I had coffee this week with an old friend who for years had a really successful Luxury Brands marketing company. He shut down the business and has now happily moved on to other interests. Does he miss the old life? Not at all, he said, it all changed. Over years he and his team developed a very successful model to launch and build brands using all the levers – events, advertising, sponsorship, direct marketing etc – deployed in the right sequence. “These days it’s just one lever you need to pull, influencers” he lamented. “No skill in that”. Well maybe but I wanted to start with the premise – can you successfully build brands with just influencers?
To narrow this down I rule out celebrity endorsement – we know that works. Princess Diana was photographed wearing Gucci loafers and sales exploded. Harry Styles has the same kind of global fame and is a global ambassador for Gucci but unlike Diana he gets paid. I’m sure it’s great for Gucci but not as good as unsolicited celebrity endorsement. However, no question, if you can get George Clooney to be the face of your coffee it will work – but it will cost you.
I also rule out influencer sponsorship. Nike has always sponsored the best, most iconic sports stars or teams from the New Zealand All Blacks to Tiger woods to LeBron James. They still do it but so do other people – and it still works. Sports brand Castore has gone from ‘never heard of them’ to ‘must have’ in just a couple of years by securing a very wide-ranging bunch of sponsorship deals. England play South Africa at Cricket – both sides are wearing Castore. But again expensive – Castore have raised over $60 million and have a credit facility of $75 million from backers such as Andy Murray (nice one Andy), HSBC, BNP Paribas and Silicon Valley Bank (whoops).
No, I want to focus on the relatively much less expensive on-line influencer model to which my old mate was referring. If you google ‘Successful influencer case studies’ as I have done you will get a lot of hits. There are loads and loads of curated sets of case studies – I’m not going to repeat any of them here, you can look them up for yourself. They include big brands like Nike, Boss, Olay, and a host of small brands. As a general rule – there are exceptions – the big brands did not only use on-line influencers because they can afford to do a lot more and the smaller brands did because they can’t.
Some case studies offer hard sales data e.g. number of mattresses sold (yes, on-line mattresses is a fertile area for start-ups who use influencers). In other cases they quote reach/eyeballs. I love sales but I also value fame, awareness and brand saliency. Many moons past the late Jeremy Bullmore (whose wisdom cannot be gainsaid) explained that most of what makes a brand successful is widespread fame. Top of mind awareness is proven to be a lead indicator of brand sales. Saliency – “yes, I’ve not only heard of you, I know something about you that interests me in a context relevant to my life and your brand” – is the jack pot. So I put great value on the reach of influencers and the engagement they generate. They have followers not just eyeballs. Let me elaborate on that. Most advertising – posters, TV, press – gets eyeballs, if they are any good they may get a reaction and they build fame. But unless you are Gold Blend (very old TV ad case study – they created a kind of mini soap opera so you looked forward to seeing the next one) advertising does not get followers, people who put their digital hand up to receive your next missive.
Sifting through all the various case studies I harvested a number of best practice guidelines:-
- Choose the right influencers – bang on for your target audience would be a good start. So would value for money and there seems to be a trend towards using micro and ‘nano’ influencers rather than the big macro influencers. I guess that allows you to be very precise with your targeting and they are cheaper as a rule. One great piece of advice was to look at follower engagement not just number of followers.
- Have a strong creative idea (I’ll come back to that).
- Collaborate with the influencers, let them produce the content they think will work with their followers based on the creative idea. The result is often more creative, more authentic, and more ‘native’.
- Give them product coupons they can give away – they love this since they are looking for ways to reward their followers.
- Drive multi-channel – there are only 5 platforms to focus on: Facebook, Instagram, tik tok, Pinterest and Twitter
The beauty of all this is that the influencers produce the content (not totally free but really, really cheap) and, if good enough, the audience drives the spread of content across channels.
I said I wanted to come back to the creative idea. One case study did catch my eye, Boss. It does involve a celebrity and it was part of a big campaign including a lot of advertising, press and posters. But the top spin was provided by influencers.
Chris Hemsworth is f****** cool and he is the face of Hugo Boss from fragrances to clothing, doubtless you’ll have seen the ads. As part of this multi-million $ campaign they made a great piece of youtube content – Hemsworth surfing in a Boss suit.
This was picked up by several influencers who undertook various stunts wearing suits for the #suit challenge. Great idea, but Boss drove all this and spent a lot.
Now let’s illustrate this with a fictional example for a brand with little money.
Imagine you’re a new kind of energy-giving and sustainable breakfast granola. Target market is the yoga set, students, environmentally aware, health food conscious mums etc. So you know how to pick your influencers. You have an overall creative platform that this new granola is just one small thing you can do to make a difference to your life and the world. Every day is a fresh opportunity to try something new. That kind of thing. Specifically, you want to create brand saliency around breakfast and the start of a great new day.
So line up your army of micro-sponsors, give them bucket loads of free product to give away and free rein to produce the content they want but with the general idea of ‘#how did your day turn out?’
Say I’m a sports science student & influencer producing content on keep fit ideas. I get a few mates on the morning of exams, give them the granola, my unique warm-up exercises and then track what happens, did they do well, how did they feel later in the day.
That took me 5 minutes. Maybe not the best idea but you get the point. Pulling the influencer lever is not that hard and it’s a lot cheaper.
The only limits to your influence are the limits of your imagination and ambition, even if you have virtually no budget.