According to a study conducted in collaboration with Keller Fay Group and Dr. Jonah Berger, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, exploring how likely consumers are to follow influencer and customer recommendations, and how marketers can incorporate influencer marketing into their toolbox, more people were willing to follow an influencer's recommendation (82%) than an average customer's recommendation (73%).
Influencer marketing has become a buzzword, with Google searches rising 69% since May 2015, but there isn't much research published on its effectiveness, notes the report. According to Wikipedia, influencer marketing… has emerged from a variety of practices and studies, in which focus is placed on specific key individuals… that have influence over potential buyers, and orients marketing activities around these influencers… Influencer content may be framed as testimonial advertising where they play the role of a potential buyer themselves, or they may be third parties… in the supply chain (retailers, manufacturers)… or value-added influencers (such as journalists, academics, industry analysts, professional advisers.)
Word-of-mouth has tremendous appeal to marketers due to people trusting people more than they trust ads and companies, but not all word-of-mouth is created equal, and not all recommendations will have the same swaying power, says the report. The study quantifies consumers' likelihood to follow buying recommendations from influencers and average consumers.
Surveying both microinfluencers and average consumers to assess the impact of participants' recommendations, the study asked people who received recommendations from microinfluencers and average consumers, how likely they were to follow the recommendations:
Likelihood to Follow Recommendations and Credibility of Influencers vs. Average Consumers (8-10 On 10 Point Scale)
Recommendation by Influencer
Recommendation by Consumer
Percent of peers highly likely to follow recommendation
Rating explanation of how product works/usefulness
How knowledgeable recommender
How credible recommendation
Source: Experticity, June 2016
According to the report, microinfluencers are not traditional celebrities, but rather individuals who work in their category, or are truly knowledgeable, passionate and authentic, as well as seen as a trusted source of buying recommendations. The study found that influencers give recommendations much more frequently (up to 22.2 times more each week), and give more direct, "buy it, try it," recommendations than the average customer.
Inga Johnson, Senior Vice President of Brand and Marketing at Experticity, stressed that "… the folks that are most valuable… are trusted by a consumer because they have a real, credible voice in their category… these folks will ask for a deep relationship with the brand… understand(ing) the products prior to recommending…"
Since people generally have low trust in paid messages like ads, the issue of paid relationships with influencers is a sensitive one, says Dr. Jonah Berger, Associate Professor of Marketing, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Berger noted the value of word-of-mouth is that it seems unbiased. He added that consumers want to make sure that the information they're getting is as valuable and objective as possible.
Johnson stressed that brands should be transparent about any paid relationship with influencers. She said "… a paid relationship does not always equate to a lack of authenticity… if someone is truly passionate about a product and category, that authenticity will show… telling how you received the product (if free) is part of what keeps that authenticity alive."
The report says that Johnson sees influencer marketing, and marketing in general, continually evolving to reach consumers in more authentic and trustworthy ways. As a consequence, Johnson advised, "… the best thing marketers can do is to broaden their tactics… win back consumer trust… allow influencers to provide authentic buying recommendations to the consumers looking for a trusted opinion on what to buy…"
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