Brandon Evans: Why Influencer Marketing Isn’t About the ‘Influencers’

It may seem strange for us to share this post here given its title. But it raises some great points and questions about influencing consumer purchasing decisions in B2C (and only B2C) markets. And while we’ve always thought it highly misleading to deem or call people “influencers” based merely on their Klout scores, Brandon appears to be of a similar mind.

Why Influencer Marketing Isn’t About the ‘Influencers’

Forget About Klout Scores; True Influence Depends on Who You’re Speaking to

Brandon Evans

Marketing to so-called “influencers” is one of the hottest topics among CMOs today, with discussions around Klout and their proprietary algorithm for measuring “influence” leading the way. There is of course value to understanding the top-down influencers with huge followings or high Klout scores but to date discussion is missing the big picture.

Most of those we recognize with high Klout scores, particularly those scoring above 70, are people with a large following on Twitter, often either a celebrity, reporter, or tech industry pundit like Robert Scoble (Klout score of 85). While “Scoblelizer” might post useful articles or industry related thoughts that get retweeted hundreds or thousands of times, he is certainly not someone I or most people would trust for recommendations for purchases related to fashion, household products, restaurants, entertainment or most commonly made purchases.

Most consumers’ purchases are not influenced by someone who tweets frequently or scores high on Klout, but rather by a person’s tight-knit group of family, friends and peers who share common interests and have earned trust regarding purchasing decisions. Just think back to your recent purchases. Everyone has a friend with great taste in music or movies, or a knack for finding deals on a great meal or the latest fashion. Understanding these connections will help unlock the real value of influencer marketing, allowing brands to identify their loyal advocates and engage with them in a scalable way to drive conversations online and off.

Of course, the definition of an influencer is something that has been the subject of heated debate. Malcolm Gladwell’s widely acclaimed book The Tipping Point first drew attention to a set of uber-influencers who set major trends (like the resurgence of Hush Puppies) in motion. More recent findings however, from Columbia researcher Duncan Watts refute the claim that a small subset of people drive larger purchasing patterns but rather it is the “pass-around power of everyday people” that really drives viral sharing. It is this latter definition that seems to be getting ignored more and more lately as companies strive to create scores to identify the uber influencers.

Another critical aspect of influencer marketing that is also being largely ignored is the development of an ongoing relationship between a brand and their influential consumers. This relationship is one that must be earned and developed over time. Consumers must prove willing and successful in helping drive value for a brand whether that value comes from providing insight and ideas, or successfully spreading the word about their products. In return, the brand must have a way of identifying those who create value for the brand and have ways to retarget and communicate with them on an ongoing basis, building a deeper relationship.

Regardless of where you stand on the argument, it is clear that individuals’ social networks are growing and they are becoming more eager to share than ever. This rise means that connecting with key consumers who influence their friends’ social networks becomes more and more critical and feasible at scale. Marketers should all take a step back and ask themselves some critical questions to determine what strategy will work best for them:

  • Who or what is most likely to influence people to purchase my product or service? Is it a close friend, family member, product reviews, a niche blog, or someone with a huge online following?
  • Are you looking to drive mass impressions or is it a vehicle for building ongoing relationships with a core set of consumers and driving deep engagements through them?
  • Is the product you are selling likely to be one that will spread quickly and become a fad or is it one that has lasting power and will stand the test of time as new people try and use it?
  • Do you want people to simply share the messaging and products you develop through a status update, or help to determine the future direction of your brand?

Once you have a good idea of what type of influencers you are looking for, mapping out a strategy becomes a lot clearer. Sure, there are situations that dictate short-term solutions and mass outreach but in most cases that just replicates existing marketing activities. Creating true influence as a brand means investing time in building deep relationships with consumers, creating an extension of your brand across the country or globe. New technology is allowing brands to build these networks of consumers more possible every day, and a marketers’ success in the coming years will largely rely on better understanding how to cultivate true influence into advocacy.

Brandon Evans is the CEO and Founder of Crowdtap, the influencer marketing platform. Prior to that he served as Managing Partner and Chief Strategy Officer at Mr. Youth which was acquired by LBi in 2011.

Originally published 6 March 2012 on AdAge