impact on a campaign’s effectiveness. “Anything $70 or under performs the best because those are more impulse buys.” When a product is more expensive, audiences tend to contemplate the purchase longer and the opportunity to make an immediate sale decreases. If they do end up buying it later, there is then a higher chance they’ll forget the affiliate or discount code, thus making it difficult to attribute that sale to the influencer marketing campaign.

Note, though, that products outside of the above scopes can still benefit from working with influencers. For example, Matthews has managed many successful campaigns with higher-priced software and B2B brands, focusing less on driving sales and more on building brand awareness. The key, she says, is to have realistic expectations and appropriate goals.

Considering my product, are my goals appropriate?

As mentioned above, influencer marketing can be a very effective way to improve sales. Keep in mind, though, that e-commerce and lower-priced products get the best results in that area.

More expensive products or products and services outside of the e-commerce category are better suited for top-of-the-funnel goals like brand awareness. In that scenario, there would be a shift from tracking codes to focusing on metrics like engagement, social shares, and website traffic.

Do I have the budget to pay influencers?

When deliberating on the budget, never assume that influencers will be satisfied with just getting a free product. “I get approached by a lot of brands who think that they can get away with sending products for a post … They don’t realize they need to pay influencers for posts on top of sending them the product and … it turns out a lot of times that they don’t have the budget,” Matthews shares.

Those who are willing to spend on influencer marketing see a positive return. A 2020 survey found that “42% of marketers think influencer marketing provides the best return on investment compared to paid media ads, SEO and email marketing” and “89.2% … find that influencer marketing is highly effective.” Additionally, on average, Matthews’ influencer marketing campaigns earn $6 for every dollar spent, a ratio on par with the industry average.

What makes an influencer marketing campaign successful?

While it is always important to be able to track and quantify campaign results, building an influencer marketing campaign is not a numbers game. At the core of a successful campaign is a consistent focus on quality over quantity, which should inform decisions regarding budget, influencers, and content.

A budget based on quality

Building a successful campaign is not about working with as many influencers as possible. Working with influencers is a collaboration, involving maintaining a relationship and monitoring results. Having too many influencers will affect how effectively you can handle the campaign. Matthews most often recommends a campaign of 20 influencers. It’s “a large enough number to move the needle, but not too large that you can’t keep a pulse on the relationship.”

Rather than thinking you need a huge campaign with dozens of influencers, assess your capacity to handle the campaign and then, from there, see what kind of influencers you can afford.

Mid-level influencers (10-50K followers) often have better engagement rates, which drive sales.

The cost to work with influencers is typically related to how large an audience they have. However, to reiterate, quantity should not take precedence over quality. It’s not always about collaborating with the biggest (i.e., most expensive) influencers you can find. Matthews herself prefers working with mid-level influencers who have about 10-50K followers and charge $150 to $200 a post. With a smaller following, these influencers often keep a better “grasp on their followers” and have better engagement rates, which drive sales.

As an example, Matthews’ recommended campaign of 20 mid-level influencers will likely cost around $4,000, plus any product costs and fees to run the campaign.

The best influencers for my brand

While typical influencer stats like the number of followers or engagement rates are important to keep an eye on, the primary decision-making factor is content fit. Ask yourself, “Is this influencer’s content aligned with my brand?” and make sure the answer is yes before you start scrutinizing follower counts and engagement.

Ask yourself: Is this influencer’s content aligned with my brand?

“I see a lot of marketers pick an influencer because they have a lot of followers, but they’re not necessarily relevant to the brand. I’ve also seen marketers pick smaller influencers who are a niche fit with the brand … Even with less followers, they produce better results than an influencer who isn’t focused on the specific vertical that the brand falls under,” Matthews advises.

A final tip on working with influencers is to observe how they manage their responsibilities and work relationships. An influencer who is unresponsive or uncooperative will ultimately cause more headaches and cost you more in the long run.

Creating high-quality influencer content

The key characteristic of effective influencer marketing content is authenticity. Remember that working with influencers is a collaboration. Rather than imposing their ideas or standards onto the influencer, brands must be receptive to the influencer’s particular style and input. As Matthews notes, “giving the influencer creative freedom is important because they know their audience really well and are able to create content that resonates with them.”

This content, whether it’s a blog post or social media video, should incorporate the brand in a genuine way. Providing key talking points is a good place to start, but the emphasis should be on providing the influencer with an authentic experience of the product/service and allowing them to weave it naturally into their content.

Remember that working with influencers is a collaboration.

Why this emphasis on authenticity? “Consumers are savvy,” emphasizes Matthews. “They read between the lines, so if an influencer blog post sounds more like a sales pitch, they’ll get really turned off. They want to see a genuine experience and review of the product.”

Matthews gave us a look into a recent campaign where she partnered with 25 influencers for a brand called Doorstep Meals that delivers pre-made meals to your door, ready to be reheated. She sent influencers meals to sample, then had them post about their authentic experiences on their blog and social media. The influencers they collaborated with were busy parents and foodies to make sure the content resonated with the target audience. You can see examples of the earned media here and here.

Influencer marketing in 2021

Influencer marketing has been steadily increasing for years, but the onset of the pandemic and its effect on consumer habits has ramped up the growth of the industry. With many stuck at home, consumers are spending more and more time engaging with online content, including that of influencers. Insider Intelligence estimates that $15 billion will be spent on influencer marketing by 2022, as more and more industries start leaning into the space. This validates influencer marketing’s potential; however, remember to be diligent in assessing whether influencer marketing is right for your brand. In order for an influencer campaign to be successful, focus on the quality of the opportunity and don’t get caught up in the number of brands rushing toward a trending marketing tactic.

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About Kristen Matthews

Kristen Matthews has been doing influencer marketing for ten years and has consulted with over 100 brands on their influencer strategy. She also specializes in content creation, lead gen, email marketing, and social media marketing. When she’s not immersed in the digital marketing world, Kristen can be found hiking in beautiful Colorado, enjoying Denver’s craft beer scene, or backpacking the world. If you want to work with her or ask her questions about marketing, you can reach out to her at kmatthewswords at gmail.com or follow her on Twitter at @KristenWords.

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Photo by Mesut Kaya

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