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The Influencer Conundrum -- Who Do You Choose?

In 2013, influencer marketing was top of mind, and in 2014 getting to influencers remains an important goal. The latest research tells us that 74% of marketers plan to deploy influencer marketing in the next 12 months. But what exactly is an influencer, and what exactly does influencer marketing do for your brand?

Influencer marketing is often defined as reaching out to popular bloggers and YouTube celebrities, vying for shout-outs in their latest posts. If this describes your influencer strategy, then you are missing out. Just as digital media doesn't apply to banner ads alone, influencer marketing is not confined to a one-size-fits-all approach.

Influencer marketing goes well beyond soliciting bloggers for a review. It all starts with what kinds of influencers will move the needle for your brand. As marketers, rather than viewing the term “influencer” as one narrow definition, we can approach it as a way of understanding how consumers impact the purchase decisions of other consumers. Many forget that we all have influence. Being influenced is something that is unique to us as individuals and depends on the varying relationships we have with our specific “influencers.”

How can a brand choose the right influencer type to change purchase consideration? There have been many views about how to distinguish different types of influencers. The shared theme is that there is a spectrum. And within this spectrum are four common flavors. One end of the spectrum includes high-reach influencers: the celebrities (actors, musicians and athletes) who have a massive audience and the content producers (bloggers, journalists and professionals) who have a captive audience who view them as authorities and whose power to sway is largely derived from their platform. On the other end of the spectrum are high-trust influencers: the brand advocates who are everyday consumers who endorse a brand to the masses and carry a great amount of authenticity. The most trusted are consumers' social circles. These are friends, family and colleagues who will deliver a tailored, trusted and impactful message to drive purchase.

Every influencer type will offer different outcomes for a brand. A high-reach influencer such as a celebrity can generate awareness and exposure, but without the trust that a family member or friend will. A recent study showed that only 15% of Americans trust celebrities. Conversely, a family member or friend will offer your brand a high-impact interaction to lead to conversion, with 92% of people trusting recommendations from people they know. However, a thumbs-up on your pal's social profiles is unlikely to garner the equivalent reach of a tweet from Katy Perry.

While we would love to settle the debate and proclaim one influencer type the victor, it's important to remember that as consumers, most of our purchase decisions are not driven by one instrument but rather by an orchestra telling us to purchase. For example, let's look at the purchase of a new skincare brand. A woman may become aware of a new skincare brand from a celebrity, but understand its benefits from a blogger. However, she does not finally decide to look into it until a friend recommends it -- and before she buys, she will check the reviews online from other consumers like her. Different people will influence various purchase decisions -- she may only interact with one influencer or a whole host to make her decision.

To determine which is best for your brand, understand the influencer path to purchase. Ask yourself: as a consumer of your brand, how do other people help me make my decision? What influencers do I rely on most? How many do I consult, both directly and indirectly? Which influencers are necessary in the process or enhance the effect of other influencers? Answering these questions is the first step in understanding which influencers are right for your brand, and being able to build the impactful strategy around them.

Debates about influencers will continue to capture the attention of the industry. For 2014, I encourage every marketer to approach their influencer marketing by creating an ensemble, leveraging different kinds of influencers to spark conversation and ultimately drive purchase.

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1 comment about "The Influencer Conundrum -- Who Do You Choose?".
  1. Serena Ehrlich from Business Wire , January 6, 2014 at 2:42 p.m.
    A great piece, very similar to my own thoughts shared last week: http://www.bulldogreporter.com/dailydog/article/thought-leaders/the-age-of-influencers-how-to-engage-influencers-to-amplify-your-pr Each type of influencer is different and has different impact, by using a mix, you end up with the best possible chance of cutting down the conversion time between prosect and customer. Thank you for this! Serena