Definitions

influencer

Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is a form of marketing that has emerged from a variety of recent practices and studies, in which focus is placed on specific key individuals (or types of individual) rather than the target market as a whole. It identifies the individuals that have influence over potential buyers, and orients marketing activities around these influencers.

Influencers may be potential buyers themselves, or they may be third parties. These third parties exist either in the supply chain (retailers, manufacturers, etc) or may be so-called value-added influencers (such as journalists, academics, industry analysts, professional advisers, and so on).

What is “Influence”?

Most discussion on the generic topic of social influence centres on compliance and persuasion in a social environment, as exemplified in Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: Science and Practice. In the context of Influencer Marketing, influence is less about argument and coercion to a particular point of view, and more about loose interactions between various parties in a community. Influence is often equated to advocacy, but may also be negative, and is thus related to concepts of promoters and detractors.

Influencer Marketing as a marketing discipline

Influencer Marketing, as increasingly practiced in a commercial context, comprises four main activities:

  • Identifying influencers, and ranking them in order of importance.
  • Marketing to influencers, to increase awareness of the firm within the influencer community
  • Marketing through influencers, using influencers to increase market awareness of the firm amongst target markets
  • Marketing with influencers, turning influencers into advocates of the firm.

Influencer Marketing is enhanced by a continual evaluation activity that sits alongside the four main activities.

Identifying influencers

The first step in Influencer Marketing is to identify influencers. Influencers are specific to discrete market segments, and are used as conduits to the entire target segment. While there are lists of generic influencers (such as the Time 100) they have limited use in marketing programmes targeted at specific segments.

Market research techniques can be used to identify influencers, using pre-defined criteria to determine the extent and type of influence. For example, Keller and Berry propose five attributes of influencers:

  • Activists: influencers get involved, with their communities, political movements, charities and so on.
  • Connected: influencers have large social networks
  • Impact: influencers are looked up to and are trusted by others
  • Active minds: influencers have multiple and diverse interests
  • Trendsetters: influencers tend to be early adopters (or leavers) in markets

Most of the literature on influencers focuses on consumer markets. There is less insight into business-to-business influencers. A key distinction between consumer and business markets is that most of the focus in consumer markets is on consumer influencers themselves. This is because word of mouth communication is prevalent in consumer environments. In business marketing, influencers are people that affect a sale, but are typically removed from the actual purchase decision. Consultants, analysts, journalists, academics, regulators, standards bodies are examples of business influencers.

Not all business influencers are equal. Some have more influence than others, and some mechanism of ranking is required, to distinguish between key influencers and less impactful people. A model for ranking business influencers has been developed by Influencer50, thus:

  • Market Reach – the number of people an individual has the ability to connect with.
  • Quality of Impact – the esteem in which an individual’s view and opinions are held.
  • Frequency of Impact – the number of opportunities an individual has to influence buying decisions.
  • Closeness to Decision – how near an individual is to the decision-maker.

Several other companies including Ammo Marketing and Liquid Intelligence in the US, SCB Partners in Europe and Vocanic in Asia have developed their own proprietary methodologies for identifying and targeting influencers for a brand.

Fred Reichheld, a consultant at Bain & Company, has developed a methodology to determine the extent to which firms’ growth is influenced by customers’ propensity to make referrals to colleagues. Reichheld distills his research down to a single question: how likely is it that you would recommend company X to a friend or colleague? From answers to this question, a Net Promoter Score is determined, which correlates strongly with a firm’s growth rate.

Influencer ecosystems and roles

Sources of influencers can be varied. Marketers traditionally target influencers that are easy to identify, such as press, industry analysts and high profile executives. For most B2C purchases, however, influencers might include people known to the purchaser and the retailer staff. In higher value B2B transactions the community of influencers may be wide and varied, and include consultants, government-backed regulators, financiers and user communities.

Forrester analyst Michael Speyer notes that, for small and medium-size business, "IT sales are influenced by many parties, including peers, consultants, bloggers, and technology resellers. He advises that "Vendors need to identify and characterize the influencers in their market. This requires a comprehensive influencer identification program and the establishment of criteria for ranking influencer impact on the decision process."

An emerging exemplar of this approach is SAP AG, whose Influencer Relations approach is being documented by Don Bulmer in his blog.

As well as a variety of influencer sources, influencers can play a variety of roles at different times in a decision process. This idea has been developed in Influencer Marketing by Brown & Hayes. They map out how and when particular types of influencer affect the decision process. This then enables marketers to selectively target influencers depending on their individual profile of influence.

The influence of bloggers and other social media users is a topic of much discussion. This is covered in depth in Paul Gillin’s The New Influencers. Brown & Hayes also cover the subject but are less convinced of the importance of the impact of social media, particularly in B2B settings.

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