It’s a term that you often hear and see bandied about, but what does influencer marketing really mean?


For starters, influencer marketing refers to the relationship between a brand and an influencer. For our purposes, an influencer denotes someone who has a substantial social media following. Typically, the influencer raises a brand’s awareness through social media outlets such as Instagram or Facebook. Although related to the celebrity endorser concept, influencers are different in that they have established a reputation for trust and authenticity within a community of followers. Furthermore, they usually have a decent amount of experience or in-depth knowledge of the products or services they are touting.

The common denominator for influencers is an active presence on social media, whether it’s doing a vlog on YouTube or posting pictures on Instagram or engaging with their followers on Facebook or Twitter.  While they are often thought of as brand advocates, the goal of influencers or, more importantly, their partner brands is not just to increase awareness but to drive more activity for that brand.

Although they align themselves with brands or companies, influencers work independently, developing their own content. While a company will usually have stipulations regarding their brand’s advertising, the influencer is ultimately in control of the brand’s message and how it’s portrayed. This control lends them authenticity and enables them to have a strong impact upon a target audience.

The number of followers and the social platform an influencer uses determines their monetary value. Interestingly, there are no barriers to entry. Anyone who can build a following has the power to become an influencer.

Why do Brands Use Them?

Traditional outbound marketing such as TV, radio ads or billboards doesn’t have the same power to reach audiences the way it used to.  It isn’t enough anymore to find out about a brand on television or the radio. Instead, people prefer to research a brand themselves or to get input from someone they trust.

Indeed, a recent study indicated that 75% of B2B customers are influenced by information gleaned from social media. While no one is sounding the death knell yet for outbound marketing, it’s clear that the digital world has transformed the way we do business. Consequently, influencers, with their ability to foster relationships and target specific groups, generate greater results.

How Are They Different From Celebrity Endorsements?

In the recent past, PR firms would promote celebrities to endorse a product by inserting them on television or the radio singing the praises of a product. In reality, no one ever knew whether that celebrity had a genuine connection to the product beyond the clear monetary benefit. Influencer marketing, on the other hand, hinges upon an honest relationship between the influencer, the brand, and the customer. As a result, it cuts down on the skepticism with which people view more traditional advertising. When companies align with influencers, they essentially enter into a long-term relationship with that influencer and their followers. This represents a stronger bond and a deeper connection for audiences.

Is It Worth It?

Alright, this may sound great, but does this type of inbound marketing really generate a more significant return on investment?

In order to find out, a digital media company examined 48 influencer campaigns across different industries and bloggers. They discovered that influencers on average produced a 6-to-1 return on investment. Apparently, trust goes a long way in a digital landscape in which ratings and product reviews have become standard practice for anyone looking to buy a product or service.

Influencer Marketing in Practice

A good example of influencer marketing occurred a few years ago at the 2016 US Open Tennis Championships. At the time, Chase Bank wanted a new approach after three and a half decades as a main sponsor; they hoped to include the fans who weren’t fortunate enough to attend the event in person.

Therefore, they joined with Periscope, a live video streaming app, and Andy Roddick, a famous American tennis star, to give fans a unique viewing experience. Subsequently, fans were able to watch the action virtually alongside Andy, getting his reactions and asking him questions. He didn’t even have to be there as he broadcast from the comfort of his own couch. The resulting experience generated over nine million impressions and two and half million video views. In total, the campaign yielded 385 hours of Periscope video for tennis fans.

Another fertile ground for brands and influencers is the fashion industry. Many clothing companies, especially their ecommerce divisions, partner with leading influencers. It often starts when a company sends articles of clothing or accessories to a fashion blogger in exchange for reviews. Usually, the blogger posts photos along with reviews and links to where followers can purchase the merchandise. The popularity of this approach has spawned a virtual cottage industry of fashion bloggers who post photos of themselves wearing clothing and accessories that they like.

The Downside

Although trust between influencer and followers is at the core of this marketing strategy, it also demands a very high level of trust between brand and influencer. In this case, an individual outside the company is essentially a steward of the brand’s reputation. Therefore, bad publicity or offensive content from the influencer could do irreparable harm to a brand. In other words, advertisers don’t have the same control over their image as they do with traditional advertising.

Future For Influencer Marketing

Nevertheless, influencer marketing will continue to shape how advertisers market their brands. Instead of broadcasting to a wide audience that may or may not be interested, influencers home in on a target market. They also enjoy a greater level of trust and authenticity than traditional advertising.

Because influencer marketing depends more upon the needs of the influencer than the consumer, it occupies an unusual niche in the marketing world. This method, however, is more than just a means for elevating brand awareness; it drives brand activity and sales. An unusually high return on investment means that we will continue to see vloggers, Instagram celebs, and brand ambassadors adding to their popularity on social media as brands across countless industries continue to reap the rewards.