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What influencer marketing is and what it should be: The Contrarian strikes again.

Marketing, maybe more than most other disciplines, likes to pursue the next shiny object and latch on to trendy new terms. Often these terms are just rebranding an existing way of doing business.

One of the latest hot topics in marketing is called influencer marketing. On its blog, Hubspot says this about the subject:  “Influencer marketing is designed to tap into an existing community of engaged followers on social media. Influencers are specialists in their niches. These individuals have influence over an audience you might be trying to reach, and can be helpful marketing to those buyers.”

Influencing the influencers

I have always believed marketers frequently overlook opportunities to access third party referral sources as a means of extending their brand messaging.  I typically refer to this as “influencing the influencers” and it is a powerful tool because these referral sources legitimately bring credibility to the process.  They are an independent and presumably objective voice.

That’s where I believe influencer marketing, in the contemporary sense, misses the mark.  The focus now is on social media and perceived industry thought leaders who are often no more than shills for the companies who solicit their testimonials. In a way, it is another form of a celebrity endorsement – a marketing tactic that has been around as long as there have been celebrities.  It is certainly a valid methodology for creating interest and awareness in a product or service, but it is only as effective as the endorsee has credibility or relevance.

Influencer marketing as it is practiced today meets the relevance standard because it typically involves someone who is deemed a specialist in a particular niche – often through social media channels, blogging or podcasting.  To be sure, these tools give a voice to the influencers, a forum to share their views with people who are interested in a given subject. However, credibility can come into question if the individual is paid for the endorsement.  So, in essence, the difference between leveraging a referral source and compensating a potential influencer reflects the difference between earned media and paid media.  Both are legitimate forms of marketing but they serve a very different purpose.

Top of funnel versus bottom of funnel marketing tactics

While doing some research for this article, I came across this quote from marketing blogger, Nick Stagge and he provides a good perspective on the issue, stating “On one end of the spectrum the insta-famous, mega influencers can support top of the funnel marketing, creating positive brand recognition. On the other end, subject matter experts with a genuine passion, knowledge, and experience can support bottom of the funnel marketing, helping consumers make confident buying decisions. Getting to the truth of influencer marketing will separate the winners and losers.”

All of this is my contrarian way of saying let’s be judicious in how we invoke the phrase influencer marketing.  Again, there is validity to leveraging social media celebrity power to create awareness.  But that is decidedly different than providing relevant information to legitimate spheres of influence who may be in a position to provide credible referrals.

Filed Under: Marketing, Branding

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