Entrepreneur Magazine: Using Influencer Marketing, by Jason Stewart

It’s great to see Entrepreneur Magazine in South Africa covering the topic of Influencer Marketing. Here’s a thought-provoking post by Jason Stewart from a sociological point of view:

How to tap into your customers to grow your brand.

New trends, societal changes and major shifts in beliefs are all generated by various stimuli. Yet what remains consistent is that there is always a core group of individuals who drive such change. They are the Influencers of a particular movement. International brands are shifting mindset as they scramble to unravel the complexities and subtitles of influence. I’d like to highlight why this dynamic is so essential for brand custodians to understand.

A good starting point is to look at peer pressure – a major force of influence across any age group. We all have two major psychological needs that lead us to conform to the expectations of others. These are the need to be right (named Informational Social Influence) and the need to be liked (named Normative Social Influence).

The ‘friend’ factor

Our need to be right means that we don’t like to be wrong or be seen as making the wrong decisions. This comes into play when we are uncertain about a brand, for whatever reason, and we generally accept information from others as evidence about so-called “reality”. This is then spread to our friends and family through both Word of Mouth and the sharing of recommendations (whether positive and negative). It explains why consumers rate recommendations from their friends as the best source of information for new product launches and affirms their need to not be wrong!

Thus the need to be right (or not wrong) drives consumer perceptions about a brand. Often, we as an agency deal with brands where the Word of Mouth being spread is negative yet completely untrue. However, consumers still buy into the negative and untrue perception regardless of what the advertising says or how the product performs. This is because the consumer always wants to be seen as right, as set by the general and most popular belief at a particular moment in time.

Understanding peer pressure

A study was conducted in the US to see if it was possible to motivate homeowners to cut down on their power usage. By providing each homeowner in a specific neighbourhood with a snapshot of their power usage and how they stacked up in relation to their neighbours, an immediate change in behaviour was effected. There were notable power reductions within the community. All because we care about how people view us. Peer pressure played the major role.

Research has shown that we shop just like our friends and are in fact five times more likely to respond to marketing messages from a brand that one of our friends uses. This is why Facebook has been promoting the “like” button so much. They know that from a brand’s point of view, it’s possible to influence a broader set of consumers just because our friends have “liked” a brand’s page. It also shows why it’s so important to ensure that your consumers are able to share their love for your brand with their friends. It increases your future communication penetration.

An Influencer is therefore someone who is able to motivate others to change their way of thinking and their consequent behaviour. Influencers might vary in their Influence-ability, but their common denominator is either high moral or formal authority over others. They are difficult to type-cast. They can be influential either off-line, on-line and sometimes both. Importantly, they don’t necessarily look the part or seem “cool” – they need to be able to motivate others through a perceived knowledge of the sector in order to change peer behaviour.

Finding influencers

Influencers are usually gauged as being “connected” and “credible” due to the critical mass of friends and peers who look up to and respect them. They are therefore able to motivate change in others. We all know such individuals. Yet surprisingly, each of them is generally influential in only two or less areas of life. It’s rare to find an individual who is influential across all spheres, since all-rounders are seen as generalists. An Influencer’s core interest drives their passion and is the focus for their influence. So someone who is passionate about technology might be terrible with fashion, or vice versa.

Brands that will perform well in this day and age are those that get to grips with the dynamics of Influence within their target market. Embrace them and they will embrace you.

Originally published 09 November 2011 on entrepreneuermag.co.za