Commentary

Celebrity Endorsers Are Not Influencer Marketing

It is time to stop calling Kendall Jenner an “influencer.” Jenner and hundreds of other celebrities with huge social media followings are simply paid celebrity endorsers — nothing more, nothing less. That’s why the FTC is cracking down on their failure to disclose payments they receive from marketers to participate in paid promotional campaigns that happen to occur on social media. 

And it’s not just the reaction of regulators that is giving this kind of “influencer marketing” a bad name. Increasingly, consumers themselves are reading about marketing boondoggles such as the infamous Fyre Festival that used the social media accounts of paid celebrities to persuade thousands of people to sign up for a failed concert. 

While this may work for some brands, others are beginning to question its efficacy. But in either case, paying celebrities to post about your brand on social media has nothing to do with authentic influencer marketing.

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Marketers gain much more value from the organic recommendations from the “influencers next door.” These are the neighbors, friends and acquaintances that people rely on to recommend what movies to see, which restaurants are worth a try, which retailer has the best sale, or which new technologies are worth adopting early. These everyday influencers are on social media, but they also make powerful recommendations over the backyard fence and at the water cooler at work. These are the highly valuable consumers that marketers should deliberately enlist in their efforts to introduce new products and innovations.

I have been studying these everyday influencers for more than two decades since the publication of my book, The Influentials. Representing approximately 1 in 10 consumers, they are the ones who are most socially connected in the online and offline worlds. They have approximately four times the “social value” as other consumers, meaning a recommendation they make yields four times as much economic benefit to the brand versus a recommendation from an average person. And they tend to be among the first to try and evaluate new products and services. Marketers can significantly increase the return on their marketing investment by focusing on these real-world, everyday influencers. 

A simple way to understand the value of influencers is the frequency with which they talk with other people about brands. Whereas the average person is involved in a brand conversation 9 times per day, an influencer has twice as many of these conversations —19 per day. These conversations reflect the fact that influencers have more social contacts in general and more interest in sharing information about the things and services they buy.

Another way to see the value of everyday influencers is to see how they react to successful product introductions. Consider the Nintendo Switch, which launched on March 3 this year. Influencers were talking about the upcoming product weeks prior to launch, at levels three times higher than average consumers. Those conversations among influencers helped make the Nintendo Switch the most successful gaming system of 2017 so far.

Recently, my firm conducted research to link word-of-mouth data to sales for about 30 brands. We found that about a quarter of the sales impact of consumer word of mouth can be linked to engagement with the brand from everyday influencers talking online and offline.

Everyday influencers count their online followers in the hundreds, not millions, as celebrities do. But they have something celebrities lack — credibility. That credibility comes from several sources: They are known personally to most of their followers; they write and speak with an authentic voice, and they are not being paid to shill for a brand. Those are the attributes that make word of mouth so powerful in the first place. 

Whether your brand is being recommended online or via offline, word of mouth from everyday influencers remains the most persuasive form of marketing. Just don’t confuse those valuable influencers with paid celebrities who are all-too-willing to sell access to their social feeds.

6 comments about "Celebrity Endorsers Are Not Influencer Marketing".
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  1. James Smith from J. R. Smith Group, May 24, 2017 at 8:29 a.m.

    Ed, I believe you are right-on per many points.  Several questions remain.  First, what % of brands running influencer campaigns actually care as long as KPIs come in strong?  Second,
    what are the key metrics that provide the best practices indicators of true everyday influencers beyond # of conversations?  Isn't "what" they share an important dimension to compliment basic frequency of sharing?

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 24, 2017 at 8:52 a.m.

    Paid spokespeople are influencers the advertiser can control. If they didn't work, they wouldn't be used. Your next door neighbor who does not get paid, not so much.

  3. Ed Keller from Engagement Labs Inc replied, May 24, 2017 at 9:11 a.m.

    James, thanks for the feedback.  Let me address your second question, to begin.  I agree it's not just about volume of conversation.  It's about volume + sentiment + impact with the latter point coming back to the credibility of the recommendations.  We have done research in which we have analyzed the impact of conversations people have with influencers versus non-influencers and find the financial value of a recommendation from an influencer (in the way I define the term in the article) and find it is 4 times the value of a recommendation from an average person.  This is because of the enhanced credibility.  As for the first question, I don't have stats to even venture a guess.  However, I would say that any brand running a campaign with paid influencers could achieve significant (additional) value from a focused strategy designed to unleash the power of the "influencers next door." Many of these people are sitting right in their CRM databases enbabling them to engage with them efficiently and effectively.  However, many marketers have lost signt of them as the definition of influencers has shifted toward the paid celebrity endorsers.  

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, May 24, 2017 at 9:13 a.m.

    I also agree with much of what is said in this piece. Indeed, numberous compilations of ad impact---like attitude-change studies as well as ad recall studies----have indicated that, in general, the use of high paid celebrity endorsers or pitchmen does not pay out. Digging deeper,the researchers usually note that the main reason for the poor outcomes is the fact that the celebrity is either not credible as an endorser for the particular product or has been over exposed by endorsing too many brands, thereby damaging his/her credibility. On the other hand, in a minority of cases where these negatives are not at play, the results have been beneficial to the brands. It all depends on how wise you are in selecting and using a well known celebrity endorser and how this ties in with the total media and promotional campaign.

  5. Ed Keller from Engagement Labs Inc replied, May 24, 2017 at 9:24 a.m.

    Thanks, Paula.  Read the comment that follows you from Ed Papazian.  It's not necessarily the case that marketers wouldn't do paid celebrity social media endorsements if they didn't pay off.  Marketing dollars get spent in all sorts of ways where the impact is unclear but it gets done anyway.  I'm not saying this never works, but in appropriating the term 'influencer marketing' it has overshadowed what the term has meant for a long time (and was popularized by Gladwell's The Tipping Point), and has thus blinded many marketers to the opportunity to engage with this powerful sector of consumers who pick up early on trends, talk about them with others, and can drive brand performance.  And they can be activated at scale through a variety of means.

  6. Erik Meyers from BASF SE, May 26, 2017 at 4:58 a.m.

    Influencers are definitely important and I agree that celebrity endorsements alone don't cut it. However, in my experience, it's not about having influencers per se but finding those with excellent credibility and reach that also have some connection to your company for product.

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