Amplify Your Story
Using social influencers to drive shopper marketing
February 1, 2017
By David Ward
Whether it's mommy bloggers, online tech gurus, Instagram fashion icons, or foodies on Facebook, social influencers are on the rise, and brands are responding in kind. A November 2016 survey by Linqia, a San Francisco-based provider of content marketing solutions, found that nearly half of marketers polled planned to increase their influencer marketing budget this year.
In many ways, social influencers are taking over a role once considered the domain of lifestyle magazines. "It used to be magazine editors [making all the style choices and product recommendations], but now it's the Instagram influencers and bloggers," says Erin Dress, head of shopper marketing at Linqia.
Because of the growing importance of influencers in driving consumer choice, brands are figuring out new ways to tap into them, not just to drive awareness and score likes but to migrate shoppers along the path to purchase. "Marketers who just want an influencer to give a shout out to their brand won't really be effective," says Dean Forbes, CEO of the Minneapolis, Minn.-based shopper marketing firm Curb Crowser. "But if an influencer touts a product that fits well with their lifestyle and then goes on to explain how they use it, it becomes a lot more believable, and people will search that product out."
Influencer marketing can be especially effective for mid-tier and challenger brands because it's cost-effective and provides content that can be repurposed for digital and social programs. "What we're amplifying through social media is our influencer marketing that's our primary mode of marketing," says Andrew Reichgut, EVP at Garden Lites, which makes healthy versions of frozen waffles, muffins, and other foods, using vegetables as the first ingredient.
Garden Lites works with Linqia to ensure its influencer partners share the same values as its target customers. "Linqia will then tie in the whole story the influencer is creating for us and, depending on their networks, let the consumer know where to buy the product and any promotions that are available," Reichgut says. "It becomes this great concentric circle of the consumer with the influencer that they trust and the retailer who is handling the distribution of our product."
Taking an Omnichannel Approach
In its recent report, The State of Influencer Marketing 2017, Linqia surveyed 170 marketers and their agencies from a variety of industries, including CPG, food and beverage, media, and retail, and found respondents overwhelmingly cite Facebook (87 percent) and Instagram (87 percent) as the most important influencer channels. Those were followed by blogs, with 48 percent of respondents leveraging them as a tool for increasing discovery and improving SEO.
Influencer programs that use a combination of blog stories, photos, videos, and social posts work best, according to Linqia. "Blogs are an especially interesting component in that they offer the ability to tell a story," the report notes. "Social channels are especially effective when they are used to reach new audiences and drive traffic to long-form content, such as a blog post or video, that has been proven to convert."
Brands are also getting more responsible in letting consumers know when influencers are being compensated. The Linqia survey found that 88 percent of marketers require influencers to disclose sponsored content to comply with Federal Trade Commission regulations, but only 55 percent understand the most current guidelines.
Social influencers, too, who receive compensation from a brand must be transparent and accountable, says Rich Butwinick, CEO of MarketingLab, a shopper marketing agency in Minneapolis, Minn. "The influencer has to let the audience know when they're speaking on behalf of the brand or if there's been an exchange of services, products, or monies," he notes.
Emily Stickler, director of strategy at Curb Crowser and who handles PR for the healthy-living blog Fit Foodie Finds, agrees. "You can quickly tell the bloggers who aren't doing it in an authentic way," she says. "At Fit Foodie Finds ... no more than 40 percent of our content is sponsored every month. The rest is organic, proactively created content."
The requirement to disclose sponsored content shouldn't be viewed as a negative, Dress stresses. "In most cases, younger generations don't view sponsored content as advertising, as long as the content is relevant and provides value," she says. "For example, a sponsored post about the best face moisturizers available for under $20 will resonate with a woman in her early 20s with dry skin."
Influencing Points on the Purchase Path
Pamela Johnson, director of consumer communications for the National Pork Board, says the organization weaves influencer recipes, videos, and other content into its daily social media feed. Most consumer interaction with this influencer content, she notes, takes place well before a purchase. "I definitely feel the social influencer is being felt earlier, outside the store, with a lot of reading about chefs and touching base with bloggers they follow," Johnson adds.
But Linqia's Dress says influencer content also plays a key role when shoppers are in-store. "We're seeing consumers searching for recipes as they're entering a store," she explains. "And they're finding influencer content from months ago. Typically, an additional 40 percent of the clicks to influencer content happen after the campaign ends, so there is a significant long tail."
Even if influencer content is months old, brands need to make it easily accessible, says Lauren Fitzgerald, managing director at the Mom Complex, a Richmond, Va.-based consultancy that helps brands better connect with mothers. "Once consumers are in the brick-and-mortar store, they use their phone to quickly skim reviews. If you think about the shopping experience, no one wants to stand in an aisle and have to flip through past blogs and irrelevant content to find the one they're looking for. It's why we see so many shoppers looking at reviews on Amazon.com while shopping."
Finding the Right Influencer
One of the major reasons many brands often favor social influencers over traditional celebrity endorsements is the authenticity of their recommendations, giving them added clout. But not every influencer is right for every brand.
"Reach is important, including the number of followers," says Johnson of the National Pork Board. "But it also has to be the right match. If you're trying to force-fit content with an influencer who's popular but doesn't have anything to do with what you're trying to promote, it doesn't work."
Stickler contends that using influencers in a shopper marketing campaign requires a small leap of faith. "For example, a [grocery] brand may provide a product to an influencer who then makes a recipe with it and writes a blog post," she says. "That takes a little bit of the control out of the brand's hands, and content created by an influencer can sometimes end up being outside of a brand's guidelines."
While there are only a handful of bloggers and social media icons with truly massive followings and national reach, brands would be wise to identify and work with multiple micro-influencers, who have anywhere from 10,000 to 250,000 followers, Butwinick says. "They can create content that's more approachable and relatable," he notes.
Bringing Retail into Influencer Marketing
While social influencers can have strong online recognition, few are famous enough to regularly draw huge crowds for in-store appearances. "The problem with targeting specific social influencers is that each one individually has limited reach," says Elizabeth Johnson, CEO of PathFormance, a digital shopper marketing firm based in Palo Alto, Calif.
Brands can overcome this challenge, she says, by connecting with multiple influencers, many of whom have regional followings and can be targeted geographically during new product launches in select markets.
Such an approach could even make in-store appearances viable, Butwinick adds. "If they're well known and popular in a market like Charlotte, for instance, people would show up," he says. "But the geography has to be right, and the audience has to be truly fervent about them."
Finding the right metrics to measure the success of a shopper marketing influencer program is a challenge many brands face. "You can never get exactly to the point where you can say this review by this social influencer helped us sell 10 of our products," explains Reichgut of Garden Lites. "But what you can track are KPIs such as requests for store locations, a coupon download, or an engagement share. For us, store locator requests have become the best leading indicator of conversion."
Garden Lites also relies on traditional social media metrics, such as engagement, likes, and shares, to measure the impact of influencers. "We have a proprietary algorithm to give values to each metric — positive sentiment versus negative," Reichgut says. "We also get data from retailers that help us."
Finally, using influencers in shopper marketing should not be viewed as a one-off opportunity, with a focus on short-term measurements applied to campaigns that may only run a few weeks. It requires a long-term partnership between brand, influencer, and retailer. "No one can expect to drive a ton of sales from one blog post," Stickler says. "It's important to focus on integrating a brand into a social influencer's content over a year or throughout the full course of a campaign."
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