I just saw a commercial from a financial institution that used a familiar technique — the “real person” story rather than featuring actors or paid celebrities. This approach has been in fashion and was effective for a while, but once you’ve seen it for the 67th time, it starts to lose some punch. Financial, healthcare and politics are the usual suspects. They find real customers to tell their heartfelt and/or inspiring story and how the advertiser made it all possible. The desired message: “If we care this much about a random stranger, imagine what we can do for you.” These ads always feature a properly diverse group of salt-of-the earth people with whom everyone can relate.
Maybe 25 years in marketing has made me a cynic, but does anyone watch this and think “that was certainly an unsolicited and genuine testimonial!” Sure, these can help build top-of-the-funnel awareness, but at what cost? These ads often omit giving potential customers a tangible reason to call or learn more. They soft-sell the call to action, which does not advance the customer journey.
After two decades of reality TV, we all know that there is no such thing as unscripted TV. Everything is carefully planned, spun, molded and polished into an ad. The general concept of having a real person tell their story with the implied endorsement is a good one, but this execution is tired. It is often done for a brand that does not have a unique purpose or value proposition. At at time when people are gravitating toward authenticity, this approach produces a fake version of authentic.
There is a better way – influencer marketing is all the rage among marketers and with good reason. The below chart on trust in advertising brings up a universal truth of marketing.
Nothing has more impact on buying decisions than the recommendation of a trusted friend or colleague. This is true for B2B and B2C and across all age groups. It is interesting to note that as people age, their trust in all types of marketing and advertising declines significantly. Roughly just half of all Boomers have trust in traditional ads and even less trust in the digital variety. If Boomers are your target, then maybe it is time to shift some budget out of push advertising and into an influencer program.
In the age of DVRs, ad blockers, streaming music and over-the-top TV, marketers can’t rely on getting through just via traditional channels. An influencer program can bring real value and desired authenticity to a brand. The idea is getting trusted and influential people to talk about your brand, both offline and online. It is about turning people into media channels. Boomers are sure to appreciate the personal connection with a peer who has shared the same lifetime of experiences. Influence works at a very emotional level. To persuade someone to make a brand decision, it helps to show that someone with authority recommends it, the brand is likable and you have proof that people you respect have also purchased. This lowers the decision-making risk and increases confidence in the decision.
There are many ways to run an influencer campaign; it greatly depends on your product and audience. Reaching out and finding thought leaders and experts is a start. Also, people with strong social or blog followings on the appropriate subjects. You can also find people with a passion for interacting with your product or service – the frequent skier, the marathon runner, the expert amateur photographer. If you can persuade them to talk about your brand and start conversations, you are almost there. It takes time to build and cultivate a network of influencers to advocate for you, but the payback will be worth it. If today’s Boomer can have one quality conversation (online or offline) with a passionate thought leader, it can be worth dozens of commercials they will likely tune out. The holy grail is to get fellow Boomers to talk unprompted about your brand as advocates.
An important caveat on these programs must be mentioned. To get people to be passionate about your brand, it must first inspire passion. If you don’t have a unique position with a strong brand or deliver an excellent product or experience, the strategy will fall flat. It is hard to see an influencer program working with an undifferentiated commodity or low-quality product or service.