// 24 June 2019

Uncovering The Theories Behind Successful Influencer Marketing

How To Identify A ‘True’ Influencer, Why The Chinese Do It So Well, And What Are The Six Main Types?


In this day in age, it is becoming more and more rare to see successful advertising campaigns out there that do not incorporate influencer marketing to drive awareness more effectively and efficiently. This is particularly true in China, where influencer marketing strategies are far more developed and successful, with almost all campaigns now being influencer driven.

However, unfortunately, not all influencers or Key Opinion Leaders (KOL’s) are made the same and could potentially either cost you a lot of money for zero return on investment or worse so, damage your brand.

So how can marketers successfully find and leverage authentic influencers to drive brand awareness, sales, and popularity?
Firstly, it is important to understand the power of influencers. A recent article published in the China Economic Review addresses why the Chinese are so successful at influencer marketing compared to western countries and why it’s now a necessity. This has been attributed to the fact that some western countries treat influencer marketing as more of a transaction than an actual relationship. Whereas the Chinese on the other hand, select individuals who they believe have leadership with certain segments and they create a relationship with the thought leader until the thought leader feels compelled and empowered to share that insight.

In China, the reputation of an individual is just as important as the company. The power of this kind of long-term relationship building is at the forefront of what true influence is.

Let’s look at it like this. On social media, numbers mean nothing. What did you say… of course they do? Well, they do to a degree when it comes to making you feel good about yourself, but they don’t necessarily mean anything in terms of authenticity or engagement. People can buy numbers AND THEY DO. Numbers represent popularity. Popularity does not = influence and influence does not = popularity. Somebody with influence may have a smaller audience (less popularity) but be highly influential because they are well-known, admired, and trusted. What they say matters, is respected and is effective.

Consumers don’t necessarily follow brands, but they often follow people. What they care about is… Does Brand X engage with me? The Chinese, as a culture have always valued relationships. They are slow to befriend but then steadfast for life. Everything has to have an appearance of respect and credibility.

So how do you identify a true influencer?
Look at who they are engaging with and who engages with them? As a marketer for products and services, you could have the most phenomenal product, but if nobody knows it, then it won’t succeed. So how do you get it to be known? Engaging with influencers who are connected to the consumers of the products and services that you are trying to target. Today, we are able to identify and measure this, and anybody involved in marketing should be doing this analysis.

How are influencers different from other types of individuals?
Not all “influencers” are created equal! It’s imperative that we think of influencers and thought leaders as the people behind the influence. How is an individual, a thought leader, beyond their title and brand? What do they bring to the party so-to-speak?
Influencers come in all forms across a spectrum of thought leadership. Here are six examples of the differences and variability between influencer categories.

1. The Celebrity: Massive audience. May possess great cache from title, and brand. It’s not who they know, it’s who knows them. Celebrities don’t have to engage, people flock to them. Think Kendall Jenner, Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump (you know it’s true) and Richard Branson, etc.

2. The Journalist: Audience through content and publishing. Their influence is through delivering trusted content and or opinions. Think of your favourite journalists, publications you read e.g. Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post), Anna Wintour (Vogue), Alan Jones, Mia Freedman, etc.

3. The Industry Expert: For the expert influencer, size really doesn’t matter. It’s the quality of the audience. They may have a small following (Micro or Nano Influencers usually range between 10-50k followers as reported by Forbes), but a highly engaged following. The Expert wields much influence with their audience through the perceived value of their insight, guidance, and expertise. Think Deborah Symond O’Neil, Michelle Battersby (Bumble CEO).

4. The Analyst: May or may not have a large number of followers and may have thought leadership cache for brand and title held. (Think Gartner Analyst here… but if they’re not cultivating their thought leadership beyond the Gartner brand, it might dissolve once they leave the cache of the organisation.) Thought leadership for an analyst influencer is built through delivering on a persona of a trusted mentor or consultant with specialised knowledge from an inside source.

5. Stellar Personal Brand: Massive audience built over time. Wields influence through trusted relationships with their audience. Extremely powerful thought leadership as personal brands are built around meticulous actions. These influencers are influential by the trust they have built. Think Kim Kardashian, Kayla Itsines, Chloe Morello, Chrissy Teigan.

6. Malcolm Gladwell’s “Connector”: A formidable influencer with substantial relationships. The ultimate networker. The Connector knows everyone, and everyone knows them. The Connector influencer-type brings great value through great connections they have made and will continue to make.

Remember however that most influencers will possess more than one type of thought leadership. For instance, a Celebrity might also be an Expert, or an Expert might also have a very strong Personal Brand.

To sum up, influence comes in a variety of forms, so it behoves organisations and their respective marketing teams to attract, engage, and utilise a variety of influencers.
It is important to recognise that it would be just as much of a mistake to fill all of your keynote slots with celebrities, as it would be to fill your stage with only experts. You have to properly evaluate what you hope to accomplish and deliver. A celebrity might put bums in seats, but influencers who come with potent personal brands, or connectors with connections, will keep the conversation and the momentum going about your brand beyond the event and the stage.

When we think about the power of diversity in marketing, there are few things as powerful as harnessing the potency of a diverse group of influencers to get the word out…. As long as it’s the RIGHT WAY!

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