IMR Response: Mark Healy: What is going to replace social influencers?

We’re posting this article to highlight the kind of superficial mass-media story that purports to discuss Influencer Marketing. And just gets it all wrong. We don’t mean to single out Mr. Healy, but we saw this article earlier today and felt compelled to respond.

Using stats which indicate people are trusting their friends more than strangers (surely not), Mr. Healy deduces that “influencer marketing is fading.” Are we the only ones to miss the link here?

His next point is that better technology will mean that “brands will skip the influencers and come right to the customers.” But brands aren’t going to influencers because they don’t know who the customers are. They’re going to them because those influencers are more persuasive than if the brands went direct. It’s a fundamental misunderstanding.

Yet within the article there are actually some reasonable thoughts.

What is going to replace social influencers?

In a previous column I referred to research published by emarketer.com in 2011, which shows consumers trust their friends and families 73-per-cent more than they trust strangers, and that includes delivery mechanisms such as word-of-mouth, blogs, tweets and other social media posts.

In 2010, Edelman published its “trust barometer,” which showed faith in “average Joes” dropped by about 5 per cent, and trust in experts increased by about the same amount.

Paul Rand, president and CEO of Omnicom Group’s Zocalo Group, and president of the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association, has been quoted as saying: “…the game has changed. The mind-set is no longer ‘I can just trust it because it’s somebody’s opinion. It’s ‘I can trust that specific opinion because it’s someone I know.’”

So if influencer marketing is fading, what will take its place?

It is easy to say that marketing is coming full circle. Two colleagues of mine who run a new digital agency think this is the case, noting that they advise their clients against targeting social influencers, and encourage them to take on an early 1900s mentality instead.

Maybe.

I think it is a continued evolution – a continued sharpening – of targeted marketing. Of reach.

  • In the 1950s, the model was one-to-many – mainly TV and print advertising – with a hope that customers reached would then buy and spread the word.
  • In the early 2000s, a new model emerged: one-to-few – targeting social influencers, hoping those folks would buy and blog.
  • What we will see going forward, because it is now genuinely possible, is a near one-to-one model, where brands will reach customers on an individual basis, using smartphones and tablets as the distribution channels.

With trust in social influencers falling, and because technology is making marketing utopia a reality, brands will skip the influencers and come right to real customers. What is different now versus, say, 2005, when most customers had cellphones – and how will that impact marketing strategies and tactics?

Beyond the obvious increase in smartphone and tablet penetration, three factors that are quite different, but when combined will be very powerful, will change how marketing is carried out:

  1. SOCIAL MEDIA.

    Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites are a treasure trove of marketing data on individuals. They know our birthdays, and our style preferences, the books and movies we enjoy, and the parties we attend. We know this, and so this on its own is not a revelation.

  2. MOBILE PAYMENT PLATFORMS.

    Again, these may be emerging but are not new, and on their own they will not change the world. QR code readers and near-field communications (NFC) chips are standard on new smartphones in North America, and they have been in use in Europe and Asia for years. They make commerce-on-the-go not only possible, but easy.

  3. LOCATION-BASED SERVICES.

    A smartphone contains an embedded GPS device, so a phone knows where a customer is. Third-party sites such as Foursquare and others allow customers to “check in” to a location. So others also know where the customer is. In the past, location-based services have seemed gimmicky. Starting right now, the implications will be far more practical.

It will be very possible for a brand, such as a retailer, to know that a customer likes contemporary sweaters, that the customer is near a store, and that same customer has a big party coming up on Saturday night – so why not pop an ad or coupon onto his phone screen that says: “Hey, want to look great for your party? We have a sweater that looks like this on sale at our store one block west of here.”

That is what’s different. Of course it will again be up to the customer to spread the word. But the weapons available to do so are bigger and faster and more efficient than in the 1950s.

Originally published 15 November 2011 on theglobeandmail.com

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