Along with staples such as content, social media and email marketing, influencers became an integral part of the marketing mix for brands.
Recent research revealed that 71% of companies currently use influencer marketing or used it in the past. In addition, 42% of companies cite influencer marketing as one of their primary channels. This shows that influencer marketing has become a mainstay in the vast majority of companies in virtually every industry.
However, despite being an established part of a marketing mix, the opinion of senior marketers is that influencers remain an activation, rather than an overall strategy. Only 32% of companies feel that influencers should be considered in the strategic marketing phase. In contrast, 48% think influencer marketing should come into the picture much later in the content creation stage.
The exclusion of influencer marketing at the strategic level seems even more puzzling when the vast majority of specialists see huge growth potential in the channel. More than three-quarters (76%) of marketers agree that the channel will become more important in the next three years. In addition, the channel is looking to set record levels of investment, with 76% planning to increase their influencer marketing budgets during that time.
The growing investment in influencer marketing is due in part to the channel’s ability to help address some of the big questions facing businesses in a post-COVID world. The pandemic greatly accelerated brands’ shift to digital. But while taking a digital-first approach offers huge potential rewards, it also presents immediate challenges. For example, how to stand out from the increasingly competitive crowd. Questions of how to win the trust and love of your target audience, and how to make sure the competition can’t overtake you, are a story as old as time. But the rapidly evolving digital space gives these questions a completely different paradigm.
To compound this, new data privacy regulations are implemented along with the demise of third-party cookies and the release of iOS 14.5, traditional marketing tactics will become more costly, where they are even still possible. While this move toward a privacy-first mentality is largely a win for consumers, it will leave many digital marketers scrambling to find substitutes for strategies that historically relied on user behavioral data.
And this is where influencer marketing comes in. With audiences naturally segmented by the merit of the influencers they choose to follow, brands with an in-depth strategy can circumvent the limitations in behavioral tracking. In addition to this, influencer content is seen as more authentic, creating trusted relationships between consumers and influencers who share their interest. Brands can benefit from these relationships, as a successful partnership can have a big impact on consumers’ opinions of companies: 44% of people feel more positive about a brand that uses influencers. As such, influencers offer brands a whole new way to build bridges with their own and those who can have a much easier time breaking through in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
So, if marketers agree that the importance of influencer will only increase, why does it still not influence the way we strategically plan our marketing activity?
What often keeps influencer marketing out of the boardroom seems to be the tricky question of ROI. First, it’s worth noting that accurate ROI data is critical for high-level decision-makers: if we can’t measure our results accurately, we’ll never understand what success looks like.
Influencer marketing can be a particularly difficult channel to read. This is because more than 70% of the effect is generated through other channels, such as organic search, direct traffic and paid search; understanding these synergies is the key to correctly measuring influencer ROI. Like content marketing, influencers play an important role in passively creating traction further up the funnel by initiating a thought process that can eventually lead to a purchase. However, from an ROI perspective, the end result often registers as a win for other channels (SEO, SEM, etc.) that will pull the customer through the inevitable Google search immediately before a purchase is made.
While influencer marketing is a staple of our marketing mix that is here to stay, it is clear that much work remains to be done to refine how we implement and measure the channel. The most efficient way to accomplish this is by taking a more holistic approach to our marketing mix and never measuring success on a channel-by-channel basis. There are many things to consider when measuring ROI in marketing and this is the same in influencer marketing as in any other channel. But, once we solve this missing piece, the influencer has the ability to be even more impactful not only on our marketing mix, but also on business objectives.